It was my dad’s house, so they were his rules.
And he wasn’t allowing any tattoos under his roof.
Besides, he said, I had other things to focus on: school, preparing for college in the fall, and of course, my final high school track and field season.
The previous season, I had been edged out for a state championship in the 100 meter hurdles, and I was determined to make it across the finish line first – and this year, I knew I had a pretty good shot in not one, but two of my events.
So I made a bet with my dad: if I win a state championship, I can get the tattoo. We even agreed on what it would be, where it would be, and that I’d be the one to pay for it. We shook on it.
I have no idea why he agreed to this. He didn’t even like it when I wore dark-colored nail polish. Maybe he figured I’d get edged out again, though I know he wasn’t hoping for that, even secretly. Maybe he figured I’d change my mind between January, when I turned 18, and May, when the championship meet was.
Every morning before school, I’d look up the state-wide standings. And almost always, my name was right there at the top. I was sure I was going to win both my bet, and a championship.
But I wasn’t about to get complacent.
The year before, I’d let a district championship get away from me when I passed a few remaining attempts in the triple jump. A competitor completed all six jumps, and had a good day, busting out a big jump that even she didn’t see coming.
I took second, but still made it to state.
And at the state meet the following week, I’d had the best block start of my life in the hurdles, only to be called back for another runner’s false start. My second start was less than stellar, having used all of my adrenaline on the first one. I took third, and to this day, I’m convinced the false start is what cost me the win.
It felt nice to see my name stay at the top, week after week, meet after meet, my times dropping and my distances rising.
My dad tried to amend the bet, now telling me I had permission if I won two of my events at state.
League and district championships flew by, and before I knew it, it was the week of the state meet. The night before I got on the bus across the state to compete, I confirmed with my dad.
“Is the bet still on?” I asked.
“The bet? Oh, about the tattoo?” he said.
“Yeah, so if I win, I can get one?”
“Only if you win all four.”
Four? FOUR!? Two of my events were relays! And though highly ranked, we weren’t the favorites to win either of them.
Well, whatever, I thought. I’m still planning on at least one win; we could discuss the finer details of the original one-win bet after I had the win…I hoped.
My parents drove up to see me compete, as they had done to pretty much every meet that year, even though my rule before races was that I don’t see or hear them until after: I couldn’t bear to take on their nerves too.
The day of the race was almost perfect, except for a bit of a headwind. After a thorough warm-up, it was time. I pushed out all thoughts about the previous year’s false start, and only imagined running the perfect race as I stepped into the blocks.
When I crossed the finish line, I found my dad in the stands. He and my mom were standing up, cheering. I’d crossed the line at least five meters ahead of the rest of the field, and fulfilled a four-year-long dream.
I looked up at my dad, and pointed down at my foot, the agreed-upon location for the ink. He just shrugged, and smiled.
The day before my high school commencement, I got my tattoo: a little blue track shoe on my right foot.