Prompt Images

Last week, while at a happy hour with coworkers, someone asked me why I have two star tattoos on my wrist. I cackled with laughter.

“What? Is it a funny story?”

It is not.

I have two relatives, an uncle and a cousin, who, independently, committed suicide and the stars are a memorial. When telling the story, I always make sure to include the word “independently” and the fact that it was not a father and son. Because I’m trying to soften the blow of my relatives’ deaths for this person who just asked an innocuous question, and those caveats are all that I have to offer.

And that’s why I cackled.

After 17 years of answering “What do your stars mean?” I now relish the dark humor of some poor soul walking into a buzzsaw of grief.

I told my coworker the story, basked in her confused, horrified look, and then explained why I found the question funny.

My first tattoo (not the stars) is deeply meaningful to me. It also honors a family member.

Like many people, I wanted my tattoo to feel important. Not because tattoos should be meaningful, but because I wanted to reduce the risk of regret. And I still spent the first week I had it vacillating between pride and absolutely freaking out that I had a bicycle etched on my forearm forever. The freaking out went away and the positive feelings stayed. When I got my stars, there was no freaking out. Only happiness.

I also, like many people, found that after a couple of tattoos, having an important reason for the tattoo became less… important. My bicep and I, adorned with iconography of the places I’ve lived, are here to tell you that the slippery slope of ink is real.

Once you get a few, aesthetics begin to carry more weight than emotional heft.

Don’t get me wrong. My “places I’ve lived tattoos” are meaningful. Just not in a way that makes acquaintances tilt their heads 45 degrees to the left and say “awww.” I like them. But I also like that they look good.

My next tattoo appointment is next week. The artist who did my last tattoo announced that she’s moving to the east coast and her remaining availability here in Portland was limited. I booked my spot. I had no weighty design in mind. No major life event to artistically interpret on my body.

Precious reader, I hesitate to divulge to you the fact that my next tattoo will be silly. A gag.

My next tattoo will be of an asthma inhaler. Rendered in American traditional style. With the words “Sucks to my assmar” in a banner. Those words are a nod to Lord of the Flies, a fact that I look forward to explaining at least weekly for the rest of my life a book, along with the fact that no, it’s not my favorite book, I read for high school and don’t really remember it, beyond a character named Piggy repeating “Sucks to your assmar” to a fellow feral child. But I have assmar and I say suck to it.

My next tattoo will be stupid. And that’s the way I want it.

But even if that’s true, I haven’t completely abandoned meaning. My inhaler tattoo will mean something to me. My asthma is sports induced. Anytime I do something aerobic, whether that’s swimming, playing basketball, or having a sneezing fit from allergies, my lungs try to suffocate me with their inflammation. But I always played basketball growing up, and I became a runner as an adult, I just need to take my inhaler beforehand. Knowing exercise can kill me and doing it anyway makes me feel kind of tough.

I’m not the only one who wanted to commemorate their chronic respiratory disease. When looking for inspiration for my tattoo, I found a plethora of inhaler tatts on the internet with captions reading “It ain’t eezy bein’ wheezy,” “Fun hurts my lungs,” “How do I live without you,” and “Catch my breath.” Is asthma a great reason to get a tattoo? No, but it was good enough.

And that’s probably all I’ll need for any future adornment of my skin. A good enough reason to get a cool or funny thing on me. Eventually, it will just have to be cool. Because that’s how this slippery slope works.

Dennis William

Dennis is an aspiring English teacher and still listens to ska music. He lives in Portland, Oregon, which is fine, just not in the same way that DC is fine.

learn more
Share this story
About The Prompt
A sweet, sweet collective of writers, artists, podcasters, and other creatives. Sound like fun?
Learn more