It's not a puncture, or a stab, or even a prick (too easy -- let's leave that one alone). It's an unfamiliar pain, which allows you the unique benefit of not registering it immediately. And there's no counting it off for you either, as in, "ready? here we go." Because it's that first impression, the how you take it, how well you absorb the hit, how credibly you can pull off nonchalance, that sets the tone for the rest of the session.
And if you can not react. If you can manage to hold your breath stealthily, and expel your sighs in whispers as it slides in deeper and deeper, as the first signs of red liquid begin to bubble to the surface, as it bobs up and down, in and out, interweaving threads of color with your own DNA, then you've got a pretty decent chance of not only coming through this selectively scathed as planned, but of maybe actually really really enjoying it.
And it's truly impossible not to. It is. Although I fully acknowledge the banality of describing it as a transcendental experience, it does almost require you to separate yourself from your physical existence. To sit by (unrestrained, no less) and not only allow, but pay AND tip, someone to carve repeatedly and with strength of purpose into your own exposed flesh, cleaving apart the tender pelt in order to then pollute it with a black river of ink, like an oil spill. To feel the natural heat from the friction begin to radiate across your canvass, the rhythmic pounding on your bones intensely magnified, the sudden dearth of conversation underscoring the mellifluous sound of the buzzing needle. It's like entering a dream state. Or sex. Without the peyote and the stinky sweatlodge. [The dream state, not the sex.]
It's a right of passage. Yes, even the little butterflies on the ass cheeks and the daisy on the hip. And certainly it means something different to everyone. And most assuredly it's not always aggrandized in this way. But as an optimistic, idealistic, hopelessly romantic adolescent, it was something I never ever could see myself doing; and now, as an optimistic, idealistic, hopelessly romantic woman, they're one of the few things I can't even begin to imagine myself without.