James was thirteen when he got his first tattoo. He sat on the peeling linoleum in a double wide trailer, with no shirt or shoes, watching his best friend get a tattoo. The tattoo “artist” was his best friend Mat’s older brother. Bryan was paroled that morning, got home and immediately started making up for the lost two years of getting Mat in trouble. Bryan held the tattoo gun (which was really only a melted tooth brush, a pen with a needle stuck in it, a little motor and some other stuff James couldn’t identify) and dotting a smiley face with crossed out eyes on his younger brother’s shoulder.
“Stop moving,” Bryan said, and tried to hold his squirming sibling still. It was already crooked from Mat’s fidgeting but Bryan’s shaking hand didn’t help, either. Bryan pushed the needle deep into his brother’s soft shoulder, marring it until his brother finally asked him to stop in something closer to a sob than a scream. After pelting him with curse words, Bryan dropped the tattoo gun, picked up his cigarettes and stepped outside. Mat tried to play the pain from his shoulder off, “Well at least I didn’t pussy out”
James had declined earlier, saying: ‘ladies first.’
“Let me do it,” James said — he had seen Mat cry after falling off their skateboards, so he was sure that he would be able to do better. James flipped on the tattoo gun and paused— not for fear of pain, what his mother would think, or future regret, but deciding where it should go. The hair on his legs and arms were just starting to darken, his chest was still bare as it had been on his birthday thirteen (and a quarter) years before. He decided on the nautical star (he was not a sailor, but had seen it on a band’s album cover and had doodled it ever since) should go on the left side of his chest, where he put his hand over his heart for the pledge. Instead of pledging allegiance to the United states of America, he would give his to punk rock. James took several deep breaths and then plunged the needle into the skin of his left pec, exhaling through gritted teeth.