We’d talked about it, mentioned it in passing. My aunt got her first when she was 15 on vacation in Mexico. Carlos at Big Daddy Tattoo tatted my dad a few months previous. To me, ink  kinda felt like a rite of passage into adulthood, and regardless of how I would think about it later, I knew my decision would always be a great story at parties and whatnot.

That fateful day was almost a year ago exactly.

I am swimming in the Caribbean, half a mile offshore. Looking down at the blue jello colored water, I watch fish scuttle around 30 feet below me as clearly as I would have observed them in an onshore aquarium. For those 45 minutes, I believe I am engaging in the coolest activity I will on that day or maybe even during that year or possibly in my life. Little do I know another activity awaits that will either surpass my afternoon Caribbean Sea swim in awesomeness, or at least come in a close second.

After riding back on a dinghy to Grand Cayman’s shore, my family goes shopping for souvenirs, upholding all sorts of American vacationer stereotypes with our sunburned faces, jean shorts and flip flops. As we walk along the beach, a shop’s name catches my eye: Blue Dragon Tattoos. My heartbeat becomes irregular.

This is where it happened.

This is where it happened.

“Mom, can I get a tattoo?”

Okay, so quick background on my parents. They’re pretty chill, but they’re  quite the conservatives–definitely not the kind to let their only daughter get her first tattoo on a whim at age 16.

“Yes, but I’m not paying for it.”

That’s not word for word what my mom says to me in that moment, but that’s the gist of it.

Okay, so quick background on me. I’m pretty chill, but I’m quite the over thinker–definitely not the kind to get my first tattoo on a whim at age 16 in a foreign country.

But for some reason, in that moment, my parents and I are uncharacteristically accepting of my outlandish idea.

As I clasp the cool metal handle of one of tattoo parlor’s double doors, I notice how hot and sweaty my palms are. Stepping inside, a smell similar to that of disinfectant tingles my nose hairs. Thousands of tattoo examples cover the white wall. I am close to hyperventilating I think.

I shake hands with Chaz the tattoo artist. She’s a hip Scottish 20-something. Grand Cayman is a British Isle, so people speak English, drink tea and pay with pounds. Chaz has a couple small tattoos and piercings, but I find them tasteful and not overdone.

My parents fill out the parental consent forms, and I shakily draw out my design: an interlocking mustache, bow tie and monocle. My tattoo has no deep meaning. My reasoning works like this: I am 16 years old. If I feel strongly about something now, who’s to say I will feel that way in 40 years? I don’t want to get a tattoo that means something to me now and possibly won’t later, but getting a tattoo with something that will always matter like “family” or “love” feels cliché. Since I created my own design, and I like it, why not just get it? It’s meaningless now, and it will be meaningless in 40 years. The tattoo itself is a memory, not a memorial.

Chaz gets to work sketching out a better version of my pathetic attempt at art, and I shell out 80 American dollars to her assistant. The only annoying part about Grand Cayman being a British Isle and also being a well known money laundering capital is their currency’s worth much more than the dollar, so prices are highway robbery.

After 10 minutes, Chaz shows me her take on my design. She and I agree her drawing is much better than mine and I would much prefer to have it permanently etched in my skin than my original idea.

I think maybe my parents consented to me getting a tattoo because they thought that I wouldn't actually get one.

I think maybe my parents consented to me getting a tattoo because they thought that I wouldn’t actually get one.

Chaz points me to a large black chair, shaped and reclined like one at the dentist’s office. As I sink into it, she prepares her needles. Fun fact about tattoos: the closer the desired tattoo location is to a bone, the more excruciatingly painful the inking will be. I decide I want my ink directly on my hip bone on the lower right side of my stomach, so as Chaz repeatedly injects me with color, I chew on my sunglasses to keep from crying like a little girl.

My dad took the pic when my face was doing a weird thing.

My dad took the pic when my face was doing a weird thing.

Getting a tattoo reminds me of getting a cavity filled without any lidocaine. Lucky for me, after she finishes the outline, Chaz numbs me up so the remaining 10 minutes feel like getting a cavity filled with lidocaine.

