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King Tut Pierced Them, Too MAG
I don’t remember the needle, but I remember the pain, the hotbite of metal that tore a hole through my earlobe. And I remember the man washing his hands, hiswhite gloves, his instructions to breathe.
But quite a lot came before that.
Parentswant the best for their children, and it turned out that (despite his intricate and colorfultattoos), the owner of the piercing shop was, in fact, a nurse. He spoke to my mother in measuredtones on the phone, explaining the procedure and jewelry and making it all sound as sanitary aspossible. I coerced her to go with me to Boston to get my ears pierced. I don’t remember muchabout the drive, but it must have seemed dark and thrilling. I wore my black suede boots and mysatin dog collar; I fancied I looked rather sophisticated, and when I peered in the mirror, Ismiled arrogantly at myself. Mom didn’t comment.
When we entered the shop, we werefaced with a few young people who at first unnerved me; they seemed to have taken possession of theplace. They were the apples to oranges, not bothering to emulate the normal pink-garbed gigglinggirls; their jeweled and spiked jewelry suggested they were following yet another trend. What wasthe point of putting metal in their flesh and ink under their skin? I was younger by years, but Ihad a “deep motivation” for this, and felt rather superior of them.
I likedEgypt, you see. I always had, as a matter of fact, and one thing always struck me: the Egyptianswere great fans of piercing. Tutankhamen’s mask, if you look closely, bears two great holesin those carved golden earlobes and I wanted to look like a king, proud and marvelously wealthy. Itwas like a little thread tying me to the ancient world. Those teenagers appeared to have a morebase incentive.
But I forgot this as soon as I was given the opportunity to choose a coloredbead for my jewelry. After great deliberation, I chose a miniature green sphere, shiny like atiger’s eye and brilliant against my red hair.
The piercing room was clinical looking,which banished my thoughts of disease and infection, but pleasant with a mural of a smirking,pale-faced woman painted on the wall. A rickety metal cart was pushed up to the piercing chair,with a needle and two tiny twists of wire resting on top. This made me grin. Finally, my ambitionachieved, and oh, the lofty thoughts that those curls of wire could encourage!
The chair, onthe other hand, looked like a dentist’s in firm red leather. I had the sudden thought thatmaybe it was going to hurt a lot but then smirked, trying to ignore my little trickle of fear.
The piercer was a stout man, bald and lavishly tattooed like everyone in the shop. Idon’t remember what he said, probably something not too comforting, but he seemed friendlyenough. Then it was Time To Pierce Me. He grasped my ear and held it fast with fingers likesausages, marked it with a little dab of violet ink which was cold and unexpected against my ear,and then - don’t panic, don’t be scared, try to breathe, hold on, you can doit.
The prick of the needle itself was no more than a faintly burning scratch; it sizzledits way through my ear and I flinched, my eyes burning. The little twist of wire clicked in place.A pair of pliers sealed the green bead inside the ring. It swung and then stopped abruptly. I heldonto the armrests, breathed a relieved little breath.
The sensation faded and then wasduplicated. It hurt more the second time because his fingers lost their steady curl around theneedle, just for a moment, and it jerked slightly. The circle of wire went in; the wire was closedaround the bead. These new earrings were unusually plain, in steel and glass, nothing like thegleaming thick rings of gold I’d imagined graced an Egyptian’s ear. My own ears feltlicked with fire, about to burn.
I rose to stare at the wire hoops in the mirror. The womanin the mural was behind me and the piercer was smiling next to me, and my mom had a funny, lopsidedsmile like she was thinking, Well, my kid’s finally been mutilated. I resisted the urge totake my fingers and twirl the ring. It burned. It was nothing but the piercer’s job, twolittle pricks and metal threaded through flesh, but my head was light with glory. The tradition ofpiercing, passed from Stone Age to modern times, improved upon and sterilized and beautified: itfelt ancient somehow.
It hadn’t been all I thought it would. No angels descended,singing that I was now Part of Ancient History. But it was a small, beautiful link between me andthe pharaoh Tutankhamen, a link, a shared wound. I would be forever scarred, just like Shakespeareand my mother and King Tut, and many others I loved or idolized. Initiated into the world of bloodand beauty, needles and jewelry, wounds and gold.
Cool, I thought. This is really cool. Sowhat do I pierce next?