A Progression

By Isabel Anreus

1. Infinity (back of neck) 
My first tattoo set the bar pretty low. An infinity symbol, what a trend. I was 19, and no matter what, I’ll always think of Jen. How badly she wanted it, and how we promised each other we’d get it together in between our pop punk songs and cigarette puffs.
Now, I’m wondering if she ever even go it? She’s been in and out of rehab since 2011. 
I remember Papi taking me down to Elizabeth port, to Ralph’s, where he got his first tattoo, a crumpled fist holding a rose. I remember Ralph asking me, as I laid my head against the cold metal of the table, “This your first tattoo?”
I spat out a tremulous yea. 
Ralph replied, “Well, there’s only two things about tattoos that you have to remember: They’re permanent and they hurt like hell.” 

2. “V-A-E- V, what does that even mean?”
Its short for vae victis, which is Latin for “woe to the vanquished.” It’s a phrase allegedly first used during the Trojan War. A way for Europeans, who do not speak the same language, to express sympathy to each other during times of war and crisis. 

I first read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning when I was 22.

Frankl mentions the phrase during an unsuccessful seance. The letters mysteriously appear to be written down by a clerk whom sworn to have never heard the phrase before. Frankl doesn’t believe him and instead credits the clerk’s subconscious spirit internalizing the trauma of Auschwitz. 

I tell them it reminds me that there’s always a losing side. 

3. Miró’s Constellations Eye (right wrist) 

My first hour in Barcelona and I couldn’t figure out where to buy a pack of cigarettes. 
So instead, I took a photo of this beautiful French couple.

They invited me to sit and share a drink with them off Las Ramblas.  

They told me that Antoni Gaudí was a reactionary old fuck; that the real grand master is Joan Miró. They told me how to get to his studio and the museum. How he transcends all particular art movements. That I couldn’t miss the park, named after him too, with a giant yellow, blue, and red sculpture planted right in the middle.

They left me feeling a little tipsy with a newfound aesthetic and a fresh pack of Gauloises.

4. Moon Lady (right ankle) 

A Trip to the Moon is a French experimental film that I make my ESL students watch to help practice their English. It’s a short film, only fifteen minutes, and silent. 

Anastasia had to do 20 free tattoos for her apprenticeship. I was number 17.

I make my students explain the plot using whatever level of vocabulary they feel comfortable with. Some use whole sentences; others tell me in quick phrases, associating color with action, creating sound out of nothing.

She gave me a perfect Vaudeville face: rosy cheeks, long curly eyelashes, and bright red lips with a mischievous grin. 

5. Heel with Venus Fly Trap (left ankle) 
Anastasia suggested I get the tattoo on my ankle because of the heel. She said that the plant growing up my leg could signify roots, to be grounded. 
I hadn’t thought about it like that before. I just needed something. I had an itch that needed to be scratched. It was the first tattoo i hadn’t obsessed about. Usually, I would throw the idea around for about a year before making any sort of permanent decision. 
It’s my most beautiful tattoo yet.
A week ago. I asked my mom for a Venus Fly Trap for my birthday. Papi replied with, “That’s weird. First, the tattoo and now you want the actual plant?” It is still healing.

 Isabel Anreus is a writer from New Jersey. She recently received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.