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Getting A Tattoo Is An Unlikely Rite Of Passage For This Teen


Schoolteachers aren't the only people who help with some of the tough lessons of growing up. Katie Davis is a writer in Washington, D.C., who has been a mentor and tutor to a boy in her neighborhood. They met when he was 10. She shares this story of helping him with a coming-of-age ritual that to him represents where he was and where he wants to be.

KATIE DAVIS: Jordan starts bugging me about getting a tattoo when he's 16. It takes a year to wear me down. Apparently, he's also been working on his mother because the morning we head down to the tattoo parlor, he tells me to pick her up. I will pay the bill. His mom will sign the release since he's still under 18. Jordan manages to keep his head up as he walks into the black lights of the tattoo parlor, despite being escorted by mother and mentor. We are chattering away like it's a Tupperware party, ooing and awing at photographs of tattoos until Jordan says shut up, please. It's too much talking.

Dr. Mookie is the skinny tattoo artist assigned to the job. He has red and blue ink swirling up both arms, circling his neck. He looks at the drawing Jordan made of a lion with wings, and he nods - never done a tattoo like this before. Jordan holds back a smile and Dr. Mookie puts him in a reclining chair and says my mom talks a lot, too. Then he warns him about the pain. It can be pretty bad, even with the numbing. Jordan nods. Dr. Mookie puts on latex gloves - black latex. Cool, huh, he says.

Click and the hum begins. It's the sound of the dentist, tiny needles hitting Jordan's skin. No one is talking now. Don't move, take the pain; feel the lion etched into skin, muscled and strong, able to hold his ground. You're doing good, says Dr. Mookie. First time I got a tattoo, I was 13 and I fainted. The drill buzzes and clicks. Jordan's mouth is clenched; his hands too. He calls it quits after an hour, before the yellow and brown shading is added. OK, says Dr. Mookie, just come back in two weeks. I'll finish it. Jordan is leaving with what he wanted though - the lion with wings covering his right shoulder. It tells something about me, Jordan says. It's the strong king able to fly away from trouble.

CORNISH: Katie Davis is a writer living in Washington, D.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Katie Davis