The Story Behind the Extra “F”

A little over a week ago I mentioned that my intoxicated brain had sent me a text message demanding that I tell the “story of Terriffying.” I claimed to not know what my subconscious was babbling about, but that was a lie. I know exactly what drunk me thought sober me should tell the eight people who read my blog world; I just didn’t know if I was ready to be that raw on the internet.

But fuck it. I’m about to go sushi bar on this b-word, because it’s time to talk about where the f that F really came from.

First, though: A long-winded backstory.

I got my first tattoo on my 18th birthday, in 2006, and hated it almost immediately, but that didn’t stop me from slapping another and another and another onto my body in the years shortly thereafter. And, after that disastrous first stab (ha) at it, I was careful to be patient with myself while deciding on a design and find quality artists who could develop those mental visions into tattoos that perfectly aligned with whatever it was I was seeing in my brain. I’d learned my tattoo lesson and was playing by the right rules.

Until the late summer of 2012.

Now, by this point, I was no novice to being tattooed. I had my ribs done, as well as my right bicep, right shoulder, and of course still that shitty little idiot 18th birthday mistake on my left forearm. I was no Kat Von D, but who wants to be her? She looks like she was carved out of expensive soap and painted with glitter crayons.

In spite of continuing to get more work done, I had also undergone a handful of laser removal sessions for that initial disaster; five sessions total, I think, at $50 each – the tattoo was $40, or maybe even $30, when I first got it. Also, laser removal involves enormous needles shoved all the way to the bone, and the smell of burning flesh. It was totally amazing.

I used to have pictures of the shitty tattoo and the gross removal aftermath but in some brilliant moment of “This shouldn’t be on the internet because I’m a grown up now,” I deleted them. However, if you just picture a two-square-inch cluster of bloody, pussy pimples on my left forearm then you’ve basically got the image.

Anyway, back to the end of 2012’s summer. The tattoo of regret was far from removed at this point and I’d already decided that, in lieu of removal, I’d get a cover-up. I wasn’t positive what I wanted yet though, and I didn’t want to get a second tattoo that I hated in the same fucking spot, so I’d decided to put that area of my body on the back burner and focus elsewhere.

After all, I had resolved to think carefully and plan meticulously for every tattoo that I got because of the flagship of fiery disaster that was my first tattoo experience. And I had done that.

Again, until the late summer of 2012.

I was very new to California; I moved out in late May 2012 and it was now only August or September. I’ve always been the kind of person who handles dramatic life changes by drinking heavily and staying in my bedroom for days on end, so I hadn’t done a great deal of social networking since I’d moved out. Aside from coworkers who sometimes invited me to get drinks after work, I was all alone.

Except for Thad, whose name was not actually Thad but it was an equally douchey dude name and because playing make-believe is fun for privacy purposes I’ll give the dickwad his anonymity.

I met Thad on a dating site over the summer and immediately didn’t really like him too much, but it was a time in my life when I hadn’t entirely grown out of approaching relationships like little projects and boys as though they were broken toys to either fix or throw away, plus I was so bored and lonely that even a weirdo name Thad seemed like good company.

We hung out once at a bar, then a second time at a different bar. Of course he played the guitar (badly) and wrote (awful) songs and performed at (what I guess you could call) open mics. On what I suppose was our third “date,” he invited me to a very weird open mic (4 PM on a weekday in a Berkeley sandwich shop). As if that wasn’t lame enough, he dedicated a song to me, his “girlfriend,” and said the word “love,” and I was all “oh fuck I don’t have any friends but this guy is so stupid what am I doing” and then I think I just got really, really drunk and took the bus home.

He was so stupid, by the way. He consistently spelled my name wrong in different ways when texting me (it only has three letters in it, for fuck’s sake) and he also smelled like old spaghetti that wasn’t even good when it was new spaghetti.

Once, he argued with me at a bar about how our children (yes, our children, I think this was on the fifth “date”) would never be raised to believe in Santa because it ruined childhood, and he kept saying, “I really feel like I’m going to make it more than three months with you!”

Whether he was talking about in a relationship or in sex I never found out, because after about six weeks I couldn’t deal anymore. Remember that Thad was the only person I knew, and breaking it off with him meant retreating back into the cave of loneliness that I’d been hiding in for months, but never seeing his hairy teeth or wimpy fingers (they were THE wimpiest) again was a fair trade-off for what I was pretty positive would become a lifetime of isolation. I already had two cats though; I could hang with the rapid decline into spinsterdom.

(I was only 23, but this was really how I thought about the world at that point.)

By the time I told Thad that he sucked he was of course already “in love” with me. I put it in quotation marks because I think love is wonderful and gorgeous and sacred and what Thad felt toward me was further from love than the disdain that I’d developed toward him. I think it was actually shock that a girl would talk to him, or anger that a girl who agreed to talk to him realized he wasn’t worth talking to.

Or maybe he really loved me and I’m a heartless twat. I guess we’ll never know.

But he sent me novel-length text messages poorly articulating the reasons why we should still be together, some of which included the fact that he was almost 30 and that I was “the hottest girl [he’s] ever met.” He also – cute little bugger that he was – broke into my seedy apartment building in downtown Oakland (which was not hard to do  – three homeless men lived in the lobby and probably let him in, mistaking him as one of their tribe thanks to the level of devotion Thad’s hipsterdom had reached) and left a note taped to my mailbox that had fucking hearts drawn on it and red marker that he said was blood because he cut himself on account of how sad he was that we broke up.

(I am in no way mocking mental illness or attempted suicide; it was 100% red marker. The dude was a freak.)