After wiping away some blood, Chaz invites me to look at the completed life decision before she tapes some gauze over it. As I sit up, my heart beats faster than the its current rapid pace, and I feel my shorts grow wet. I am thankful to find I didn’t pee myself.  I’m still wearing my bikini from my earlier dip in the sea, and the prolonged sedentary position has allowed the moisture to soak through my exterior clothing layer. I explain this to Chaz and my parents at least three times.

The filling in bit wasn't as bad as the other bit.

The filling in bit wasn’t as bad as the other bit.

After thanking Chaz for letting me do this to myself, I exit the tattoo parlor and continue shopping with my family. I keep sneaking glances at my bandaged tummy. After about 15 minutes, my parents seem to have lost interest in my new tat. I can’t understand how. I feel like I just grew an extra arm or something, but no one seems to care.

I have no regrets.

The finished product.

When we get back to the States, people seem to care, at least for a while. The problem with getting a tattoo on my stomach is people don’t just see it on a day-to-day basis. Unless I am swimming or changing, my tattoo stays hidden under my t-shirt, forgotten. I don’t go swimming that often, which is a major bummer.

One year later, my tattoo is still a good conversation starter, and I have no regrets.

no ragrets


Saturdays, Summarized

Forensics is a co-curricular activity for high schoolers who want to spend every Saturday of their second semester dressed in business casual, speaking or acting competitively. Since I enjoy waking up at 5 a.m. and being judged on my appearance and formal talking ability, here is my typical Saturday anytime between the beginning of February to the end of April.

5:21 a.m: I open my eyes in a nervous sweat. I still have a solid 14 minutes before my alarm goes off, but I get up immediately. I already had a nightmare about missing the bus, and I don’t want it to become a reality.

5:40 a.m: I throw on some business casual. I’m limited in that department, so I end up slipping into the same sweater/dress pants combo I wore last Saturday and praying no one remembers.

5:55 a.m: I hastily grab some gluten-free edibles for lunch. As I cram yogurt and a cheese stick in my backpack, I reminisce on the days before my wheat allergy when I could enjoy forensics’ traditional cuisine of cheap pizza, Cheetos and Dr. Pepper.

6:05 a.m: I wake up my father for a ride. I am fully capable of driving myself, but my parents don’t want the car wasting the day away in an empty school parking lot. After mumbling some unintelligible gibberish and grabbing his slippers, my father joins me in the car, and we go cruising toward the school with Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” on full-blast.

6:15 a.m: My dad pulls up in front of my high school just before my earlier nightmare has a chance to come true, and, after hopping out, I run-walk to the front of the bus and carefully navigate its steps because heels are a serious struggle. One of the assistant coaches may be giving me a dirty look for being late, but it’s too dark to tell really.

6:20 a.m: Safely on the transportation to the tournament, I catch up on the 14 minutes of sleep I forfeited earlier, completely ignoring my fellow forensors chatting around me.

7:30 a.m: We arrive at the school at which we will be competing. I’m not sure which school it is because all the schools in the area have clever titles like “Shawnee Mission West,” “Shawnee Mission North” and “Shawnee Mission Northwest.” I can never remember which is which.

8 a.m: Round one. I wait outside a science classroom to give my memorized informative speech on how people perceive themselves. I give my speech to a nearby cluster of lockers, muddling through my points and focusing on favorite lines such as, “So, unfortunately, not only are you uglier than you think you are, other people think you’re uglier than you actually are” and, “The good news is everyone thinks they’re a seven. The bad news is most of them are wrong.”

8:30 a.m: After giving my info, I begin looking for the room in which I’m to give my other event. Lucky for me, not only is the room three floors down, but it’s also in a separate building on the other side of the campus. It’s a balmy 20 degrees outside not taking windchill into account, so the whole situation is just ideal. As I struggle down the first flight of stairs in my heels, I dread the several trips back and forth that lie ahead during the other two rounds.

9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m: I continue to ramble in front of parents whose children forced them to judge a high school speech tournament on a Saturday. Some of these judges are less interested in my words than others, and they have no problem making that apparent with cold glares, yawns and half-hearted handshakes.

12:30-1:00 p.m: As results are tabulated and contestants for finals determined, I awkwardly munch on my gluten-free lentil crackers and hummus while my peers enjoy Little Caesar’s finest.

1:01 p.m: My forensics coach tells the squad who performed well enough to move on to finals. As always, I am ridiculously close, and yet, so far away. As a veteran over thinker, I immediately begin analyzing every aspect of each of my performances to determine where exactly I failed myself.

1:15-2:30 p.m: I watch informative finals. As the six finalists present their speeches, I internally judge everything about them: “How did he beat me out? No one even cares about Greek mythology! … How is she in finals? Her jokes aren’t even funny. I totally hate her shirt. No one who wears a shirt like that deserves to be successful.” I am a terrible person.

3:45 p.m: After an excruciatingly boring wait, the award ceremony finally commences. My feelings are conflicted regarding the award ceremony. On one hand, I want my peers to do well, but, on the other, I absolutely despise the award ceremony etiquette. Every time someone from our squad places, we have to stand up. Every time the first place winner in an event is announced, we have to stand up. Is it bad I find myself hoping my successful teammates get first in their category so I only have to stand up once for that event? My one pair of dress pants is too big, so I have to pull them up every time we stand to avoid mooning the squad behind ours.   I’m sure I would like awards more if I was better at forensics or if I wore a belt.

4:25 p.m: I get back on the bus with my squad and take a nap.

5:35 p.m: Back at the school, I head inside to look at my ballots. The judges’ comments range anywhere from, “Don’t change anything!” to “Do change everything!” My favorite ballot is the one that has nothing but positive comments and accolades written on it, but, despite how impressed he said he was, the judge still gave me a terrible ranking.

5:45 p.m: My dad picks me up, and we go home, ironically jamming to Queen’s “We Are the Champions” on the way.

6:30 p.m: After a long, hard day of speaking, walking, eating and sitting, I reward myself by putting on some pjs and not doing anything the rest of my Saturday night.

I’m a Big Kid Now

As I filled out my returning staff application for the Free Press staff 2014-15 this afternoon, one question’s answer made my childhood’s impending doom feel incredibly close and disgustingly real. The question  read, “Grade NEXT year.” Below it, three options: 10, 11, 12. As I clicked the circle next to ’12’, a wave of nostalgia washed over me and I saw my entire 17 years of life flash before my eyes. One more year before I’m a legal adult.

Every year of my life, I’ve felt old. It’s funny how you can feel so mature and grownup and then look back and realize how young and stupid you were.

One of the first times I felt I knew where my life was headed was in preschool. I was three or four.  We had a plan, Madeline and I. We wanted animal crackers, and we just couldn’t wait for snack time.  My heart was about to jump out of my throat as we asked the teacher to “go to the bathroom.” The thought of lying made my stomach churn with a guilty fervor. As Madeline and I greedily scooped animal crackers from the unattended bowl in the classroom, I knew there was no turning back. I was a criminal mastermind–I might as well accept it. Suddenly, a hand grabbed my shoulder. It was our teacher. I was going to spend the rest of my life in jail and amount to nothing. She wanted to see what was in our hands, and, left with no other option, I showed her the stolen crackers. But, Madeline revealed two empty palms. I was astounded. When we got back to the playground, I wiped the tears from my eyes and asked Madeline how she did it. She laughed and said, “I hid them in my panties. Want one?” I said, “No thank you.”

As I left preschool behind and began first grade, I decided I was no longer a criminal. I was a student–so, basically, an adult. On the first day of first grade, I was wearing a white blouse tucked into a plaid skirt. Knee high socks complemented my clunky leather shoes. The outfit was inspired by a  Hilary Duff movie I had seen recently and seemed perfect for the first day of first grade.  My giant pink butterfly backpack felt so grownup against my shoulders. My mom wouldn’t stop taking pictures, so I knew I was making an important transition. At my very first recess, I saw a girl in a plaid jumper. Her name was Lacey. She looked so nervous standing there, and I couldn’t see why. First graders weren’t supposed to be nervous–feelings were for babies. I ran up to her. “Do you want to see me jump off this slide?” I asked. She quietly nodded that she did. I laughed, “Well I’m not gonna do it.”

