Some girls in eighth grade had cool moms, the kind who took them to Merle Norman for their first ear piercing. The kind who even threw in a tube of lipstick and half-hour color consultation without hardly a blink of the eye.
I had the uncool mom, the kind who made me beg for everything related to a developing body, leg hair removal, underwear that didn't have the name of the week on it (which my sister and I shared so I was always ending up with an off day). I remember having to beg for a bra. Many weeks I begged. We ended up at K-mart for that one. No bra was small enough to fit my skeletal pre-pubescent body. But I just had to have one, even if the cups sagged inward like two mini-peaks of Mount St. Helens post-eruption.
One day after school, when the rain trickled down the windows of Mom's silver hatchback, I built enough nerve to ask about getting my ears pierced. "Absolutely not!" she said, and I looked out the window as she went on and on about how young I was and how sixteen was just around the corner. I could wait until then, when I had my own money, more responsibility. Sixteen was the year a door opened for dating as well. It was going to be a big party, apparently overloaded with tons of naughty, risky, full on hormonal delights that magically made sense only then. But not now. Right now I was thirteen. I held back tears, and anger, and made my own decision right there that I would have holes in my ears soon. Real soon.
For the next few weeks operation Pierce Your Own Ears was in full affect at school. In science class I sat and listened to my lab partner whisper all the factoids. Do numb your earlobe with ice. Do look in the mirror. Don't worry when you hear a POP noise, it means you've made it through! Don't worry about the blood.
Girls started coming to school with earrings dangling from swollen earlobes. They seemed happy. I grew worried. I sat hypnotically watching guppies chase each other in Mr. Schneider's murky tank, and thought about if I was really brave enough to do it myself. And what would I tell my mom afterwards? The compulsion was too strong for me to care. I would do it. That very day.
The house was empty because Marshall stayed at Savior Of The World seminary during the week, and Cathy wasn't home because she always hung out with her friends now that she'd hit Freshman status. I put my things down and headed upstairs. Mom had needles and pins hanging around everywhere. Her sewing experiments left trails of prickly minefields throughout the house. All one had to do was step barefooted across a patch of carpet, wait for it and voila! a needle. I stared at myself in the mirror. Me, pale me. With shaking hands I held a cube of ice behind one lobe and the needle in front. The needle hit skin, causing a level of pain no sane person would ever inflict upon themselves. I straightened my spine and tried again. Nope. Pain.
More and more girls showed up with pierced ears, happy expressions on their faces. Sophisticated expressions, like they knew something important. Something I could never know.
I grew miserable. What a chicken I was, an unpierced chicken who would have to wear ugly, clunky clip-ons for the rest of my life. People on television, people on the street, heck, even people in National Geographic a million miles away in some jungle, they all had their ears pierced. I just had to get it done.
In secret I saved up a good lump of cash from my weekend babysitting job, the one with Ryan the terrible, and called in my own secret appointment at a local beauty salon. "I'd like to get my ears pierced," I whispered into the receiver so sure and so not sure. "Do I need my mother to sign anything?" Nah, they said, just come on in at twelve.
The shop had a few middle-aged bouffant laden town matrixes hanging around, magazines in hand. Bells jangled and Bruce Springsteen blasted from a wall radio as I walked inside, cold waft of air behind me like some ominous whisper. Retreat, retreat. No. I have money and earlobes. I'm doin' this.
A beautician named Dusty with a short cut and chunky blonde streaks told me to set my things down, then led me to a counter with a display of ear studs. Diamond, gold, silver. I chose the gold, even though I hate gold. Maybe a punishment for my wild excursion. Catholic upbringing makes such thinking rational. Do something bad, punish thyself. Repeat.
They all watched me, those highlighted, bouffant queens of my small town as I sat in the executioner's chair and waited for the first pierce. Dusty used a gun tool that gripped both sides of my lobe like a doubled-tailed brass scorpion. I heard a click and pain shot through my ear. It sizzled, ran, threaded all down my neck. Tears stung inside my eyelids, but I didn't cry. I didn't yelp or cry. I just sat there. One down.
It was worse, knowing the pain about to come. And it came. Boy did it come. But once it was over, and Dusty led me to her beauty product adorned mirror with fancy lights and pictures of her buck-toothed kids, I smiled. The gold studs looked pretty, even if my lobes were bright red. I felt older, wiser, stronger.
"Your mom didn't want you to get this done, huh?" Dusty asked me, standing behind.
I shook my head.
"Well now, I never did what my momma wanted, either. We never could agree on anything. I moved out at seventeen, got married, had a few kids. Now I wish I could be young again. But I don't regret none of it. Not really." She patted my back. "That'll be ten dollars."
When I walked home, alone, the wind blew hard and brittle against my throbbing earlobes. I wanted to put a wool mittened hand up to protect them, but one touch of the scratchy material made things a million times worse. I just walked and winced and battled back the tears, not from pain but from the damn wind and made my way home. A new girl.
Perhaps it was a rite of passage. Other pain would come, other decisions would be mine to make all with consequence or glory. They would come and I would face them, make my own decisions, choose my own path.