Saturday, May 21, 2011

Piercings, Tattoos, and Getting Older

Not me. By a long-shot.
I got my belly button pierced when I was 27. Well, not my actual belly button, which is akin to the aerial view of a doughy bald man. More like the awning of my belly button. The little overhang.  Eleven years later, two things interest me about this fact: (1) Why I'd want to draw attention to what clearly is not my best feature, I have no idea. As a kid, my belly button was constantly sore from having my older sister jab her finger in it and yell, "DING DONG!" This is because my belly button is irresistible to pressing just like when you get on an elevator and feel compelled to push all of the buttons. It's bulbous. And push-worthy. And it looks like it might make a buzzing noise, but I assure you- it does not. (2) At 27, I had about 6 months left of being able to show my midriff in public before turning into a Six Flags giant turkey leg eating, year round flip-flop wearing, Jerry Springer guest appearing kind of lady. So, that summer I tanned and tied my shirts above the waist. It was the last summer of the midriff.

Since then, my pierced navel has been seen by only a handful of people, including one man who got paid to look at it. Well, not it specifically. He's my lady-parts doctor. But, technically, if his eyes made a non-creepy full sweep, he would have seen it. (And I say non-creepy because I'm pretty sure he's gay. "Well, well, well!" he sings with his hands on his hips. "Let's have a looooook-see!") Other than that, few get a good long look at it.

You can probably hear it, though. Especially if I'm nervous or bored. I have a habit of taking the fingernail of my left pointer finger and flicking the belly ring back and forth from outside of my shirt. It makes a satisfying clicking noise, like I'm sending some kind of Morse code message. It's the grown-up version of having a favorite corner of a blanky to rub when tired. This alone was worth getting the piercing so many years ago.

Being 38, I just missed the massive piercing and tattooing phenomenon that seems to have struck those just a few years younger than me. It's not uncommon for the common teen to pierce their navel, eyebrow, upper ear, lip, or tongue. However, when I was a teen, piercing rebellion showed itself after sleepovers when a long needle and two ice cubes sent girls home with double, or even triple (gasp!) ear piercings. Even then, the extra earrings were tiny. Silver balls. Diamond studs. Maybe a little silver ankh if you were feeling particularly badass. But, that was about it.

Even the Dead Kennedy-listening, leather jacket-wearing, beer for breakfast-drinking, two pack a day-smoking, combat boot-wearing, bong-making, old lady-scaring, high school dropouts that I found myself socializing with didn't have piercings. It just wasn't something people really did. Tattoos, though, were another thing.

These guys sported homemade tattoos across their knuckles. Ink pooled and bled through designs made in drunken stupors and if you looked closely, you could see signs of teen angst: anarchy symbols, band names, angry skulls. These were the only people I knew who had tattoos. This was before the age of four-leaf clovers sprouting up on every vacationing person's ankles. Or Chinese characters across countless shoulder blades. Or "tramp stamps" peeking above the stretched out g-strings of dozens awaiting their turn on the Screaming Eagle.

And I'm kind of glad about that. Because if I had gotten a tattoo when I was a teen, I'd be looking down at that ankh right now wondering "What the fuck?" Or I'd be thinking, "Yes, it's true that I liked Sinead O'Connor, but I'm getting kind of tired of reading "This is the last day of our acquaintance" across my abdomen. Or "And she's buying a stairway to heaven" wrapped around my upper arm, which is easily twice as wide as it was at 18. So, I'd be having to add some extra words in there now. Or a few clovers. Who knows.

Funny thing is I find myself, for the first time in my life, wanting to commemorate this moment with a tattoo. This moment of unknowing. This moment of  I-thought-I-knew-how-things-would-be-in-my-life and-they're-not-like-that. At all." This I-thought-I'd-be-married-at-38-and-instead-I'm twice-divorced moment. This I-thought-I'd-have-kids-and-it's-possible-that's-not-in-the-cards-for-me moment. This maybe-my-life-is-unfolding-in-a-beautiful-way-that-I-could-not-have-ever-imagined moment. This open-to-the-possibilities moment. This moment of not looking "out there" to fill what's "in here."

Contrary to my nature, I haven't run out and branded myself after pounding some Starbucks and slipping a $20 to a local tattoo artist wannabe. I'm sitting with it for a bit. But, I feel it coming.

And, true- I could be 50, 60, 70 years old and look down at that marking on my body and think, "What in God's name was I thinking?" Or I could look at it and think, "You're a funny, kid...kid. You wondered how life would turn out. And look at how it did. Pretty amazing, huh?"