Lacey and I are still friends, and she still brings up the first time we met. She thought we were friends that day because I was the only one who talked to her. I just assumed talking to strangers was something practically adults did, like going to school and carrying a backpack.

First grade class pic. I would be the only girl on the far left, striking a pose.

First grade class pic. I would be the only girl on the far left, striking a pose.

As I got older, I realized how childish I’d been in years past. First grade was ages ago. I was much wiser now. In sixth grade, I’d already found the lucky boy I was going to marry. Some said he was chubby and had a unibrow, but I felt like I was mature enough to know true beauty comes from within. We would spend all of lunch doing the Saturday Night Live 2008 presidential campaign sketches back and forth. We agreed the Sarah Palin rap was the best, and we both knew it by heart. We had a magical bond, but that was the year I learned all good things come to an end. After lunch one day, someone told him that I liked him, and it was awkward the rest of the year. The next year, he transferred to a school in a different town, and I faced  junior high school with little certainty about the future. If my love life could fall apart that easily, was anything sacred? What else didn’t I understand? I used to feel like I maybe was getting close to knowing everything there was to know, but now, I wasn’t so sure.

In junior high, I didn’t feel grownup anymore. My friends and I dropped to the bottom of the heap in the 7-12 secondary section of my little private school. I realized how long a school career actually was. I was barely past the halfway point, and I could hardly remember the beginning. I fully understood my childish naivety when I and one other junior high girl wanted to play basketball. My school had a no cut policy, so instead of telling us we couldn’t play, they kindly let us sit the high school’s varsity bench as awkward, insecure seventh graders. A few upperclassmen made it their mission to show my fellow seventh grader and me we weren’t welcome even on the sidelines because were younger than them. It’s funny because they went like 1-19 for the season, so I don’t know if us playing would have made much of a difference.  I didn’t appreciate other people thinking they were practically adults because of their year in school, so I made up my mind not to use my age as an excuse to be a butthead.

After a tumultuous junior high experience, I made the decision to leave the school I’d attended with pretty much the same people since first grade and go to public high school. As I walked to the double doors on my first day of freshman year, I was 97 percent sure it would be the day I died.  I knew about 5 of the 1500 kids who went there. To prepare, I spent the preceding week memorizing the school’s map and my classes’ room numbers. That day went by in a blur–a terrifying, horrifying blur. During English, I sat next to some chick I played soccer with in third grade, and hers was the most familiar face of the day. Then, during P.E., I got hit in the face with a football, and my newest friend loudly exclaimed, “Kyra! Are you crying?”  I quickly learned about PDA and was horrified when I heard someone mutter a cuss word in the hallway. While embarrassing, the new experiences made me feel older. I was now rated PG-13 for extreme savoir faire. Even though I’d vowed to not abuse the perceived power that comes with age, I couldn’t help but feel like high school made me a big deal.

first day of freshman year

That classic first day of school pic from freshman year.

It’s amazing how much someone can change. As a second semester junior, I look back and realize how foolish I was, and then I realize I’m looking back at not only years past, but also literally yesterday. I now have some things I never thought I would, including a blog, a weird diet and a tattoo. I’m interested to see how I change as the last year of my fleeting childhood plays out. I’m sure next year I will scroll through my blog archives and laugh about how stupid they sound. I already do. 

It’s More Than Just Bingo

On the first “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” Jerry Seinfeld mentioned in his interview that his doctor told him people live longer, and “90 is a thing now.”

I’ve recently realized the full validity of this statement. I mean, I’ve always known elderly people were around–I just didn’t realize quite how long they were elderly. Ninety really is a thing. At the beginning of this year, I started calling bingo a few times a month at an assisted living home. For the first time, I’m around quite a few older individuals on a fairly frequent basis.

