“You’ve done what?!” Mum wasn’t happy, evidently. She had a good voice for being angry over the phone. “I told you that I didn’t want you ... oh, God, Colin.” Silence. Just for a moment. I quickly looked around the bus passengers - thankfully no-one seemed to be aware that this floppy-fringed, black-dyed, emo-punk was getting a row off his mum.
“You’ll need to take it out.”
“Why not? Of course you can - you have to!”
“Been told to leave it in for six weeks till it heals.”
“Six weeks?! But you’ve got work - for God’s sake, Colin, why don’t you ever think?”
This went on for a while. Combined with the dull throbbing of my lip, Mum’s anger was hard to handle.
The thing was, I had thought about it. A lot. A lot more than my nipple piercing anyway - that one was spontaneous. She wasn’t pleased when she saw that one for the first time either. But this one was planned, and that’s why she was finding out over the phone, whilst she was on holiday, a long way away.
At fourteen years old, as guitar-playing and nu-metal music became more important than fitting in at school, I started to stray from the path of football shirts and dance music that most of my pals were on. Where they chose Mera Peak jackets, I opted for Korn hoodies; K-Swiss for them, Vans for me; they wore tracksuits, I wore Road jeans, those massively baggy ones. You get the picture. Not that I was the only ‘alternative’ (‘goth’ was the more common term used for us) in the year, but there weren’t many of us. We definitely didn’t wear face paint and drink blood in a graveyard!
But straying from some other paths was harder. As an enthusiastic orchestra member, there were strict appearance rules that were just made to be broken. Again, Mum was not best pleased when my white trainers traipsed on stage with my cello; comfy, but contraband.
No, I was not always the most daring, the most offensive, and I think the reason for that was quite simple: I didn’t actually want to hurt people. Being rebellious, for me, growing up, was about pushing boundaries and about personal choices, to Hell with the consequences (so long as they didn’t really matter).
At 18, I got my ears pierced. That was fun. Then I got them pierced again in a different place. Cool. Then I got drunk with a girl, and woke up with a pierced nipple. Whoops. But what did it matter? I wasn’t on drugs, descending into a dark void of dependency. No, I was still passing exams, I was still coming home (most of the time), still helping out around the house.
But that’s why the lip piercing stands out. Because I knew, as I stepped through the door of that shop and paid my cash, that this was something more than just another piercing. It was my first real act of defiance against my protective, supportive, safe mother. For her: a big middle finger in her face. For me: a step out on my own. Because those others were hidden and discrete; this was there for all to see.
I expected it to hurt. Like a cut lip stings every time it cracks open. Like that searing pain when you bite your cheek. But it didn’t. Actually, just a little nip, then the ring was in, ball attached. Done.
At least, it didn’t hurt me - Mum was horrified. Not in an ach-she’ll-calm-down sort of way. In a, I-don’t-even-know-you-anymore sort of way, like I’d ruined my life. I didn’t really understand (quite honestly, I still don’t) but she was very unhappy. And I resented that. And I regretted it too. But it was for me. And for who I was trying to be.
Years passed, and I wore it proudly. I met many people with lip piercings at University and in the Cathouse (one of my favourite haunts). I felt defined and, yeah, I’ll admit, I felt cool. Then, while I wasn’t looking, the rebellion softened. I like to think Mum stopped noticing it too.
One day, it came out. For something I can’t remember. And it didn’t go back in straight away. And then it couldn’t go back in. At first I said I would go and get it repierced, but as time moved on, I realised that I had moved on too. I wasn’t 19 anymore. I wasn’t the same boy who thought that this piercing was a sign of manhood. I finished university, and began training to become a teacher.
My first placement was in a private school near Glasgow. On my very first morning, I was taken into the head teacher’s office, like an errant child. “Colin,” he said, from behind his enormous desk, “I must insist that you remove your ear piercings whilst you teach classes at my school. We have a strict expectation of our pupils, and it would not do to be setting an inappropriate example.” And, of course, I said no problem: I had nothing to prove.
For some, that may be “selling out”, but I don’t see it that way. It was the next thing that had to be done. And I took them out and put them in every day. And I still wear my earrings everyday.
Kids are incredibly eagle-eyed. I teach teenagers now, and the most frequently asked questions are “What do your tattoos mean?”, “Did they hurt?”, “Did you have your lip pierced?” It makes me smile to see a little bit of awe on their faces. I don’t encourage them, or tell them to do it, or recommend anything. But I don’t lie either; they always spot a lie. So a tiny little dot on the right hand side of my lip remains a tribute to my rebellion. I think 19-year-old Colin would be proud of that. Minor though it was, it mattered to me.