I don’t remember what exactly possessed me with the idea that day, but I had just shuffled out of my Religion & Culture class, which ended rather late at 5:15 PM. I had no dinner plans with anyone, and no time to make any. Immediately, I was transported back to middle school, when I would scurry back and forth between two girls’ washrooms, occasionally greeting teachers on the way as to not blow my cover, pretending I was about to go to recess. I’d find an empty stall, make sure no one saw me enter with my lunch bag and quickly scarf down my meal. It wasn’t until later that I was brave enough to confidently sit down at a lunch table and enjoy my solitude with a good book. For a long time, I didn’t want anyone to suspect that I was the girl who ate alone.
If there was ever a time to feel like the smallest, most insignificant speck in the world, it was during this lunchtime ritual. Even when I did eventually find some people to commune with, it was never a stable group. If lunch plans fell through with one group, I would be anxious until I received a verbal invitation from another group. Lunch became political – parties were formed, hierarchies established, and there was even plenty of bureaucratic red tape. If you were part of one group, it could take weeks – months, even, to transition into another. I never felt like I fully belonged to any one group of people, and my transience wasn’t something I enjoyed as a timid, awkward tween. I flitted between cliques because it felt necessary, and most of the time, I was merely tolerated.
No one wants to be just tolerated.
But here I was, a freshman in college, and once again I felt a distinct lack of belonging. Here, no one would kick anyone else out of a lunch group. After all, most of us had grown out of our pettiness, and this was a Christian college, so everyone had to be nice – at least on the surface. Moreover, I had friends here, and good ones at that. Yet, on days like these, where I had no plans lined up with anyone, I felt as small as I did back then. The insecurities quickly crept in. Were people friends with me merely out of convenience? If so, I wanted no part of it – I valued authenticity above all else. I was never one to beg or to grovel. Even if I had few friends here, at least I still had self-respect. Today, though, self-respect felt a bit lonely.
I’m not usually one for instant gratification, but I needed to do something to get out of this rut of self-pity. I suddenly remembered that I had borrowed my mother’s car for the week. Freedom. I could go off campus, and I knew exactly where I was going. I walked to the far away freshman parking lot, aptly nicknamed Africa, and found the old, greige sedan. As I departed the campus, I began to feel giddy.
My spirits were already up, and I hadn’t even reached my destination. It felt good to finally be alone with my thoughts. On a small campus that was intensely community focused (and with a roommate), social stimulation was almost constant. I had not realized how much it drained me until now. The university was located in a small town in the middle of some cornfields. Off-campus activity wasn’t really banned, but as a freshman who was normally without a car, the campus certainly felt insular at times. Even going 30 minutes off campus felt a little like an act of rebellion.
I arrived. I quickly found a parking space and walked into a mainstay of capitalist America: the shopping mall. I checked the map and found my final destination, a piercing booth in the center aisle.
The only piercings I had were my two earlobe piercings, which I had begged my mother to allow me to get. She had resisted for a while until she finally gave in when I turned thirteen years old. I had always wanted double pierced ears, but my mother was firmly against the idea. I think she associated multiple piercings with people living in debauchery or something like that. Anyways, I had been eighteen for a few months but I never got around to getting my second piercings. Today felt like the perfect day to get them done. Sure, it wasn’t going to be a dramatic change to my appearance, but I was itching to do something to regain my agency. This would be a choice that was fully mine, not just something done out of convenience or fear of what others would think. My cautious nature prevented me from doing things on a whim, but today I needed to do something impulsive.
I walked up to the counter and only one girl was at the booth. She couldn’t have been much older than me, and she was wearing a rhinestone covered crop top, low rise flares and an unamused face. I didn’t fully trust this girl to properly pierce my ears, but fuck it, I had already come all the way here and I was going to get it done no matter what. I filled out the forms, chose a pair of plain gold studs and she dotted my lobes with a marker and handed me a mirror.
“Hmm…I think they’re too far apart,” I remarked.
The girl, still expressionless, obliged and wiped off the dots with an alcohol wipe and redrew them.
Some adrenaline and two punches from the piercing gun later, it was over. I paid at the counter and walked back to my car, heart pounding. My ears felt hot, but there wasn’t pain, just warmth. As if my body was on auto-drive, I watched my hand reach into my purse for my cell and dial my mom’s number. She answered, pleased to hear my voice (I didn’t call her very often, seeing as I lived nearby). I blurted out to her what I had just done.
Her response was one of slight surprise, but mainly amusement. After all, if getting double pierced ears is the worst thing your daughter does while off at university, I think you’ve done pretty well as a parent. She was probably even a little proud that I was finally finding my own way. We made some more small talk, and said our goodbyes.
I don’t know why the two newly acquired punctures in my skin made me feel so powerful, but they did. I sat in my car for a while as I waited for it to heat up, and my eyes wandered to the rear view mirror to inspect my lobes.
“Damn it. I think they’re too close together.”
– A. Cheng