I’ve been working as a special needs assistant in comprehensive school for over ten years now. When I first started my job in 2007, tattoos weren’t as common as they are nowadays. In the beginning, I used to wear long-sleeved shirts all year round, because I didn’t want my tattoos to cause any trouble at work. As the years went by, I saw teachers having more tattoos as well and finally decided there’s no reason for me to keep hiding my tattoos anymore. Still, because of my work, I want to have my tattoos only in places that I can easily cover with clothes if necessary, so my hands, neck, and face are going to remain untattooed. Of course, it’s also partly due to the fact that many of my tattoos contain quite rough imagery.
My first tattoo is related to music. I love metal music, and I think the fist that breaks the note reflects quite well what metal is all about. Whereas in classical music and many other music styles the right notes are thoroughly considered, in death metal and grind other aspects are found more important. When I got this tattoo, I thought that it would remain as my only one. Well, soon after that I thought maybe I’ll have a half-sleeve, but after I had a discussion with my tattooist we both ended up in a conclusion that a full-sleeve would actually look way better. After the sleeve was ready, I found myself thinking that it looks quite stupid if my other arm is full and the other one empty – so, I had my other sleeve tattooed also, and after that, my midsection began to look so blank compared to my arms… So, the more tattoos I got, the more my hunger for new tattoos grew. At the same time I got more interested in tattooing culture in general. I like how tattooed people look, and I like how I myself look with my tattoos.
The angel and the lamb are related to one of my favorite bands, Behemoth. The heart and scissors tattoo associates with my past struggles and how it has sometimes felt like I’ve had a pair of scissors stabbed in my heart. I’ve been trying to keep the tattoos on my upper body grayscale and have more color tattoos on my legs and feet.
Originally, I got interested in H.R. Giger’s artwork through Alien-movies, and that’s why I have Xenomorph tattooed here on my arm. As I’ve always loved H.P. Lovecraft’s books, I wanted to get a tattoo of Cthulhu, too. I fear snakes, and I just had this feeling that I need to include them in the tattoo as well. Maybe they’re there to show that you will always carry your past fears with you. Even though some things have frightened and disgusted you, they will always be a part of you.
When my little sister Senni was five years old, she made this drawing of herself and I, and these pictures are tattooed straight from the drawing. My little sister is a very important character in my life. I think this is an excellent portrait of me, I can fully relate to this one. I also have a work in progress on my legs. My goal is to have my both legs full of Star Wars -themed tattoos from knees to ankles.
The numbers on the tombstone reflect the number of days. I started my job as a school assistant in junior high when I was 19 years old. One morning, when I had come to work just as usual, I got a call to the principal’s office and they told me there’s been a police report about me. I got fired immediately, they only gave me a number and an order to contact the police officer. I was completely lost.
The only thing I could think of was how somebody could do this to me, and who was the person that had made the report in the first place. It took a long time before I finally got into a hearing to tell I had done nothing. Eventually, I found out it was one of the students who had made the report. As the interrogations went on, she kept changing her story and giving incoherent information, so finally, the prosecutor decided there’s no reason to carry on investigations anymore. After 241 days, I was proven innocent. 397 days later the girl was sentenced to pay me compensations for mental suffering, defamation, and spreading false information.
I never found out why she chose me as her victim. Later, as I studied the court papers, I found out that the nurses in the psychiatric ward had given a professional statement where they said that earlier the girl had shown some kind of “positive interest” towards me and she’d been showing the nurses pictures of me from the internet. So, maybe it was a one-way crush, or maybe she just needed a reason for her constant absence from school and made up the whole thing without understanding how serious accusations they were. I don’t know. One can always guess, but I suppose the real reason will always be a mystery.
After the process, my life began to spin out of control. Even though I was legally declared innocent, the case remained open inside me. It’s strange that even when you know you’re innocent, you still begin to loathe yourself, and by everything you do you only end up causing more suffering to yourself. During that time, I lived in a small town and suddenly everything in there started to remind me of the past, so finally I just had to get out of there. At some point, intoxicants came into the picture, and for many years I went on like there was no tomorrow. If a woman approached me at a bar, I felt this panic-like fear: what if she does the same, what if she ends up lying about me as well? Even though my friends saw my situation, I never talked to them about the pain I had inside.
It took years before I got on with my life and all the feelings that were associated with the whole thing. I knew that eventually, I would need to get a way to clear my thoughts, so I began to write a book. I wrote the first words in 2009 and took a long break, and finally, in 2011, I started to write properly. Often I stayed awake and wrote during the night, went to work in the morning and slept when I got home. In the evening, I woke up and began all over again. They were dark times, and sometimes it felt like the text was getting a hold of me. Still, at the same time I knew that I just had to go through it all. As time went by, I slowly learned to let go of my anger and started to get better. There was a time when I was filled with hatred towards that person, but later I understood that in the end, I will only hurt myself by hating. No matter how much I hated or despised her, it wouldn’t have any effect on her life, and I would only remain as a prisoner of my own feelings. By the time the book was published in 2012, I felt for the first time that everything was fine at last. I haven’t read the book after that. It’s water under the bridge, and I have no need to go back in those times. The tombstone reflects the fact that they are all dead memories for me now.
