It started almost four years ago. My sister Britni always toyed with the idea of getting inked, but I was never down. I couldn't decide on something so permanent -- commitment has never really been my thing. Tattoos were an abstract idea; those things that looked cool on other people but I'd never be able to pull off. When she mentioned all four our siblings getting matching tattoos before I moved west, however, the decision was made for me. It was never a question of whether or not I'd do it. If they were in, I was in. I even made the appointment all those years ago. The thought was to pay tribute to our mother, a beekeeper and the common thread between all of us kids (two of them have a different dad). We would all get honey bees tattooed on various parts of our bodies and have a beautiful reminder of the bond we shared.
I was still scared though. I thought I'd get a life-size honey bee, simple and tiny, at my bra line so no one would ever see it if I didn't want them to. It was safe, wimpy and safe, but it was only way I could ensure I wouldn't try to rub it off every time it got caught in my peripheral vision. My brother couldn't get off work on that fateful day and as soon as we walked into the tattoo parlor, everything seemed off. I didn't know how it all worked, but I showed the stocky, bearded man a photo of the bee I liked and his response was, "This is a wasp." I'm not an entomologist by any means, but I know a damn bee when I see one and I was thrown by his snarky response and shitty attitude. "No, it's definitely a bee.. And I want it to be as small as possible, please," I said trying to keep my composure. After similarly off-putting conversations with my two sisters, he disappeared in the back to draw my "wasp" and came back with what looked, in my mind, like a bee drawing the size of my head. I asked if it could be smaller, he brusquely said no and we all walked out knowing that if we were going get drawn on in permanent ink, it wasn't going to be by this asshole.
I moved across the country without my bee. Britni and I continued to talk about our theoretical bee tattoos throughout the following years, dedicating Pinterest boards to them and texting each other every bee design we ever came across. Fast-forward to about four weeks ago when I decided enough was enough. "Let's get our bees when I'm in town after the wedding!" I exclaimed manically over the phone. I figured we could make a night of it and hopefully our two other siblings (who I knew wouldn't be able to make it that late on a school night) would follow suit. She was down, and after a raving recommendation for artist Katie Ryan in Gainesville (my college town), I made an appointment.
When the day finally came, the car hummed with our energy as the radio crackled through the 30-mile drive. Brit said she was going first and I agreed, knowing I'd have plenty of time to freak out. This go 'round I wasn't as timid nor was I afraid to go bigger than I originally wanted. I'd scrolled through Katie's Instagram feed dozens of times, I loved her style and I realized I was taking screen shots of every tat that featured geometric shapes. I wanted whatever it was to be high quality without the chance of bleeding into a buzzing blur, and I wanted honeycomb in the background. She showed us her original drawing of a rad bee with its wings outspread, and I timidly showed her the bee's profile and comb I liked. She was open, flexible, friendly. She loved the idea and was perfectly happy to take the time to put us at ease and, once realizing the design was far more complicated than she'd originally thought, let us know it would be a long night. She was still down if we were. Yes.
We decided on slightly different designs/placement and I could barely sit still as my stomach cramped while my sister remained calm under the buzzing needle for the next two hours. I inhaled takeout sushi from a nearby spot we frequented in college and prayed to the gods that I wouldn't pass out when it was my turn. Finally it was my go. After three tries we got the placement of the stencil right, and she started doing her thang. Britni kept me calm by telling stories and taking photos (especially as I winced through the, ahem, more sensitive areas) while I stared into the many tattoo drawings on the wall and tried to stay as still as I could while still breathing. Eventually all of the blood drained out of my left arm draped over my head and my legs, thick with lactic acid from a 16-mile training run earlier, felt like they might fall off. But finally, it was done. Still a little lightheaded, we bandaged our new ink up and drove home exhausted, cathartic and nervous as hell to tell our dad.
He took it surprisingly well, and I freakin love it, you guys. I'm so grateful that I walked out of that first tattoo parlor filled with negative energy and let the idea marinate, evolve and become a bigger, sweeter, more intricate version of itself. The bold and abstract geometric comb contrasting a fuzzy yet fierce and realistic honey bee is exactly the kind of balance I strive for, and of course I'll think of my incredible mother every time I see it.
"She reminded me that the world was really one bee yard, and the same rules work fine in both places. Don't be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don't be an idiot; wear long sleeves and pants. Don't swat. Don't even think about swatting. If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates while whistling melts a bee's temper. Act like you know what you're doing, even if you don't. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.”
― Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees