There is only one thing that arouses animals more than pleasure, and that is pain. Under torture you are as if under the dominion of those grasses that produce visions. Everything you have heard told, everything you have read returns to your mind, as if you were being transported, not toward heaven, but toward hell. Under torture you say not only what the inquisitor wants, but also what you imagine might please him, because a bond (this, truly, diabolical) is established between you and him. — Umberto Eco
This second one was done less dramatically; its meaning less metaphorical; nonetheless, this one was undeniably as painful if not more painful than the first one.
We were inside my younger sister’s small room she is renting in the city. Seated behind me was my younger brother who has just finished setting up all the equipment he would need, cleaning the needles, and establishing the appropriate ‘mood’ for the operation. My sister was in front of me asking irrelevant questions such as ‘Are you sure you want to go on with it?’
‘Hell, I am,’ was my response.
I commanded her to stop talking and from asking a lot of questions. I asked her to hand me a copy of the novel ‘Emma Who Saved My Life’ by Wilton Barnhardt and started reading the thick paperback to keep my attention from the biting pain. I paused and lost my way in the story of three twenty-somethings in the Big Apple and began feeling all my blood rising to my head when I heard the 12-volt dynamo running amok, sending the two-tip needle crazy for my skin. ‘The first few run is going to hurt,’ he said.
‘I know. I know. Just go on with it.’
Before he could say anything, he turned on the button of his improvised transformer and traced the sketch he has previously drawn on my skin. I should have already accustomed my body to the pain after having one before. But I was not; it was so painful. And considering my negative opinion on self-inflicted pain, and being a hedonist myself, doing something physically hurtful to my body is the last thing I’d probably think of, much less sanction. But having a tattoo is a totally different thing; having it on my skin, the ink becoming a part of me, and the pain being a medium for this merging, is for me an experience approaching the spiritual.
I did not look while my brother embroidered the skin of my left arm with three Chinese characters that roughly translate to ‘grassland’. Whether the meaning is correct or not, I could only care less. The three characters are beautiful and graceful, and that is more than enough. I went on re-wolfing the warped paperback which I already finished reading several years ago, ignoring the menacing humming of the dynamo and the spurting of ink all over the place. The sensation was nauseating, but I kept myself from telling my brother to stop, for my desire of seeing the Sino-characters boldly tattooed on my skin consumed me.
After almost an hour of grueling pain, the operation was completed. Blood started to ooze from the fresh wounds left by the needle which brought me undue fear. The first one I had on my right shoulder was not as bloody. I panicked a bit, but my brother assured me he has seen and done bloodier tattoos. It was not the reassurance I was waiting but I was not expecting anything clinical for an explanation either. To abate my fear, I took an over-the-counter antibiotic.
The bold, black lines enveloped by reddish contusions were my trophies after having endured the pain that seemed to go on forever. For the first time I saw the line separating pain and beauty blurring. And I know that this would not be the last tattoo I’ll have.