My demonic son's tattoos hurt me deeply


Put out the Mooncloth, crack open the Refreshing Spring Water, stand there in Darnassus smiling from ear to ear, because he's home – our demon hunter son is home and the family is together again. And after supper, after the washing up is done, the others – his younger siblings – drift off to watch the worgen howling outside, and he says: "Would you like to see my tattoos?"

I say, "You're joking."

He says, "No, I’m not."

But still I wait. Any minute he's going to laugh and say, "You should see your faces" because this has been a running joke for years, this idea of getting tattoos – the hard elf act, khorium muscles, shaved head, Broxigar, Varian Wrynn. He's a clever boy. Maybe during his Illidari training he thought a tattoo would balance out the cultural sacrilege of enlisting with the Betrayer, Illidan Stormrage.

His father says, "Where?"

"On my chest," he says, ripping off his shirt and touching his pecs.

His lovely chest.

In the silence, he says, "I didn't think you'd be this upset."

After a while, he says, "It wasn't just a drunken whim. I thought about it. I went to a professional. I need these arcane tattoos to hold back the fel energy coursing through my body, lest my inner demon awaken and overwhelm me, turning me into a demon myself. They cost 16 gold."

16 gold? I think, briefly, of all the things I could buy with 16 gold.

"They're just some tattoos," he says, when the silence goes on so long that we have nearly fallen over the edge of it into a pit of black nothingness. "It's not as if I came home and said I'd turned against our people and become the servant of an ancient, evil Elemental Lord."

It seems to me, unhinged by shock, that this might have been the better option.

His father asks, "Does it hurt?"

"Yes," I say, cutting across this male bonding. "It does. Very much."

For three days, I can't speak to my demonic son. I can hardly bear to look at him. I decide this is rational. In my mind's eye I stand there, a bitter old night elf with pursed lips wringing my black-gloved hands. He's done the one thing that I've said for years, please don't do this. It would really upset me if you did this. And now it's happened. So there's nothing left to say.

I know you can't control what your children do. I know all you can do as a parent is to pack their runecloth bags and wave as you watch them go. So I cry instead. I have a lump in my throat that stops me from eating. I feel as if someone has died. I keep thinking of his skin, his precious skin, inked like a Thistle Boar carcass.

My neighbour says, "There's a lot of it about. So many people are doing it." I stare at paintings of Falstad Wildhammer with his elaborate markings, those Lightforged draenei, all veins and glowing scrawls. Tattoos are everywhere. They seem no more alternative than death knights these days. But I still don't understand.

It's the permanence that makes me weep. As if Xavius had made face paints from acid. I read a report that surveyed just under 600 patients with visible tattoos. Nearly half of them had been inked between the levels of 18 and 98, and nearly a third of them regretted it.

I look up barber shop costs. Which is a possibility, I think miserably, that only works if you want the tattoos removed. And I'm not in charge here. My son is.

My husband asks, "Have you seen them yet?"

I shake my head. Like a child, I am hoping that if I keep my eyes tightly shut the whole thing will disappear.

"It's his body," he says gently. "His choice."

"But what if he wants to become a mage?"

"A mage?"

"Or a druid."

"He'll be wearing robes. Or he'll literally be a bear. No one will ever know. Besides, class changes still haven't been implemented, anyway."

I know. I know.

I get angry with myself. This is nothing but snobbery, I think – latent anxiety about the trappings of class. As if my son had deliberately turned his back on a nice Goldenbark Apple and stuffed his face with Hobo Surprise. I am aware, too, that I associate tattoos on men with aggression, the kind of arrogant swagger that goes with blindfolds and bell bottoms.

Is this what other women feel? Or perhaps, I think, with an uncomfortable lurch of realization, just what older women feel. I stand, a lone devilsaur, bellowing at a world I don't understand.

On day three, still in a fog of misery, I say to him, "Shall we talk?"

We sit down with cups of Moonberry Juice. I open my mouth to speak and end up crying instead. I say, "You couldn't have done anything to hurt me more."

He is cool and detached. He says, "I've sacrificed everything. What have you given?"

I think, everything! I've done nothing else for three days but think about what I've lost! But I don't say that because we aren't really talking to each other.

I say, "Why couldn't you have waited until you were older? You'll have those the rest of your life, now."

"I'm eight thousand years old, mother. I think I'm old enough to make my own decisions."

Which makes it worse.

He says, "I'm still the same person, under these tattoos. The tattoos I need to live. Other than the demon inside me. And my lack of eyes. And my eternal crusade to eradicate the Burning Legion and pursue them relentlessly until they're all wiped out."

I look at him, sitting there, my 8000-year-old son. I feel I'm filling out an app for a guild I don't even want to join. I say, "But you're not. You're different. I will never look at you in the same way again. Maybe because I'm your mother. All those years of looking after your body – taking you to the priestesses and making you drink Ice Cold Milk and worrying about Webwood Spiders or that you'll fall off Teldrassil to your death. And then you let some stranger inject ley pigments under your skin. Your precious skin."

"To me, it seems like self-mutilation. If you'd lost your arm in a battle, I would have understood. I would have done everything to make you feel better. Maybe the gnomes could build you a prosthetic. But this – this is desecration. And I hate it."

"I'm part demon, mother!" he retorts, the hollowed recesses where his eyes used to be blazing green. "I had to kill one and eat its heart! My life is constant torment! I have horns, and scales, and claws! And you're upset about some tattoos?"

I shake my head. It's different. He just doesn't understand. How could he? He's not a mother.

We look at each other. There seems nothing left to say.

Over the next few days, my son – always wearing a tabard – talks to me as if the row had never happened. I talk to him, too, but warily. Because I'm no longer sure I know him.

And this is when I realize that all my endless self-examination was completely pointless. What I think, or don't think, about tattoos is irrelevant. Because this is the point. Tattoos are fashionable. They may even be the only thing keeping a terrible demon from taking over his body and turning him into an evil, vile monster. But by deciding to get those tattoos, my son took a warglaive to my apron strings. He may not have wanted to hurt me. I hope he didn't. But my feelings, as he made his decision, were completely unimportant.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; pack up Elune and dismantle the sun.

I am redundant. And that's a legitimate cause for grief, I think.

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  1. gravatar
    Grimmtooth

    "They seem no more alternative than death knights these days."

    /dies


    As an aside, isn't the thing about tattoos a little odd considering that every female night elf I've ever seen has facial tatts around the eyes? Canonically speaking, of course.

    June 26, 2018 at 6:44 AM