When she discovered that the glittery gem on my nose went all the way through it, my mother cried. “You’re forty- [inaudible mumbling],” she stuttered through the tears, as if there were a deadline on body mutilation.
The good news is that since it’s not a pre-existing condition (like tattoos and, now, tongue piercing), I’m not out of the will. And after the initial shock, it was business as usual—telling jokes at brunch, planning my daughter’s bat mitzvah. I sat to the right of my mother, the glittery booger visible only to my husband and daughter.
No one who has seen me has asked why I did it. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t seem out of character. Maybe it looks as though it’s always been there. When I tell people on the phone or online, about half of them ask why.
I did it because I could. Because it would only hurt for a minute. I did it because I met a woman twenty-five years ago, a waitress at Bertha’s, who had a stud in her nose, and she was exquisite—certainly not in spite of it and maybe not even because of it, but it gave her a pinch of exotica. Since that day I longed for one of my own. I did it because it had just enough risk—a little bit of pain but not too much, a little bit of permanence but not too dramatic should I decide to just rock the empty large pore for the rest of my life. And it’s pretty. I like it. I can’t think of a better reason than the last one.
For awhile, I got the stick-on kind, just to see how it would look. When I’d remember, which was rarely, I’d carefully remove one diamond chip from the adhesive and drop it down the bathroom sink drain. Then, with the drain stopper in place, I’d remove a second one and affix it with Liquid Bandage, which would sting and smell bad for a few seconds. I’d go out somewhere, and, within an hour or two, I would scratch my eye, accidentally brushing against the chip, which would disappear into the ether.
Those who’d caught its glint would ask me if I finally went and did it. When I’d say it was a stick-on, I could see both their relief and their disappointment. Perhaps the relief was more because they didn’t have to imagine the pain of the needle. But the disappointment was, to me, more palpable.
I am not a faker. I have never pretended to be something I’m not, never lied about my skills, not even on a job application or my résumé. I had fake nails for my wedding only; I bit them off on my honeymoon. I color my hair, but it’s real color on real hair. I don’t pretend to like bands just because they’re cool.1 And I don’t lie.2
I’d given up the idea a month ago when a friend told me I’d have to take it out for surgery or x-rays, that the hole would never close. And then I thought: who lives that way? Who makes a decision based on what would happen should she ever need surgery? So when my sister told me on the boardwalk that she’d asked about the nose piercing at Dimensions and that she’d pay for half, I started to consider it seriously. Serena came in with us and whined the whole time, having just been turned upside-down (by choice) and around and around (also by choice) and become so sick that only a snowball would make her feel better. So we left, and I vowed to give it serious thought. That night, I talked to my husband for a half hour. He’d already hated the idea, even though he didn’t think it looked bad at all. And when he finally said what I wished all people would say—“It’s your body; I have no right to tell you what to do with it”—fate was sealed.3
I prepared my daughter, who also hated the idea, and sent her to the pool with her cousins and uncle. I chased a beer with a big shot of vodka from the freezer (thanks, Tom), and gave Beth the keys to my car. She drove me to Dimensions, where I handed over my ID, signed the Health Department’s forms, and picked my nose ring. I waited upstairs. When it was my turn, I sat in a big scary chair and watched the tattooed dude open the big scary autoclaved tools. My sister squeezed my hand. At some point, while the big scary needle was dangling from my nose, she stopped looking.
“That wasn’t so bad,” I said.
“That was the easy part,” the dude said. And then he put the jewel in.
“Ow,” I said. But I was completely still, unlike my sister, whose face was buried in my back. When it was over, it stung a little, but it wasn’t awful. We went back to the condo, and I took a swim, after which it bled a bit. And, with the exception of the occasionally pawing in the night, it’s only given me a moment of trouble.
With my mom. And only for a moment.
* * * * *
1I’m sorry, Vampire Weekend and Decemberists. [yawn]
2In fact, there’s only one lie I’ve told with regularity, and it had to do with whether I was smoking. I have not smoked since I was pregnant—not even once—but I used to keep my smoking habits secret from my family.*
*Then again, it’s totally within my power to shave a few inches off my thighs in a self-portrait, to lighten the dark circles under my eyes, to smooth out the kinks and dings in my skin. But that’s art. And, with the exception of nonfiction, art can’t lie.
3I ask because we are a team. And though he can’t prevent me from poking a hole in my nose or writing on my skin, I respect his opinion, and his unhappiness with my decision would make this a mistake.