Under the humming of a dental drill, l feel bits of broken tooth and amalgam filling crumble away. I lay back and get multiple novocaine shots in the roof of my mouth, complacent as livestock. My tongue is a fat, dry slug, forced to hang out and desiccate against the constant suction of the mouth-vacuum wielded by a dentist who obviously has to be Terry Gilliam, because this is something right out of Brazil.
As an adult, I spend my extra money trying to upgrade my teeth so they don’t abscess or fall out. I didn’t get dental care until later in life, so I try to be careful with the teeth I have left. This tooth--the one that they are currently drilling into--was cracked, with a filling holding the tooth slightly ajar. It hurt so bad, that if I accidentally touched it, I saw stars.
For years, I told people this story about how this one time, I was eating yogurt and got in a fender-bender and bit the spoon, and that’s why my tooth cracked; not because I had a metal bar clacking around in my mouth at all hours. It had nothing--nothing--to do with my tongue piercing; not because I was prattling on while shoving quesadillas in my face, and bit down on the end of my barbel. No way.
Looking at the dentist bill 15 years later, and it still seems pretty much worth it.
My first piercing was my navel. It was a joint effort between my sister and me. I remember lying on my back on the bottom bunk, her working a safety pin through the tiny bit of skin, lit by Christmas lights tacked around our precious Crow movie poster. She doused it in Bactine and taped it to my stomach for the night, so it wouldn’t get torn out. Basically a professional.
A few months later, I was crouched in front of our bathroom mirror, getting up the nerve to pierce my own lip. I was 14, and even though I’d written letters detailing how important it was to me to pierce my lip, my mother still wouldn’t come with me to get it done. I’d scored some 20-gauge hypodermic needle tips, practiced on my friends, gone through the procedure a dozen times in my head. My mom pounded on the door; I breathed in, popped it through and fed in a horseshoe ring. I couldn’t stop staring at it, like a magpie with a treasure. It landed me in the principal’s office a few times when I declined to take it out in class.
For my 16th birthday, my boyfriend bought me a tongue piercing. I went with my friend, and even though she was pretty tough, she peeped a little bit when they put the clamps on her tongue. I sat on the bench, my thighs sticking to the glitter vinyl through the holes in my corduroys. Good thing we had gin and juice before we went to the piercing studio, because there is no way I could just chill while a dude in gloves jacks open my jaw and rubber-bands clamps onto my tongue before spearing it with a needle.
After three days of swollen, pus-leaking grossness, I was flicking my barbell around like I was born doing it. It would get stuck on things, I’d bite it frequently, I even swallowed a few barbells. But there was a whole dirty teenager language that I suddenly had access to. I looked so hot and bad.
I got a nose ring for my 17th birthday. A few years later, I got my smiley, an upper-lip frenulum piercing. Along with my gauged ears, my face was full of metal.
People stopped and stared, old people shook their heads. It was constant upkeep, replacing parts, and taking jewelry in and out for crappy waitressing jobs. I decided I would always love my piercings, and they were part of me. They signaled to girls that I was a badass not to be trifled with. They made me look like I was pretty much 21.
Then I went to Thailand.
It was my first trip abroad. I packed Ziploc bags full of every possible necessity. I had a phrasebook, and I learned enough Thai to get around, order food. I packed and repacked my backpack months ahead time, fingering the paper tickets that came in the mail.
We spent a month taking sleeper buses and hitching rides from one end of the country to the other, trying to hit all towns and stay off the beaten track as much as we could.
Nearly everyone we met in rural Thailand was curious about my facial piercings and jewelry. They thought it was strange, and asked all kinds of questions, but mostly: Why? I answered that I thought they were beautiful. Were they medically necessary? It makes sense: utilitarian stainless steel doesn’t really look like jewelry. Old women all needed to thoroughly look me over. What is wrong with you? they asked, puzzled.
I lost the retaining balls for my tongue, as well as the captive bead on my lip. Body jewelry was obviously nowhere to be found, so I just made do. Both piercings just looked like wire jabbed pointlessly through perfectly good skin.
When I got home, I didn’t replace the lost jewelry; I unceremoniously took my lip ring and tongue piercing out. I didn’t need them. I didn’t want the amount of attention they garnered, and after explaining their importance a dozen times, it was easy to see: there was none. I liked them, and they used to make me feel unique, but they didn’t mean jack beyond that. Just one more thing to worry about.
I kept my nose ring. It just makes sense. I have a huge nose, it’s kind of the pinnacle of my face, and the thin silver hoop in my nostril is decoration. I have tiny scars where my lip and tongue piercings used to be. My frenulum actually tore off when I bit into an apple. Yeah, that’s a thing that can happen.
I don’t miss them at all. It signaled the end of an era in my life, one where practicality and beauty wins out over shock value and attention-seeking.
I’ve noticed that dermal piercings and surface piercings are super-popular right now. I was subbing at a high school a few months ago, and it seemed like every third girl had surface piercings on her collarbones, or surgical steel studs buried into the base of their necks. I don’t look at these girls and shake my head in condescending disapproval; I’m happy they’re experimenting with their bodies and style in weird and gross ways.
Navel piercings and multiple ear piercings are trendy right now, but I wonder if multiple facial piercings will ever be as popular as they once were.
Do you remember when facial piercings were a huge deal? Did you want or have some? Is there a "professional" (vomit at that word) way to wear facial piercings? Does anyone still have multiple facial piercings? Pics or it didn’t happen.