Tat-Tuesday: Marilyn Howell shares her Tattoo mishap turned good memory

Kaiya Little, Life and Arts senior reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Feb. 8, 2022 flipbook.

Slouched against the seat of her car, Marilyn Howell said she remembers the salty taste of tears cascading down her cheeks and onto her lips. Sobbing in the parking lot of a tattoo parlor in Spring, Texas, the sinking weight in her stomach stamped out the high of sneaking out against her parents’ wishes for a rendezvous with a special Friday the 13th tattoo deal.

Assessing the artist’s work with blurry, tear-filled vision, the public health freshman said the face of one of her favorite animated characters — now etched forever into the skin of her hip — sat with missing details, recognizable but obviously inaccurate.

“I didn’t realize that it was wrong until he brought me to the mirror,” Howell said. “I was just blown away.”

After meeting with some co-workers last August, Howell said the promise of a $20 tattoo and a brush with rebellion brought her to a local tattoo parlor. While Howell thought she would be playing it safe getting something small and easily hidden, shortly after being inked, panic set in when she noticed the tattoo looked nothing like the stencil.

“It’s just ironic because (my parents’) whole point was like, ‘What if it looks terrible?’” Howell said. “(And) the way I did it makes it like salt in the wound.”

No larger than her palm, Howell said she figured her desired tattoo — a glass bottle containing the googly eyed flame, Calcifer, from the Studio Ghibli film “Howl’s Moving Castle” — would be a simple request with little room for error. Instead, once realized in ink, Howell said the tattoo lacked a distinct face, but she hesitated to speak up about it.

“Do your research. … It is not hard to find a legit tattoo artist that fits your preference and fits your style and price range,” Howell said. “Just do that and also be ready to spend money because when you’re in my position, you can’t really complain about a $20 tattoo.”

Despite the disappointment, Howell said she salvaged the experience by using the tattoo as a reminder of a lesson learned and a memory well spent with the company of friends.

“I don’t associate a terrible memory with it,” Howell said. “It was a good memory, … just with a little bit of crying.”

With a semester’s worth of time under her belt since her first tattoo experience, Howell said she still admires the artistic value and diversity of tattoos and plans to get another after more preparation.

“I feel like there’s something really deep about the idea that (a tattoo is) stuck on you,” Howell said. “Which makes it even more important to think through … these sorts of things.”