The Story of My First Tattoo

I got my first tattoo when I was 17.

After a lot of pestering, my parents begrudgingly got in the car to take me to the 7th Street tattoo shop downtown.

Now, almost 10 years later, the Korean characters for "hope" still walk with me on the top of my left foot.

I discussed this tattoo with my parents for almost two years.  They asked over and over, "Why hope?  What is so significant about the word that you'd want it on you for the rest of your life?" 

They weren't concerned about the language choice.  The significance of Korean was obvious: my brother.  Ryan was adopted from South Korea as a baby, and I chose Korean as a tribute to him. 

Hope, I explained, is a driving force to keep pressing on.  As a teenager, the word "hope" was even more significant for me than that.  "Hope" is not synonymous to the word "wish."  It's more emotional and practical than that.  I had hope that I'd have closure about my first family someday, hope for primal acceptance, hope that I'd gain some sense of biological identity which loomed over me in school, hope for validation about everything I was feeling.  Some school assignments had turned into triggers.  Punnet squares in Biology, family trees in History, reports about ancestral countries in English, learning about reproduction in Sex Ed... the list goes on.

Hope became so ingrained in my longing for reunion, clarity or closure that it became a mantra.  I don't think my parents realized the intrinsic significance I found in the word, but the ongoing two year discussion was enough to convince them.

We rode together to the tattoo shop.  I was the first person in my group of friends to get inked, so a handful of friends showed up to watch.  It was July 3rd.  The shop was busy with patriots looking to get an eagle or American flag in time for Independence Day.  My entourage crowded the small entryway.

We filled out the required paperwork.  Mom and Dad signed on the appropriate lines, as did I.  My name was called and I stepped behind the half wall to sit on a cushioned table.  My line of spectators crowded into place on the other side.

The artist, Aron, put the temporary version of the tattoo on my foot to serve as his template.  I admired it for a moment before propping my leg up for him to start working.  The pen turned on, and the buzzing sound filled my senses.  I kept my gaze locked in on my parents, who had amused smiles on their faces.  The feeling of the needle was exhilarating and satisfying.  It tickled more than it hurt.  In less than 15 minutes, it was over.

I still love my tattoo just as much as I did the day I got it.  I still proudly walk in hope every day.

Almost two years later, my hope and prayers were answered.  I met my birth family.  Time has given us a wide range of conversations to cover.  We had lifetimes to recount for the 19 years we were strangers.  Those conversations with my birth mother and father revealed something I never knew about my tattoo, and it sent chills to my bones.

I asked, "What did you call me in the hospital before I was Robyn?"

They replied, "Hope Star."


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