“I can’t have tattoos,” he shouted in my ear over the music I was trying to listen to, “I work in corporate America.”

I think I laughed out loud.  Why did this even come up? I thought to myself, what had I missed in trying to miss this prolonged attempt at impressing me. Maybe it was my hair; he had touched it earlier in pointing out that it was multicolored.  People tended to touch my hair when I straightened it.

“I work in corporate America,” I replied.

“So you know what I’m saying.”  He seemed earnest.  I was still uncertain where this was coming from—no one in the nearby area had visible ink.

“I have at least 12.”

He visibly took time to look me over. This time my laugh was more derisive than I intended. It’s March and it’s cold.  I’m completely covered except for my hands and face.  “You have 12 tattoos?”

“About that,” I stared ahead.

“You don’t know how many you have?”

“I don’t keep count.”  For a brief moment I wondered how many I did have before quickly no longer caring.

“But you cover them all up when you go to work, right?”

I physically turned to face him. “No. When I do go into an office I don’t make any attempts at covering them. And my hair is blue.”

He muttered loudly something about how I must be really good at what I do and wandered off.  It wasn’t the end of the encounters with him—he’d try a few more times before leaving the bar in something of a huff.  I ran my hand down my coat covered forearm; it had to be close to a year now that I got this one.

That was Wednesday.  Now I’m sitting in a Whole Foods, siphoning free WiFi while listening to 30 Seconds to Mars and working on multiple writing projects—a job that pays only in mental exhaustive satisfaction on my best days.  Facebook reminded me this morning that forearm was inked exactly one year ago but I’ve been thinking about getting another little treat again soon. It’s not in my budget nor do I have a clear sense of what I want. But that never matters.

The question the guy in the bar didn’t ask—and probably because it would have taken the focus off enamorment with himself—was why.  Why get a tattoo is a question I get on a regular basis.  Admittedly it is one that I stumble on answering… why, indeed.  I usually reply with something avoidant:“I like them.”  It’s a true statement and enough to appease most.

A better answer to the question though is that tattoos are the art we cannot be silent about. They are the scars we can no longer live with on the inside. They are a manifestation of emotion.  Tattoos are a way to remember we are alive.  They match the pain inside in a physical way to create something beautiful from the ugly.  They are a constant reminder of the self.