‘I wanted a tattoo where my tumor is’

“Many people think of tattoo parlors in terms of men with beards and music from ZZ Top in the background. None. Everyone is welcome with us and everyone is treated nicely. There were three of us when I started the store in Apeldoorn, now nine people work there. And the demand is still greater than the supply.

“I was raised Christian. My father preached in the Pentecostal church in Vaassen. I had two older sisters, a warm nest. I was also a lot in the Moluccan neighborhood with my father’s family. But I always did everything alone. Everyone loved football, I went on skates. In my opinion I was not a Moluccan among the Moluccans because I am a half-breed, not a Dutchman among the Dutch because I am a half-breed. I liked to go everywhere in between as a loner.

“One of my sisters died when I was fourteen. Suddenly from a brain haemorrhage. I was very good with her. She was rebellious, I also liked to push the boundaries myself. It does a lot to you, but as a boy of fourteen don’t know how to put it My parents were upset my other sister just had a relationship I went to a party With pills They put me in a euphoria so I didn’t have to think about my problems.

“I didn’t finish my high school education. I just stopped and started traveling all over the Netherlands with my public transport for students. With the sandwiches in the bag that had been made for me in the morning. My parents didn’t find out until months later, through a phone call from the school. They were really angry. Then you have another reality checkbut i forgot.

“Parties and drugs, that was my life for years. I did ecstasy, speed, mdma, ketamine, ghb, angel dust, everything. Every now and then I played as a DJ somewhere, I played drums. I got a little lost. I have never sat. My parents had already lost a daughter, they were not allowed to receive a call from the police that I had been arrested or died. I don’t look back on it with pride. But I have to be honest: I enjoyed that time. I wasn’t afraid of anything because the drugs took over.

‘A new, strange period started when I was 27. I found out that there is a tumor in my head. Good-natured, but in the wrong place. If he started to grow, it would be over. He was irradiated once, 45 minutes to an hour, so scar tissue formed around it. You have a cage screwed on your head, and you are tied to a table because you are not allowed to move a millimeter. After a year and a half, the tumor had stopped growing. I only have to be checked every five years. Because of the tumor, I am deaf in my left ear and I have a balance disorder. I also have a beeping and buzzing in my ear because a nerve is damaged. But I can handle that.

Photo Dieuwertje Bravenboer

“The tumor made me think: it’s time to stop the drugs. I decided to focus on tattooing. I’ve been drawing all my life. It calms me down. I learned it from my father, who drew for pleasure. He mainly did letters, on banners for companies. My father was an old hippie, he had tattooed dots on his hand and a sword. When I was twelve I secretly got my first tattoo on myself. I took a needle and thread from my mother sewing box, sterilon to clean, and put an L on my leg, from Luhukay. Neighbors wanted a tattoo too. When I was 16, I stole a tattoo machine from someone. I used it to make money.

“I became a father, I had a son. His relationship with his mother broke down. I had started playing and it went from bad to worse. So much so that I went to rehab in South Africa. I had gambled everything up to and including my son’s savings account, so two. I thought: I don’t want to be that kind of father. My parents were able to support me financially. In South Africa I have a species for two months brainwashing had. And trauma therapy. I didn’t know I had a problem with my sister’s death. I have been in survival mode for years. My reflex was to turn around and walk away. I noticed that rest was nice. That it is good to process things.

“My son is now ten. I’ve had a boyfriend for seven years. I’ve had the tattoo parlor for five years now. In 2018 I came second in the TV show Ink Master, where ten tattoo artists from the Benelux compete against each other. I only do large tattoos so I have one customer a day. Lately I’ve been saying to clients: sometimes we can talk, during the work I want to focus entirely on the tattoo. Then I can just shut myself off, be myself. I am an all round tattoo artist, I do almost all styles. I want to get to the point where I just do my own style, I enjoy that more. That I make my drawings the way I want and people come to me for what I make.

“I wanted a tattoo to commemorate my tumor, where it is. At first I thought crosses or screws, but then you look like such a Frankenstein freak. It has become a sword. It’s part of ‘battle’, my son is busy with swords and my business is called Black Sword Tattoo Shop. Only afterwards did it turn out that all my uncles also have a sword somewhere.”

Entries: ditbenik@nrc.nl

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