The girl with(out) the gecko tattoo

The girl with(out) the gecko tattoo

Gecko tattoo chez Foley

The prospect of turning 40 has a way of making people crazy. That’s the only excuse I can offer for my uncharacteristic decision, with the Big 4-0 breathing down my neck, to get a tattoo.

At the ripe old age of 39, I looked in the mirror and realized (with, okay, perhaps just a smidge of hysteria) that my youth was gone. A quick glance at my once-perky body confirmed that hell yeah, gravity was winning that particular battle.  I could no longer ignore the fish tails (the Chinese term for crow’s feet) around my eyes, and all I can say about my “laugh lines” is this: nothing is that funny.

I’m not quite sure how being reminded of my own mortality translated into a desire for dermal ink (“paging Dr. Freud!”) but there you have it. I wanted a tattoo. Of a gecko.

At home in Singapore.

You’re familiar with geckos, yes? They come in many varieties, but I’m talking about the small house lizards which are native to Southeast Asia and found in tropical and subtropical areas around the world. I first came across them when I lived in Australia many years ago. I’m not going to lie: I don’t like crawly things, and it took a while to get used to the idea of reptiles roaming freely in the house. But I grew to love watching the geckos scurry across the walls and listening to their distinctive ch-chak ch-chak ch-chak song. Finding them in my home in Singapore was like reconnecting with long-lost friends.

Not everyone shared my enthusiasm. One of my neighbours was traumatized when she stepped on a gecko during a midnight bathroom visit. Her face scrunched up as she told me the story, unconsciously mirroring the way the hapless gecko had scrunched under her bare foot. I was a bit squeamish about nocturnal wanderings after that.

Another acquaintance confessed she vacuumed them up if they dared to show themselves while she was doing her housework. That was a bit heavy-handed, I thought. Geckos earn their keep by eating mosquitoes — a noble job in places like Singapore, where mosquito-borne diseases can be deadly. Washing lizard poop off the walls seems a small price to pay for improved public health.

One night, as I was heading upstairs to bed, I found a tail-less gecko on my carpet. (This is a cool defense mechanism: a threatened gecko will detach its tail, which will then wriggle around on the ground to distract the predator while the gecko escapes.) I woke up in the middle of the night wondering where he’d stashed his missing body part. I never did find it. Probably just as well — I doubt the sight of a decomposing tail would do much to brighten my day.

So this is why I wanted a gecko on my skin: as a permanent souvenir of the home away from home I loved so much. I started checking out tattoo parlours, but although they all offered some version of the lizard tat, I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted. If my body was about to become a canvas, I didn’t want the resulting image to be a cartoon. I was looking for something stylized, with elegant lines — as befitting someone of my mature age.

As I was leaving yet another body modification establishment after yet another fruitless search, I happened to spot a guy with a comb-over and a paunch getting out of a red sports car. In that instant I recognized my desire for what it was: a classic mid-life crisis. The realization deterred me more than the thought of pain or the risk of infection ever could, and my dream of a gecko tattoo died on the spot.

The story doesn’t end there, however. Some time later I noticed that Chef Boyardee (who’s been known to dabble in ink himself) had a new tattoo. That’s a photo of it at the top of the post. It may not be as chic as the one I envisioned, but it still tickles me that I managed to get my permanent Singapore souvenir after all.


About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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16 Responses to The girl with(out) the gecko tattoo

  1. Margie says:

    Love Chef B’s gecko tattoo! I, too, have very fond memories of the geckos that inhabited my apartment in the Japanese countryside along with me. I suppose they ate the mosquitoes, but I loved them because the ate the Giant Spiders, too! 🙂 Never saw one lose its tail, but I did nearly guillotine one by accident in the sliding door to the balcony once. I felt horrible…but it managed to run away, so hopefully it survived to tell the story.

    Thanks for sharing your reminiscences – they bring back many fond memories!

    • Maria says:

      One of my neighbours accidentally killed a gecko by slamming a door — she didn’t find out until much later, when she happened to notice a gecko skeleton embedded in the door jamb. Yikes! Nice to hear from you again, Margie.

  2. Hi Maria,
    Well, you’ve done it again! Your posts always make me laugh out loud. I love geckos and my cat loves them even more. I don’t usually have to wait very long if there’s one in the house for him to take care of it. He’s enjoyed the delicacy his whole life…born in Florida and now living in Dubai they’re everywhere! I also had it in mind to get a tattoo (maybe not a gecko though)…but not until I turned 50 (which just got a year closer as I turned 47 last month). I tell my mom that we’ll go to Key West, FL for her 90th birthday (which will be just after I turn 50) and get tats together. She smiles and nods and pours me another glass of wine.
    Anne 🙂

  3. naomi says:

    I’m a tat addict … but won’t be getting my last one until we return to the States. Love that gecko, however do not love them in person!

  4. Guess I should have taken notice of the balding men in sports cars…….
    You should go for it! And if you don’t like it, it just takes dozens of painful laser treatments and hundreds of dollars to remove it….no big deal, right?

    • Maria says:

      LOL! Tattoos are like red lipstick — I love the way they look on others, but I can’t imagine them on me. At least lipstick is easy (and cheap) to remove if I don’t like it!

  5. Judy says:

    As I waited in the subway on Saturday, I noticed a young woman on the opposite platform. She was in her mid-20s, tall, blonde and attractive with her entire right arm tattooed from shoulder to wrist. I couldn’t help but think how inconvenient it’ll be when she’s 45 and a Vice-President, having to wear long sleeves no matter what the weather. To say nothing of when she’s 30 pounds overweight in her 60s, bingo wings flapping as she dandles her grandchild on her knee. You made the right decision not to have the tattoo, chic or otherwise.

  6. Crystal says:

    I’m a HUGE fan of anything that eats cockroaches. Just saying.

    I’ve had the impulse to ink as well, but I think I want to do something that represents my kids. In theory, anyway. Any time I see someone old with a stretched out tat, I think “no, no no.” So I haven’t gotten one yet. But I’m turning 33 in a few months…we’ll see what happens when 40 hits.

  7. Michelle says:

    No tats for me, EVER.

    But I do like the lizards. So do the kids.

    Good to meet you. We are Sing expats right now!

  8. Celia says:

    Love the tat! (See how I effortlessly slid in the ‘cool speak’ in there? ;)) I hit that point when I turned 30 and got a unicorn tattoo. Am now almost 40 and considering another one. Maybe a gecko!

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