I got the owl tattoo the day after I got diagnosed with my first cancer. In 2013 I was diagnosed with two different cancers, other in my colon and the other in my kidney. So, it wasn’t metastasis, but two separate cancers instead. In a way, I was also lucky because kidney cancer is often found only when it’s too late to operate, but now it was found by accident at the same time as the colon cancer. Before the diagnose, my colon had already been showing symptoms for a long time and I knew something was wrong. The last six months before the first operation I was only able to lie on my side, and the pain was so intense I was practically a prisoner of my home. As I spent all my energy on surviving to another day, I had no time for processing my situation at all.
It was only after the first operation as I was able to process the whole thing for the first time. The worst pain was left behind at the operating table, and after six months of cytostatic treatment, they made another operation, which felt almost like another day at the office compared to the first operation. Even though I felt awful during the cytostatic treatment, the time before my first operation was still much worse. Before the first surgery, I spent my days lying in fetal position, but after the operation, I was able to go downtown, see my friends and go to gigs again. As the physical pain decreased, the emotional side stepped in. During the treatment, I also broke up with my then-girlfriend, which increased the mental burden.
In some cultures, the owl is considered to be a sign of death, and if the owl is seen flying above a village, it’s believed to bring death along. For me, the owl has always been a majestic animal. Who wouldn’t be impressed to see an owl spreading its wings and rising to air? I had been dreaming of an owl tattoo for a long time, and it suited perfectly on that phase of my life. I thought maybe this would become my protection owl who would be here by my side helping me to get through everything. During 2014 both of my cancers were operated successfully.
My friends call me Jake, so of course Jake from Adventure Time was a perfect choice for a tattoo. The beanie is my trademark, so we added one here as well. This explains itself quite thoroughly – middle fingers up against cancer, what else do you need?
The scalpel tattoo is based on an image designed by a friend of mine. Originally, he designed an image with a medieval sword and a woman sitting on top of it, and I asked whether he could modify the design suitable for me as well. So, this now includes the scalpel and me, hair tied in a bun, as it happens to be the other trademark of mine. For me, this reflects the feeling when you can do nothing but suffer and try to hold on. The image is grotesque, but so was the situation back then.
Here’s another tattoo that holds an important meaning for me. The design is based on the idea by a Scottish clothing company, Abandon Ship Apparel. The founder of the company, Richard Davies, made up this simple design with a heart and text on it, and after that people all over the world have got this tattoo on their skin. The text is simple but important. No matter how shitty the situation might seem, someday you can still find yourself thinking there are good things in life as well.
By the year 2015, I returned to my job with children who need special support. One day, I had just returned home after a rough day, and in the middle of all the frustration, I suddenly began to think about my situation one year ago. Just one year earlier I was in the middle of a cancer treatment without knowing whether I will live or die, and now I was healthy and working again, so why complain? I booked a walk-in appointment on the same day and got myself this tattoo. I think this is a good statement about life. Even if life might seem miserable right now, tomorrow everything can be completely different. Things usually aren’t all bad even if they might seem so.
This one has gone through hard times, the tattoo based on H.R. Giger’s Birth Machine. After my kidney was operated, the surgeon told me he had been sewing my skin for half an hour in order to get the image lines match again. The latest scars are from a lung operation a month ago. This January I went to the controls again, and they found a new tumor in my lungs. For many years everything seemed to be just fine, and I had no symptoms whatsoever, so the finding came as a complete surprise. Since the tumor was too close to my heart, they couldn’t take a biopsy, so I had to go straight to an operation. By the end of March, I got a confirmation that it was a metastasis sent by the colon cancer, and my cancer had relapsed. Cancer is a fucked-up disease – it doesn’t matter if the original tumor has been removed years ago, as it can always send out a new metastasis.
When you have been through two different cancers, the third one doesn’t come quite as a shock like the previous ones. I already know that I may die in the surgery or I may die in cancer itself, so in that way, I have already accepted the situation. I think in some way it feels easier when you know what it’s like, and you can prepare yourself both mentally and physically. I don’t know whether in reality my own attitude will make a difference or not, but I see no point in staying in my bed crying why the world treats me like this, to be honest. Terrible things happen in the world day after day, and life just happened to deal shitty cards for me, that’s all.
Sometimes it feels like I have to be the one comforting others and support my loved ones who face the situation more emotionally. There are times when I wonder if my attitude is like this just because after everything that has happened I have somehow become emotionally numb. But I guess it’s more because of once you’ve been through hard times, you begin to see life differently as well. When you have already written your last will and accepted the fact that once you go to the operation room, you may never wake up again – when you deal with that kind of stuff and are in touch with all your frustration, anger, sorrow, and despair, you end up making peace with yourself.
My grandmother, who was born during the wartime, once summed it up pretty well: once you’re in a true distress, you’re going to find the will to survive somehow, and once you find it, you’re ready to do everything to stay alive. When you’ve been through the whole emotional scale, you just end up thinking fuck this, I must survive, I must find a way to get through this. The doctors will do what they’re capable of, and I will do what I can. And finally, if we can just add a little bit of luck, it surely won’t do any harm.
Many of my tattoos remind me of the things that have happened, and the things that I’ve faced and got over with. Even the most dreadful situations will one day come to an end. My tattoos remind me of the fact that even though my past will always stay with me, it won’t get a hold of me ever again. Someday, when I’m old and my memory is starting to fail, I can always look at my tattoos and say hey, I remember that time.