Powie refused to believe I was getting a tattoo. I think his reaction when I told him was, “Ulol! Seryoso?”
His needle-hating sister willingly paying to be pricked not just once but multiple times? That was never going to happen. That was as likely as the Care Bears coming to life.
So when the tattoos were done, I texted him.
And when his shock wore off, he gleefully waited for shit to hit the fan.
And by shit to hit the fan, I meant he was waiting for my mother and grandmother to react to my tattoos.
For you to fully understand, we need to rewind to October 2002, when a then-17-year-old Powie got his first tattoo: a tribal tramp stamp. I repeat: my innocent 17-year-old brother got a tramp stamp. A tribal one.
But he wasn’t really that innocent, not when it came to doing crazy things to his body. He was 15 when he got his eyebrow and nipple pierced, 16 when he got his tongue pierced and 17 when he stretched his ears so he could wear tunnel earrings.
And just like getting his first tattoo, he did those things without warning.
When his school’s assistant vice principal found out about his eyebrow piercing, Powie was summoned. “Patrick, alam mo ba ginagawa mo sa sarili mo? Pinapatay mo ang sarili mo!”
And if you think that the assistant vice principal was dramatic, you need to hear how my mother reacted when she found out about the tattoo.
I remember that morning clearly. My mother found a tub of petroleum jelly in the bathroom and was trying to figure out whose it was. I was in her room when she walked in, waving the tub, looking both disgusted and amused. “This is your brother’s! Do you think he’s masturbating?”
I rolled my eyes. “Ew, Ma,” I said. But I knew the real reason Powie had been lugging petroleum jelly around. He was using it on his secret tattoo.
I left for work and later that afternoon, my mother called me at the office. She was hysterical. “Your brother has a tattoo! He’s killing me! Talagang papatayin ako nito!” She kept sobbing on the phone.
“Oh my god, Ma. Stop. Your tears aren’t going to erase his tattoo,” I said, eager to get back to work.
Four years later, Powie got another tattoo, one on his arm that was so big it took two sessions to complete. My mother did not want to see it so for years, Powie couldn’t wear sleeveless shirts at home.
Lola Lydia kept quoting Biblical passages, telling Powie that in the Bible, only the bodies of slaves were marked.
Now you understand why Powie was expecting theatrics after my tattoo session.
My mother had come home from the States the day I got my tattoos and when I greeted her, I flashed my right arm, showing her the typewriter one.
“Bullshit!” she said loudly and I laughed.
And then, probably thinking her cowardly daughter would never get a tattoo, she said, “Is that fake?”
“Nope, it’s real.”
She glared at me. And that was that.
Powie missed that exchange and really wanted to see some action. So the next time he saw us together, he tried to get her riled up. “Ma, what did you think of Pam’s tattoo? Are you going to jump out of the window?”
She just glared at him.
Powie continued, “Aren’t her tattoos worse? At least if I wear a shirt, you couldn’t see mine.”
My mom said, “Pam’s tattoos are small.”
And I chimed in, “Yes, they’re small because I want a lot of small tattoos. I’m going to keep adding to them.”
It was my turn to get the glare.
Truth be told, I was more nervous about Lola Lydia’s reaction. So when I had lunch at her house, I used only my left hand to eat. She didn’t notice the tattoo.
But later that night, as I was on my way home, I realized that she had liked the photo of the typewriter tattoo that I had posted on Facebook. I was waiting for the inevitable comment. “In Jesus’ name,” I thought I would read. Or “Terrible!” (I could almost hear her voice saying it the Spanish way.) But there was no comment. The silence was terrifying.
I called Powie. “Holy shit, Lola liked my tattoo photo. What the fuck does that mean?”
Powie started laughing. I kept talking. “I feel like she marked it to remind her to scold me.”
Powie and I arrived at Lola Lyd’s house almost at the same time. And again, he really wanted to see tattoo-caused theatrics. So while I tried hiding my tattoo, he kept trying to get Lola to notice it.
“Pam, why are you wearing your watch on your right wrist? Don’t you usually wear it on the left?” Powie asked loudly.
I gave him my powerful evil stare. I noticed Lolo Bojie looking at my typewriter tattoo and I put my fingers to my lips.
“She’s already seen it,” he said.
But Powie wasn’t done.
“Yelo?” Lola Lyd asked me, adding ice to my glass of water.
Powie said, “Lola, hindi yellow. Green!”
Again, I widened my eyes at him. He kept snickering. But Lola said nothing about my tattoos.
Instead, as I washed the dishes, she started talking about how Jesus had already healed all our diseases when he was nailed to the cross. All diseases, she said, “including migraine, depression, hilo.”
And all of a sudden, her silence about the tattoos made sense.
As we walked out of my grandparents’ house, I nudged my mom. “Lola knows about the depression, huh?”
“I told her,” my mom said.
“I knew it!”
So apparently, in my family, depression gives you a tattoo pass.
It took a couple of days before Lola Lyd finally brought up the tattoos.
“Why did you get tattoos?” she asked me.
“Because the only thing stopping me was my fear of needles and it has disappeared.”
“And what does two-zero mean?”
“A new version of me,” I said.
A version of me who can get tattoos without shit hitting the fan.