I'm also not a bro.
I don't take my shirt off and turn my hat backwards to walk around in the sun.
And, by most accounts, I am not a douchebag.
Yet, I have a tribal tattoo.
A mess of swirls and spikes cover my upper left shoulder and, despite some unflattering fading that's occurred throughout the years, the tattoo will be there forever. Forever. Forever. (Echoes courtesy of my mom.)
I hail from the Tribe of Being 18, easily recognized by our butterfly tramp stamps, our Chinese symbols and tribal tattoos. We're unified by unfocused rebellion and a lack of imagination. At that age, the idea that tribal tattoos signified a cultural loyalty or ethnic heritage didn't even register in my brain. Hell, I didn't know they were called tribal—I just knew that I wanted to look as badass as George Clooney did in From Dusk Till Dawn.
The tattoo took seven hours of three-needle shading. My friend's older brother recommended where I ended up getting it done: a divey little place where his girlfriend apprenticed. “She'll hook you up,” he said. During the session, a transient wandered in to watch and said “Jesus, you're bleeding a lot.” I've since learned that bargain hunting is not the best way to shop for a tattoo.
On the way home, blood soaked through the plastic wrap and stained my favorite t- shirt. I was so light-headed that I fell asleep in it. I dreamt that I was standing next to George Clooney, slaying vampires—an image that seemed like an omen when I woke up to find that I'd bled onto my sheets. It was the first disappointment in a string of them.
Kids would look at it with curiosity and ask what it meant. “The first rule of tribal tattoos—,” I'd say, because Fight Club was a really popular movie at the time and, honestly, I had no idea what it meant. By the time I got to college, I was sick of not having an answer. I went to great lengths to cover it up. I was ashamed of my heritage, my tribe.
But as the years have passed, my shame has faded along with the ink of the tribal. On one hand, it serves as an invaluable tool—a de facto Rorschach that will tell me what type of pretentious asshole you are by your reaction to it.
Mainly, my tribal tattoo serves as reminder of being shortsighted, reckless and stupid. It's a reminder of wanting to fit in and the steps we take to be badass. I'm old enough now to look back at that time and appreciate the pain, hangovers and heartbreak associated with being young, which, in reality, never really hurt as bad as that damn tattoo.