In the midst of this, I felt more trapped than I had when he and I were still hanging out. I needed to do something, something that I could control, and the best idea I had was to get a tattoo because it is always a good idea to permanently change your body as a reaction to less-than-ideal personal circumstances. I’d had an idea knocking around in my brain – a quote, to remind me of the hardships I’d endured to get to where I was, because I’m pretty fucking original – and had some notion of where on my body it could be. I didn’t have money, but this was also at a time in my life when I didn’t understand that credit card cash advances are for emergencies like bailing someone out of jail, not emergencies like needing a tattoo.

Live and learn, am I right?

Perusing Yelp, I found a highly rated tattoo place in San Francisco and called to see if they’d do a same-day tattoo (“Uh, sure? Just come in. Someone will probably be here.”) on a Sunday. Then, I got on the bus.

When I got to the tattoo place there was indeed someone there. He said he didn’t work at that shop, but claimed to work at a shop in Oakland that I’d heard of, and I was so caught in the spirit of control or permanence or stupidity – who knows? – so it never crossed my mind that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to get tattooed by someone who didn’t actually work at this shop, having never been to that shop or met that person or even been tattooed on this side of the country.

Hindsight is 20/20, but foresight is usually just a big, black, emptiness full of sharp furniture corners and a floor full of Legos.

I told him the quote I wanted – told, did not write and give– while he jotted it down. It’s Stanley Kubrick, and it’s from an interview in Playboy. I think he was talking about his fear of going on airplanes, but the whole paragraph is really moving and insightful and whatever. I’d chosen just a few lines, to be wrapped around my thighs like garters in a wispy, ornate script. On my right leg it was to say, “The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent” and, on the left, “However vast the darkness we must supply our own light.” 

Real pretty, real meaningful, real great idea.

I’m sure you’ve concluded where the extra F now lives, but this isn’t actually where the story ends. You see, this tattoo artist – the one who had openly admitted that he did not actually work at the shop where I was getting tattooed – also now admitted, with visible reservation, that he wasn’t a strong speller.

I said – and this is a direct quote – “HA, IT’S FINE, I HAVE A DEGREE IN WRITING, I’LL SPELL-CHECK IT.”

Kids, let this be a lesson: arrogance will always make an asshole out of you.

So I used my degree for maybe the second time in my life (I was technically “working in the field” back then but I primarily just got coffee and fucked up while booking flights for my boss) and the hesitant man started carving the spell-checked quote into my legs.

I’d been tattooed before, but never on my legs, so I assumed that the excruciating pain was an effect of location, not poor application of tattoo skill.

Lesson #2 (courtesy of my eighth grade history teacher, Mrs. Cariddi): When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME.

A coworker, who we’ll call Hugo, had agreed to come sit with me while I permanently altered my body, but he’d showed up in khaki’s and a tucked-in button down, carrying a stack of books (“I’m studying for my CPA” – or CNA or NRA or NAACP or AARP who fucking knows – “exam!”), so he was not empathetic toward my pain because he had no schema for the expected amount of suffering associated with getting a tattoo.

So he just sat in front of me and brought me tissues (I was sobbing the whole time) and told me stories and read from his really boring finance books for the entire two hours, and when I was done the tattoo artist looked at me, and then my legs, and then at me, and then at the clock, and then back at me and insecurely raised one eyebrow while doubtfully asking, “I’m done?”

Being by now in so much pain that I was trying not to literally piss my tiny shorts, I agreed that he was, indeed, done. I swung off the table to examine his work: first thing I noticed was that the two tattoos were undeniably not even. “Whatever, I’m probably just standing crookedly.” Second thing I noticed was that the script was way too thick, which probably meant he was pushing way too hard with the needle. “Whatever, it’ll heal fine I’m sure.” Third thing I noticed was that Hugo looked as nauseous as I felt, so I let the tattoo dude wrap me up like a cake, surrendered a whole fuckload of cash to him, and went to get sushi with Hugo.

As soon as I got home that night I cleaned up the tattoos and did a photo shoot. Of course. No one gets a tattoo without posting it on the internet within three hours. It wasn’t a sexy photo shoot – I have no idea how to look sexy in real life, let alone pictures – but it was a clear image of the two tattoos, with a caption to explain the quote, and probably some hashtags. Maybe even a #livelaughlough. I was pretty shitty four years ago.

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Not the original image posted online, but the only one I can find where you can see most of the tattoo.

If you’ve been taking notes, you’ll remember that I got this tattoo on Sunday, so the next day was Monday, which meant waking up at 5 AM and heading into San Francisco for work. Of course, I anticipated innumerable “likes” on my tattoo overnight; I’d posted it around 10 PM Pacific Time and most of the people I knew at that point were still on Eastern Time, so while I was dreaming badass dreams about that badass stuff that badass me does, my East Coast crew would be waking up to oooh and aaah my badassery.

But there weren’t that many “likes.” There were a bunch, but not the avalanche I’d anticipated. And the comments were limited, too.

In fact, there was just one comment on the picture, on Facebook, from a childhood friend’s mom (who was at that point and remains to this day an aunt-like friend). She’d written something along the lines of “I hope that’s not actually on your body because the word ‘terrifying’ does not have two ‘fs’ in it…”

I Googled: indeed, “terrifying” is a one-f word, so it looked like I, too, was one f-word: FUCKED.

I deleted the picture, sent a private message to the aunt-like friend who had pointed it out (“PLEASE DON’T TELL MY MOM IT’S FINE EVERYTHING IS FINE”) then took a different picture, obscuring the typo, and posted that instead:

That picture got one “like” on Instagram and three on Facebook.

And that’s when I knew I’d hit rock bottom.

4 thoughts on “The Story Behind the Extra “F”

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