More Like Humming
Amie Souza Reilly
I pierced my nose on Mother’s Day, my tenth one. My tenth Mother’s Day as a mom, not my tenth piercing. It is my third piercing, though the first two are scars now.
Bells clattered over my head when I opened the door to the tattoo shop. It smelled like lavender and had a pirate theme. An old ship’s figurehead watched me with wooden eyes as I hesitated to sign in.
A decade ago I imagined how my nose would look pierced—a freckle made of glitter. I stood in front of mirrors and stared at my face, my newborn strapped to my body, his tiny features whole and perfect. It would catch the sunlight and wink like it was holding a secret.
“You’re too old. It will look ridiculous,” said the father of my perfectly whole newborn, the man who was my husband then.
His words were thick and viscous, an oil slick over a rocky shore. I pushed back at first, then surrendered. The infant needed tending. Tucking the idea instead into the sling he slept in, I whispered made-up rhymes into the folds of his ears and ran my finger down the bridge of his nose until his eyes stayed closed.
“I just need to set up and I’ll be right out,” said the man who would soon pierce me. He had one hoop earring in his left ear.
I scrawled my signature at the bottom of the release form, messy and illegible.
In the waiting room, I sat reading the end of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. Yanagihara writes trauma with visceral details and something more translucent, something that feels like gossamer. Somewhere behind a curtain, the piercer laid out his sharp and sterile tools.
The pills I’d found were in his t-shirt drawer, a soft grey sleeve tied around the orange bottle. Because confrontation is too hard, I untied the knot and placed the bottle upright on his dresser next to a photo of us sitting on a rock in the middle of a river. In it, he is wearing the shirt I’d just pulled the pills out of and I have a dusty blue handkerchief tied over my braids. When he asked me why I was looking through his things he rattled the bottle in my face. I ran down the stairs two at a time; the baby needed dinner.
When the piercer led me to the other side of the curtain, I was expecting to recline in something like a dentist’s chair, but he offered me an office chair with wheels. There was no door to close behind us. In a different room, the buzzing from a tattoo gun sounded less like locusts and more like humming.
He snapped latex-free gloves the color of crocuses over his wide hands; the hairs between his knuckles looked like they were trying to break free.
“You want a stud, I am guessing.”
I laughed but it sounded hollow, a penny dropped into a can.
“I need a minute,” I told him after the stinging cold of the alcohol and the squish of his marker dried on my nostril.
He said to take all the time I needed.
Time is funny, the way there’s always a before and an after. A second as wide as an eyelash separates the done from the undone. It took me years to ask him to leave, to say “Enough.” And once I did, the door closed behind him and I noticed a draft came through even when it was locked.
“Do you have kids?” the piercer asked.
“I have one,” I told him.
“This hurts less.”
He meant physically, but I took it to mean more.
“A quick pinch is all. And when I extract the needle, don’t follow it. Hold your head steady.”
My tongue felt hot, swollen against the cold mint of my toothpaste. In the space between the needle and my nose was a gap containing all of it. Birth and death, secrets and loss, relief and release. In that space there was still time to walk away from this chair, from this idea.
It hurt and then it didn’t. One tear rolled down my cheek and my piercer wiped it away with one of those coarse paper towels found only in public restrooms. When he pulled the needle through he had to remind me to be still.
About the Author: Amie Souza Reilly teaches in the English department at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and eleven-year-old son. She is the Feminist Fridays blogger at the Adroit Journal and has published in Pidgeonholes, The Manifest-Station, and SmokeLong Quarterly.