10 years ago
This is the second, third and fourth part of the freewrites, which are by definition unedited, unrevised and unproofed.
When my parents got a divorce, I was five. I did not speak again until I was thirteen, except to court appointed psychologists and when absolutely required. My sister was two days old. I still canâ€™t decide if that makes it better for her or worse. Neither can she. She has been far freer than I have been, sleeping on beaches in Spain rather than spend money at a hostel, spending the last of her money to buy Mexican children ice cream, sleeping in a hammock slung between trees on a Costa Rican beach. She has never stayed in one place longer than it took to save up the money to go someplace else. At the time I was standing on the porch at the Bearded Ladyâ€™s New Moon Piercing Emporium, my sister already had a nose ring, a belly button ring and was contemplating a more permanent addition. I was still standing on the porch trying to decide what would be the most responsible piercing to get. I settled on the tongue.
When I was almost two, my mother was preparing dinner. Her back was turned to the table, which had been set with plates, glasses and silverware. I was supposed to be in the living room with my father, but I was at that tetchy walking stage that say me escaping the watchful eyes of adults more frequently. I climbed up on one of the oak dining room chairs with their geometrical finials and black spotted stain. When my mother turned around, I was already falling backwards with the knife in my mouth. The scar tissue remaining in my tongue was still a pink divot. Getting it pierced again, this time professionally, seemed like merely a recapping of an old injury. My father and mother till argue about whoâ€™s fault it was, but I donâ€™t think blame can be equivocally decided in such accidents where the willful curiosity of a toddler brings truth to parables and proverbs. No matter what history my tongue had with holes, the fact was tongues heal fast, and though the Italian I was taking might suffer for a few days while my swollen appendage healed, the dance class I was taking could hardly tolerate the six week healing process of a belly piercing.
The Bearded Lady was not a gimmick. It was truth in advertising. A robust woman, with a scraggly, but well articulated beard ran the shop from behind a school teacherâ€™s discard desk. Itâ€™s yellowy stained was dulled gray in the places the varnish had chipped and flaked off leaving the wood grain exposed to the omnipresent oil of fingers and palms. At the desk we discussed price and procedure. Though dingy, the desk was clean as were her hands. The white moons of her nails stood out against her olive skin. The rest of the shop was split into different piercing areas. In 2000, a year after I would graduate, Massachussetsn would lift its tattoo ban and a room that had been intended as a parlor in more Georgian times would be converted to a tattoo studio. But when I was there, the kitchen was converted for piercing. A modified, ancient dental chair was bolted to a yellowed lineoliuem floor that was so clean my rubber soles squeaked without any effort.
Lined up along the wall were cheaply framed prints of fifties icons and cheesecake pinups by Vargas and Saroyama.
My father had included a note with the cash. He was hoping I would get some friends together for burgers and Cokes. The notion seem antiquated and out of touch. My womenâ€™s college was a staunch bastion of feminism and vegetarianism. We did not eat burgers. We did not drink Coke. We went to the Haymarket for cowboy coffee and made fun of The Red Bean which was widely recognized as the impending home of a new Starbucks. My father had never been to Northampton, and even my graduation from college, would not bring him out to the east coast or in the vicinity of my mother. His detachment from my life at this point made him quaint and an interesting talking point. Getting a piercing here, in this place, seemed far more normal than a fast food meal.
For each piercing, special tools are required. The Bearded Lady set up a dental tray and opened sealed bags of medically-sterilized equipment. I began to realize that this was much more sophisticated that sewing needles, ice and potato rounds. With ringing plinks she set the instruments down on the metal tray: A long hollow needle like that on a very large syringe, a pair of pliers that ended in a ring rather than a point, a barbell that measured 2 inches, a smaller one inch barbell, blue ink, two toothpicks and a jar of lavender oil. She began to explain the procedure. First she would mark the bottom and top of my tongue using the toothpicks dipped in the ink. She would also use the toothpicks to insure that the top and bottom holes were perpindicular and far enough away from the frenulum linguae. She then explained the pliers, which were really clamps, to press my tounge flat and firm and would keep me from jerking away at the punch. It was here when part of my more responsible self snuck up and pushed my heart up and made my breath bubble in my throat. That was what the lavender oil was for; I sat and breathed deeply of the dusty, sodden smell and looked at the needle lying on the medical pad.
Iâ€™d had stitches scads of times. My body is marked and traced with scars denoting tree-falls, dusty fist fights, and run ins with pavements. My sense of rule following and responsibility never managed to trump my temper, which always managed to get me into trouble. My lack of speech, my inconsistent awareness of style and music, and my strange love of books separated me from my peers in the painful and obvious ways that led me to the emergency room on several occasions. By the time I was sitting in the Bearded Ladyâ€™s chair, I had accumulated 12 visits to doctor to receive a zig-zagging collection of 57 stitches. Some of these badges remain more obvious than others, and were the final reason my adrenaline addled brain offered up as logical proof that a tongue piercing was nothing to fear.
We went over cleaning instructions while I deeply inhaled the oily preserve of lavender. The mouth is filthy, she explained. Easily the dirtiest part of the human body. Itâ€™s not really a muscle, you know. Itâ€™s more like a sac of fluid controlled by muscles, like an earthworm. None of this seemed particularly helpful or comforting. She instructed me to rinse with Listerine hourly for three days and after I put anything in my mouth that wasnâ€™t water. She handed me a pamphlet on thrush and another on recognizing the signs of infection. Stapled to the infection pamphlet was the business card of Dr. Green, D.D.S and a map and phone number to the local urgent care, should swelling happen. Swelling was natural she said. Thatâ€™s why she would insert the longer dumbbell and in three days, when the piercing had healed, I could exchange the shorter. She then gave me her last piece of advice: piercing are temporary. Teeth are permanent. I was not to click or flick the metal against my teeth. The jewlryâ€™s weight would cause the hole to move forward, the anatomy of tongues being what it was. She instructed me to remove the piercing as soon as it rubbed against my gums rather than sat obeidiently on the floor of my mouth. I took a drag of lavender and clenched my hands on the padded armrests. My palms were sticking to the fluff that was insinuating itself through the cracks.
Satisfied that weâ€™d covered the basics, The Bearded Lady instructed me to sign several forms including a waiver and then settled her considerable bulk on a black stool, while instructing me to lean back against the faded cracked vinyl backing of the chair. Reclined a bit like that, it was difficult to see the pinups, or her beard, or anything really other than the startling white plastered ceiling, where a placard hung with heavy, black calligraphy stating â€śThis will only hurt for a second.â€ť I kept my eyes glued to the inky strokes of the font, and offered my tongue for the blue ink dots that with a clamp, a prick and a punch became a hole.
Some things hurt a lot, but then they are over. Otherâ€™s hurt forever. I canâ€™t remember the pain of my tongue ring. Only how the metal conducted body heat to make perfectly round divots in popsicles. I can remember speaking cautiously and carefully in student teaching to keep it hidden. I can remember telling my mother and hearing her click her own tongue and laughing. I can remember calling my father and hearing his disbelief crackle in the line. Neither believed me until I sent them a picture of me laughing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with a metal ball sitting cleanly and clearly in the center of my scarred tounge.