(originally published in 3AM Magazine)
The first idea was a paper clip but it didn’t look sharp enough to make it through the skin. Then we thought about using a latch pin but the metal bent at a funny angle. The nails in the bottom of the fix-it box looked too thick. Finally Kayla found a real long hatpin, the kind with a little pearl on the end, and we decided it would do.
“This,” Kayla says between bubblegum pops, “is perfect”.
It’s important to use something sharp. My brother told us about a punk kid who tried to pierce that loose skin at the bottom of your neck with a chicken bone. He was pushing this thing through and all of a sudden “Crunch”! Half the bone is in his fingers and the other half is gone. It cut through his vocal cords before they could find it. He couldn’t say anything after that.
Kayla cleans the hatpin with rubbing alcohol and eases my pants down past my knees, but my panties stay up.
There is no one in the secondhand store today. Sundays are pretty quiet so they are the best days to work. Kayla put two big bells on the door to warn us if any customers walk in. This shouldn’t take long. No one can see us way back in the storeroom anyway.
My legs have little blue veins that stick out like an old lady’s when I‘m cold. The air conditioner overhead sounds like a milkshake machine and I’m wondering if you bleed less when you’re cold. The hatpin is clean and Kayla pushes it through an old pair of blue jeans to make sure it is sharp enough. It goes clean through, seam to seam, just like that. This is was my idea.
With the hatpin ready we look through the earrings we picked out. One is a big gold hoop that’s too big for the job once we really look at it. Another one is the right size but the clasp looks pretty flimsy. None of them look like they would work.
Kayla sticks the hatpin back into the folded blue jeans and spits her gum out. Today her hair is pink. Her mother says if she keeps dyeing it she’ll go bald, but she doesn’t listen. My knees are turning purple around the bones. My mother says I need to gain weight. We sit like this for a while trying to figure out what to do. I wonder if you bleed less when you’re skinny.
Looking at my legs makes me want to pull up my pants but Kayla grabs my arm. Her bracelets scratch me. She’s smiling so big I can see her tongue studs. No one at school has them but her. That’s the way it’s been since grade school. Somehow she is always in front of me.
She stands up slowly and takes out her belly button ring. We size it up. It’s solid, stainless steel and looks about the right size. Perfect.
Kayla asks me if I’m sure while she rubs the hatpin down again. She’s had infections before so we want to be careful. She says she knows a girl who pierced her ears because her mom wouldn’t take her to get them done and got some kind of fungus in them because she didn’t clean the needle right. Her ears turned all orange like cream sickles.
I tell her I’m ready but I need to go to the bathroom first in case. I know if I pee when she does it I’ll never live it down. She tells everything she knows.
While I’m in the bathroom Kayla goes to look through the racks of old uniforms against the back wall of the store. People donate all kinds of things like that here. Some of the shirts come from the army. Some say Subway or Jiffy-Lube on them. She pulls out an old nurse’s top. It’s a white V-neck with little teddy bears on it. She pulls in over her tank top and laughs. She’s the first nurse either of us has ever seen with a nose ring.
Since no one has come inside the store for over two hours we get brave. We turn the radio off the good time oldies station and put in a mix tape one of Kayla’s friends at college gave her last weekend. She has lots of friends at college that she’s always talking about. The music is really loud and most of it sounds like a trashcan falling down a stairwell. Kayla shouts something about noise bands and jumps around. Then we lock the door just in case and go back to the storeroom.
Everything is laid out on a clean white t-shirt that has a red cross on it. The hatpin sits next to the rubbing alcohol, a washcloth we found, and the ring. Kayla’s mom takes these little blue pills to relax, and she shares them with her sometimes. We both take one. It feels like a fingernail going down my throat, but I swallow hard and try to relax. My ears are listening to the air-conditioner, the noise band, my pulse.
When my pants come down again Kayla starts acting like a real nurse. She helps me get in position. It would be easier if we had a bed but all we have in the storeroom is a couch that we pulled a sheet over. She’s put on gloves but they aren’t rubber or anything. We couldn’t find any like that so she’s wearing white opera gloves so she doesn’t have to touch it.
“I’m going to be the first huh?” My heartbeat sounds slow inside my head, like something just starting up for the first time.
She says she thinks I’ll be the first.
Everyone at our school has their bellybutton done unless their parents are super uptight. A lot of girls have their eyebrows or noses done. One of the senior girls even has the kind that’s just a little ball that sticks out under your lower lip. None of them have this though. We’re sure of that.
“You going to?” She asks pointing down between my legs. My panties say Wednesday on the front but its Sunday. No one wears them on the right day. That’s the rule.
“What if we did my boobs?” My hands push into the sides of them so they look bigger. We both laugh.
Kayla says in Jamaica it cost almost two hundred dollars to get your boob pierced on the beach. Her cousin told her so. That doesn’t even include a tip she said, and you have to tip for everything; even for toilet paper.
“We’re not in Jamaica.” My fingers are turning blue.
“Ok,” she says, “but one junior girl, Amy somebody, has those done. My ex told me. Plus you heard about what happened to Hunter last summer.”
She scoots closer and I shake my head “No”. This is the way she acts when she gets ready to tell something real dirty or gross. Her eyes get white as rice and her mouth gets big so you can hear the metal in her tongue clicking away. She always tells what she knows.
“He pierced his own nipple right, but he went too deep or something. It always got infected so he had to take it out. Well when he took it out it left a big ball of scar tissue that looked like a third nipple right? Well one night he was picking at it, and he was real high right, and it came off but there was this string on it. He sat and flipped it for awhile and he’s like ’what the fuck’ but it doesn’t come loose so he cuts the string. The next day he wakes up in the hospital. It wasn’t a string but like one of the nerves to his heart or something.”
She smiles real wide while my thumbs hook into my waistband.
On the couch it’s hard to get comfortable. The cushions are old and my back is pushing against the frame. My right leg is on the armrest and my left leg is propped against the edge of the couch. My stomach feels real cold, like the air-conditioner is running in my belly. Neither of us says a word. The music out front sounds like someone is recycling soda cans in a dishwasher.
Kayla gets the hatpin ready and tells me to practice breathing.
She reaches down between my thighs with one opera glove and moves it into place. Inhale. My legs get tense and my veins start popping up like pen marks. Exhale. She’s looking at it. Inhale. What does it look like? Exhale. Does it look like everyone else’s? Inhale. It feels like a snowball is growing inside my belly. Exhale. She pulls the side of it out. Inhale. Hold it. Hold it.
Kayla stabs the hatpin into me. I fight to stay still. Her bracelets scrape my leg as she fishhooks the ring into me. Everything burns. The snowball in my belly has boiled away. Everything is electric. My fingers look like cream sickles. I can’t say a word.
When it’s done Kayla looks at me. Her eyes are big and glassy. I touch it. My hands feel warm and wet. It’s not pee, just blood. Just a little to let you know it was real. The ring feels steady. Kayla looks a little jealous and it’s perfect. I’m the first.