The first lesson I learned while calling bingo is that the residents absolutely hate my hair. Regardless of how I wear it, two ladies in particular are always telling me to “pin it back” or “do something with it.” It’s awkward because I actually do put effort into my hair sometimes, believe it or not.

Also, the activity director didn’t mention this to me, but nobody likes anything other than regular bingo. Big picture frame, little picture frame, Big T, four corners–every time I announce an irregular Bingo formation, the participants’ respect for me drops an average of 13.7 percent.

While some residents aren’t particularly fond of my hair/bingo calling style, others can’t remember if they like me or not.

It’s Thursday, 3:02 p.m. I’m shuffling my giant bingo cards. Yes, the numbers are on giant cards instead of small, easily randomized plastic balls. Contrary to my original hope, I don’t get to spin a big metal contraption and pull out a ping-pong ball with “B6” written on it.

“Hello, honey! What’s your name?” Eleanor asks me for the second time that day. She doesn’t always remember her name is Eleanor. Everyone calls her “Brownie,” and I have no idea why.

“Kyra,” I answer. I then tell her I’m 17-years-old because I know from experience this will be her second question.

“Seventeen!” She exclaims. She grabs my arm quite tightly for a woman of her age,  but also in a surprisingly endearing way. “Why! You’re just starting out! I’m 96 … Well, I’m ninety-something.”

My mathematically-disinclined brain immediately begins its calculations … Ninety-six minus 17 … Carry the one … Pull out phone … Bring up calculator app … type … Holy crap. When I was born, Eleanor was 79. That’s like, really old.

Eleanor is one of my favorite residents. She gets bingo at least once each time I’m there, but she rarely notices. Last Thursday, I looked over at her table and saw she had not one, not two, but three different bingos. When I told her she won in like, three different places, she laughed and said, “Oh, goodness. So I have. I just got so busy visiting I almost forgot I was playing!”

I often wonder if, in 1996, the year I was born, Eleanor knew she had Alzheimer’s. I wonder if she had already started living at the assisted living home.  According to my calculations, when she was born, the year was 1918 or 1919. World War I was ending, segregation was normal, women didn’t quite yet have the right to vote. She lived through the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, World War II, The Vietnam War, The Civil Rights Movement, The Cold War, the invention of the internet, 9/11, the election of a black president. And now, she doesn’t remember hardly any of it.

I find it incredibly discontenting that someone can live a rich, full life and then spend the last 15 or so years stuck in a care facility. Maybe people visit you. Maybe they don’t. Maybe you don’t notice if they do or not. Facilities like the assisted living one at which I call bingo serve as places for the elderly to make their transition to the grave as peaceful and painless as possible, which is good because if I make it that long, I will probably end up in one.

I have a crazy history of dementia in my family. I am positive I will get it eventually. I have family members who had it on both sides, and my memory is already terrible. So, what is the point of trying to live a full life if, at the end of it all, you don’t even remember your own name? I’ve struggled with this question, and I found part of the answer in the oddest of places: Spanish class.

For some reason the other day, my Spanish 3 class had a conversation about dementia. While I’m not sure what that had to do with learning the Imperfect Subjunctive tense, my teacher made a good point. She said she believed those in the last stages of Alzheimer’s hold on to who they truly were at the other stages of their lives. She said she had an elderly family member with Alzheimer’s who spent the last few years of her life trying to give everyone around her facial tissues because, in her mind, she was giving to the poor–an activity she spent many of her years before dementia doing.

If what my Spanish teacher asserts is true, Eleanor was probably the sweetest person ever. She still is. Some people get dementia and become the mean-spirited person they might have previously only been on the inside, but Eleanor is the opposite. Every time Eleanor makes a mistake, she is overly apologetic. When she asks for me to repeat a number during bingo, she always says thank you. She compliments me every time she sees me. Given, it’s the same compliment, but still thoughtful.

If and when I get dementia, I hope I can be half as genuinely kind and caring as Eleanor. Until then, I will work to make sure when I’m senile, I prove I was a good person the first three-fourths of my life.