At the ripe old age of 25, I am just getting my ears pierced for the first time.
I have spent a beautiful Sunday in Brooklyn with my boyfriend. We are both getting hair cuts at a salon called Hair Metal. My stylist, who looks a bit like Ramona Flowers, is caring and thorough – and a vegan. I gleaned this much from the bottle of orange “vegan elixir” on her table.
We talk most of the time about being vegetarian and vegan, which we chalk up to both health and compassion. After a brief lull in our conversation, she asks me if I have any exciting plans for the summer. I tell her no, but that I am going to Florida next week. Most people react the way that she does: with tepid interest, because Florida is a warm spring break territory, but not an exotic country that commands starry-eyed excitement. “It’s just Tampa,” I say.
I don’t tell her that we are going to take care of business related to our rapidly shrinking family. That we are going to stay in the house of my deceased grandparents. That my grandfather passed away in July, so my mother wants to put my name on the bank account she’d shared with him. That my father passed away in late December and is buried hours south in Miami with his mother and brothers. That circumstances prevent us from going to both places in a week and visiting my father in the cemetery. Few people are likely less thrilled to go to Florida than I am.
“Should I do it?” I ask my boyfriend, gesturing to a tattoo parlor on our way to McCarren Park. He stops and looks. “Yes,” he answers.
“Yes. Come on,” he says, pulling me toward the shop. I suck in my breath and walk in through the open door. I’ve committed myself to the idea of getting my ears pierced. When it turns out that they don’t do piercings, we find ourselves on a short wild goose chase that migrates slowly east through Brooklyn and Queens toward my home. We finally find a tattoo and piercing parlor that is open, does piercings, and is on the way. We drive. I’d rather do this than sit in front of a girl who works at Claire’s and has no time for my fidgeting nonsense.
The wind is ruffling my hair in the late afternoon sun. My boyfriend can’t stop looking at me with a smile on his face and in his eyes. My hair is my weight. It has been growing out for six months of autumn and unforgiving winter cold. When my father passed away right after Christmas, we flew to Miami to bury him. We just barely made it back to New York in time for the first of many consecutive winter snow storms. If he had been well enough, my father wouldn’t have been able to leave the house at all; he would have been a prisoner. Now, he was gone and we were prisoners here without him. The snowy skies seemed to rip wide open and mourn his absence with us.
Today we are happy, but not that distracted sort of happy. I’m nervous about getting my ears pierced, but my usual mantra of “I can’t do this, I can’t do this” is not blotting out my thoughts. The man who will be piercing my ears is incredibly nice and lets me wig out a little bit. He lets my boyfriend sit right next to me so I can squeeze the life right out of his hands and arms. He tells me, “This is your moment.”
This is my moment. I am getting decorative holes in my head. My hair is my weight, and it is gone.
I inhale deeply – push – and let go of a ragged breath. That wasn’t so bad. We switch sides. I breathe in again – push – and exhale less frantically than before. I’m done. There’s a curious weight to my being now, but it is not the weight of the past. It is the weight of something long overdue, and of accomplishment. “Am I bleeding profusely?” I ask with a grin.
“You’re not bleeding at all,” my boyfriend says with feigned exasperation. The piercer tells me I have to wait 4-6 weeks until I can take out the shiny bits of surgical steel, in order for the wounds to heal. He gives me a care sheet and instructions on how to wash them every day, turning them so the holes get used to the idea.
I wish somebody had given me a care sheet and a rough estimate of healing time for dealing with my grief over my father. Four weeks? Four months? Four years? Forever? But I realize that these decorative piercings are wounds, are foreign to the body at first. The body needs time to heal properly. “It’s not organic,” the piercer says when I bob my head back and forth with the new weight on my ears. Death is one of the most natural and organic processes we all go through, and yet it will always feel strange and unusual when it sweeps close to our lives. It acts like a nefarious disease or an injury. But we build up immunity to diseases, and injuries mend — because we are strong.
My boyfriend has had piercings before, and while they are closed up from the inside now, they are still faintly visible. I will now carry these small wounds around with me for the rest of my life, as he does. He also bears a scar on his left arm, no more than two inches long, white and smooth. It will tell a story, as will the holes of his old piercings. My ears will tell a different story, possibly less interesting to the eye than his. But to me, they will tell the story of the holes that will never quite close in my father’s absence. They will heal in their own ways, given time and care. And so will I.