It was August 3, 2012. I had spent the summer of my twentieth year living in Philadelphia, and in two days I would heading back to Grand Rapids. Over the course of that summer, I had sweat, cried, and prayed more than in any other season of life. I had done things I never imagined myself doing: I helped paint a large mural. I played the guitar in front of a significant number of people every night. I got my hands dirty in abandoned lots turned community gardens. I met inspiring leaders throughout the city and led incredible teens from all over the country. I rode shotgun to Domino’s every Tuesday just to steal glances at the blue-eyed pizza guy. I discovered the magic of water ice and Wawa. I danced like a fool at every neighborhood cookout. I made tacos for seventy people every week, and nobody sustained a food-borne illness.
Then, of course, there’s the list of all the less pleasant things that I never thought I would do: I accidentally drove to New Jersey. I asked to speak with a woman who, unbeknownst to me, had passed away two years previously. I got trapped in a homeless shelter. I had to drive a man to the hospital because his pregnant wife was there, and something was wrong. I babysat a grown woman who needed to be reminded to not yell at children and put non-food items in her mouth. I transported large bags of trash to a dumpster belonging to a carpet man in a different part of the city. I had large, angry men yell at me for putting trash in said dumpster. I drove a large van that perpetually smelled like trash.
All of this had shaped me in ways I didn’t expect, and it made me want to do things that I had never wanted to do before.
Suddenly, I wanted to get my nose pierced.
This is something that pre-Philly Cath would have never done. It did not appeal to her in any way. But that wasn’t who I was anymore, and I wanted a reminder of that for people when they looked at me and for myself when I looked in the mirror. Sticking a piece of sterling silver in the middle of my face would do the trick quite nicely.
The only other time I’d gotten anything pierced was my ears on my tenth birthday. From the looks of the tattoo parlor we found, this was going to be a little different than my experience at Claire’s.
My piercer (is that the correct term for a person who does body piercings? A “piercer?”) was all business. He clearly took his job very seriously, and he made me question whether or not I was serious enough about this decision.
“Do you live near here?” He asked.
“I lived in Fishtown for the summer, but I’m actually heading back home to Michigan this week,” I replied, thinking we were just shooting the breeze.
“Well, in that case, let me look at the map…yeah, it looks like there is one Ultra Serious Piercing Facility in Michigan, approximately 186 miles from where you live, so you’ll need to stop by there once a month for three years to make sure that the piercing heals correctly…what’s an Ultra Serious Piercing Facility, you ask? It’s a network of piercers—yes, we call ourselves piercers—who take themselves too seriously and fearmonger our clients into treating their piercings like a newborn child. On that note, six times a day you’re going to need to submerge the piercing in ninteen degrees Celsius water with a quarter teaspoon of sea salt, preferably from the Aegean Sea, preferably self-sieved.”
We were not just shooting the breeze.
But regardless of his insistence that I follow his exact instructions or else something might go Terribly Wrong, I’d come too far to go back now. I took a lot of courage to get me there in the first place, and I wasn’t leaving with nothing to show for it.
One click of the needle, and it was in.
And then, the throbbing began.
The pain in the beginning was sharp but expected. I just paid a stranger $30 to lodge a piece of sterling silver in my nose—pain comes with the territory.
But what I didn’t expect was for my nose to fight back. The rest of the day—throb throb throb. Trying to fall asleep that night, worried that my lack of consciousness will encourage infection. Finding that my nose was still bleeding the next morning and trying to clean it out, cursing my lack of Aegean salt. And in the days and weeks after, any contact made with the general vicinity of my nose bringing back the pain, a visceral reminder of what I had done, of how I had marked myself as changed.
And now, almost five years later, my nose has embraced the change. While I once could never imagine getting it, I am now freaked out by my reflection on the rare occasion that it’s not there, where it should be, reminding me of a summer in Philadelphia and the twenty-year-old who did all the things she never thought she would.