A Johnny Cash (and Nine Inch Nails) tattoo tale

Categories: Tattoo You
Adam DeGross
Amy Robertson shows off her Johnny Cash tattoo

"I had been a cutter my entire life," says Amy Robertson. It all started in elementary school. She had a pet iguana named Spock -- a reference to his apparent lack of ears. "He would cut me all the time and I would make the cuts worse. He would scratch me, and I would make the scratches deeper. It kind of came out of nowhere."

What began as a compulsive behavior quickly grew into Robertson's trusted coping mechanism. Throughout high school, she was able to hide the mostly superficial cuts. In college, her habits of self-injury grew more dangerous. She began getting more creative with her disguises.

"I used to wear a sweatband. That was part of my fucking attire for like, years, because I was just ashamed of it. Even that didn't stop me from doing it. That was like, my thing. I was Amy the sweatband girl."

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Robertson backpacks in Kepler, New Zealand

At 23, after graduating from the University of Minnesota with dual-degrees in Global Studies and German, Robertson bought a one-way ticket to New Zealand. She stopped in Fiji on her way to receive a scuba-diving certification. Once in New Zealand, she completed a dive master course and spent much time in solitude, backpacking through the country and scuba-diving almost daily. She had fun, but was struggling to fight the ever-present monkey on her back -- her depression.

"The days where I got really depressed, I would sit and listen to my iPod, which hadn't come out in the rest of the world," she says. "I was like, the girl with this thing...this thing that music came out of." Robertson is a self-described technology nerd. She'd brought portable speakers on her journey, and an iPod, which in 2003 was a fairly new invention.

"I'd listen to Johnny Cash. I would listen to that album American IV: The Man Comes Around, with 'Hurt' on it," she says. "The first time I heard that song it just resonated with me." Listening to the song, she was often moved to tears.

When Robertson was 15, she spent a year as an exchange student in Germany. After high school, she backpacked through Europe, then returned to Germany to spend an additional year as an exchange student while in college. "Every time, I was by myself," she says. "It was just kind of what I did -- just go off by myself. I'll tell you what...when you're on the other side of the world, completely alone, it can get very lonely." Months would pass without encountering another American. In New Zealand, she experienced the same phenomenon. Johnny Cash was her constant companion.

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