Two years ago I got a tattoo. I never, ever EVER thought I would. The idea of having something that permanent etched into my skin made me sick to my stomach. If I’m being honest, sometimes it still does.

The reason behind it was peer pressure in its purest and most evil form: sibling peer pressure.

Here’s what happened. I think the two youngest sisters started it (typical).

Hilary got a the outline of a five pointed star inked into her left butt cheek – the part that would peek out from under a bathing suit. Mawney got a teensy tiny version of the same star tattoed onto the top of her right foot. 

Claire was next. She did it a bit differently (as is her wont) and she got two five pointed stars tattooed in the dimples of her lower back.

And then there was a bit of a standoff, as only Lizzie and I remained to get what was now being called “the sister tattoo”. Five points for the five sisters.

The heckling began. Every time we all got together it was all “When are you going to get the tattoo? Why haven’t you gotten the tattoo? How’s it supposed to be a sister tattoo if only three of us have it?”

I was pissed. Those bastards hadn’t consulted me about this so-called sister tattoo and now I was being peer-pressured into permanently inking a star onto my body. Where was the discussion? Where were the votes and designs and scheduled appointments? It all seemed a bit haphazard..different sizes, different places…the whole thing was a shitshow and I was being thrust into the middle of it.

Obviously I did it. But it wasn’t pretty.

One summer we traveled back to my grandparents cottage in Ontario. We drove out, four sisters and my mum in a minivan for three and a half days (Claire did it differently, and flew out…smart girl)

On the way I repeatedly asked Lizzie to draw a star on my wrist to get used to the idea. She claims to be an artist but this is the best that she could come up with.


Things were not looking good.

A few days after we arrived, Claire and my brother flew in and in short order Liam too began to feel the effects of my persuasive younger siblings as “the Sister Tattoo” morphed into “the Sibling Tattoo”, a little less catchy but with five points to represent each of our five siblings. He seemed convinced.

Finally the day came and all six of us packed into a minivan and took off for Peterborough, a  town near my cottage large enough to hold a tattoo parlour or two.

The whole way there I felt like throwing up. I was so so SO worried that it would look bad, that they would make a mistake, that I would forever regret what I was about to do. But they wouldn’t let me back out.

Our tattoo artist looked like Edward Norton. This made me feel a bit better. Then the tattooing made me feel worse. It hurt. A lot.

And then it was done! Me with a bandaged wrist, Lizzie with a bandaged butt (she got it done as a mirror image to Hilary’s) and I was elated at the fact that I had a tattoo, but mostly just glad that the whole goddamned thing was over.

After seeing me crying and writhing and grimacing, Liam opted out of the sibling tattoo and STILL hasn’t gotten it done. For all his whining about being excluded from the ‘Sister Tattoo” he sure hasn’t out his ink where his mouth is. (Or where his arm is. I mean, he doesn’t have to get it done in his mouth is what I’m saying. just GET IT ALREADY. Feel free to heckle him here)

                                          Me, Edward Norton, Lizzie

But guys, when I finally took off the dressing at midnight that night (unable to wait any longer)  I fucking lost my SHIT. The tattoo was bad. It was my worst fear manifested in ink PERMANENTLY on my body.

It was lopsided, some points of the star were longer or fatter than others, there were weird little squiggles and bumps and blotches. I was horrified, I grabbed my phone and raced up to the long gravel driveway of our cottage where I crouched in the woods (so I wouldn’t wake anyone up) and I did what I always do when I am freaking out – I called Adam.

It’s funny, I can’t remember what I did two days ago, couldn’t tell you where I was a few months ago but the memory of being crouched in the woods of Ontario as a faint rain fell on my face and neck, sobbing into the phone is as clear as a bell.

Adam picked up and I started ugly-crying, heaving and sobbing and unintelligibly trying to articulate how horrible and truly disfiguring this tattoo was. “It’s BAD” I remember crying, “Like REALLY bad. Oh my god I KNEW this would happen why did I do this? I wish I never did it!”

Adam listened patiently for a while and then after a dramatic proclamation where I finished by saying “…it’s lopsided and wonky and HORRIBLE!” he interrupted and he said “MADELEINE. . You’re lopsided and wonky and horrible. It’s just a tattoo Relax.”

And surprisingly this did calm me down, I started taking deep breaths and then tiptoed down the stone steps and slipped into bed. This calm lasted until the next morning when I saw it again in daylight and started freaking out all over again.

I can’t blame the tattoo artist, Lizzie’s is perfect. I think maybe my extreme anxiety was making me twitch and jerk with the result that Adam was right, the tattoo was like me, overthought and imprecise, deeper in some places than others, striving for symmetry but missing the mark.

I wish I could say that through this little realization I found peace with the horrible tattoo but I didn’t. I obsessively researched. I looked at hundreds of pictures of other people’s horrible tattoo’s to make myself feel better. Because compared to tattoos like this:


and this:


and this:


…mine wasn’t so bad.

So I left it for a year.

Somehow I felt like I needed to conquer this imperfection, I needed to get used to and even accept that I had something permanently a part of me that was flawed and couldn’t be fixed. It stressed me out. But I lived with it for a year and learned to get over it.

After the year was through I bit the bullet and got the worst bits touched up but I left the wonky sides, the lopsided points, the varying degrees of thick and thin lines.

It’s the worst kind of cheese, the worst kind of writing to stretch meaning and metaphor into something like this, but I truly do feel that this tattoo has become less of a tribute to my sisters, and more of a permanent reminder that as Adam said, I can be lopsided and wonky and horrible. And (say it with me now)…



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1 Comment

  • Reply A Small Secret | Sweet Madeleine August 8, 2013 at 12:03 AM

    […] then they DID screw up, and I did (and do) have a screwed up thing inked onto my person forever? Remember […]

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