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  • Writer's pictureFrank Romans

My First & Last Tattoo

I got my tattoo when I was in first grade at Valley Elementary. I cannot remember the name of the young fellow who inked me, but my right forearm has carried his artwork for over sixty years. It used to be more prominent, but over the years has faded with age, as tattoos are wont to do.

At the back of the classroom was a wall-mounted pencil sharpener, and we would line up in small groups to wait for our turn. The future Valley Elementary ink artist was grinding his pencils to the sharpest point he could manage, and with all due respect, he had some sharp pencils, but mine were equal. It was an unintended competition, and the tatoueur disagreed with the group's findings. He refused to accept the results of a free and fair ruling and threatened to stab me with his pencil. I didn't take the threat seriously; why would I? Ms. Jefferies would never allow any violence in her room. That would soon prove false when the assailant raised his arm to strike with not one but two of his homemade daggers. Still, in naive disbelief, I meekly stood there and accepted the stabbing.

The pencils penetrated the underside of my right forearm, where the tips of the number twos broke off and were now deeply embedded under the skin.

I did not cry or show emotion because soldiers and cowboys are bad-assed tough guys. I remember my movie and television tough guy act but little else about the aftermath in the classroom. Maybe by refusing to show pain, I helped the bully get away with it, and maybe Ms. Jefferies was unaware of the entire episode and was busy elsewhere. I honestly don't remember.

I do remember my parent's reactions, especially my mother's. She fears lead poisoning, and now I fear it too. I only know whatever it is includes the word poison, and I don't want it. My father tries to reassure her but off to the doctor we go.

The doctor said he could not remove the lead; it was gone or absorbed into the body. According to my mother, it was in the bloodstream, and I thought I might develop lead poisoning for much of my youth. I remember his chuckle when he said, "That's a nice tattoo you're going to have."

I did learn something about myself in how I handled the attack. I found I could endure pain and did so on several instances later in my life, but those are tales for another day. I never got lead poisoning, not even from bullets or shrapnel, and I am still debating on the last tattoo. Maybe if the right suggestion strikes...who knows?

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