HE TOLD ME TO TAKE OFF MY PANTS AND LIE DOWN. I did. I remember looking at the big clock on the wall above me. I did not know it then, but that first glance was the start of a six-hour relationship with those twelve numbers. At times I stared at it, winced at it, willed its hands to stop what seemed like their backward movement. Other times I looked away, thinking it might speed the process of transforming the skin stretched across the small of my back into a work of art. Had I known my new tattoo would require lying so still for so long, I might have chickened out. But I didn’t know, and neither did the artist, who said he could finish the job in two or three hours. That optimistic prognosis convinced me I could handle it, and so did the distant memory of my first tattoo: a little cow on my right bicep, conceived one morning a decade ago and completed in less than an hour that same afternoon. I recalled that it hurt quite a bit, but also that nearly all of the pain ceased the moment the inking was over.
I was enormously pleased with that tattoo and still am; it’s a measure of my independence and an emblem of my identity. That’s why I got a second one—eventually. It was not a decision I made easily. When I was in my twenties, I pulled all sorts of stunts (odd haircuts, odd piercings) to get attention. But as I got older and had a baby, I began to wonder if maybe enough wasn’t enough. And really, even if I did want attention, was another tattoo the way to go? I got my first one in Hollywood; lots of people had them there. But as soon as I moved to a succession of less self-consciously hip cities, my little cow might as well have been full-sized, real-life, and sitting on my head for all the commotion it caused.