The first time I got my nose pierced I was seventeen and had just gone away to university. One – maybe two – weeks into the experience, I wanted to do something to mark my new found freedom: having sex and not worrying about getting caught, staying out as late as I wanted to, sleeping in as long as I wanted to, eating whatever I liked, drinking as much as I wanted. My mum was appalled and for some reason it caused an enormous rift between her and my two aunts that lasted the better part of a year. I still don’t know why.
I took it out some four years later. I told everyone it was because I was taking my scuba diving course and I couldn’t clear my nose properly with the ring in, but it was really because my boyfriend didn’t like it. He’d never made a secret of that – though I think it was one of those quirky things he liked about me initially. He admitted to me that it was because he was ‘square,’ like that rationalized his sense of entitlement to my body and what I put through it. He’d already requested that I not wear a bikini around his parents in the summer because he thought it was inappropriate. My body was inappropriate.
If there’s one thing I know about nose rings it’s this: worst-case scenario, you take it out and you’re left with a small visible hole in your skin. So small most people just think it’s a freckle – if they notice it at all. It doesn’t compare to all the invisible holes you’ve accumulated over the years: the ones no one can see. The ones you can’t easily explain. Leftover from all the things you’ve put your body through.
It’s been eight years since I took out my nose ring. It’s been two and a half years since I left that boy. I’ve spent the last two years patching up a carefully selected quilted network of innumerable parts that make up my identity as a human being. What that meant was finding freedom again. Not the kind that lets you stay up late and smoke pot and sleep around or drink too much; but the kind that slows your breathing and calms your mind; makes you pay attention to the sensation of your bare feet on a new floor in a new flat that you can call your own.
The second time I got my nose pierced I was twenty-nine. My mum was still appalled and told me point blank that I ‘look like a cow.’ I laughed and tried to explain to her that I could still have a successful, wonderful life with a ring in my nose. She’s not so sure.
But I am, because every time I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror I pause for a moment. I give myself a thorough looking-over. Are there new laugh lines by my eyes? Have I got freckles on my cheeks? Is my head still securely fastened to my shoulders? Am I still dreaming wildly?
When I answer these questions the invisible holes heal over, the scabs soften, and new skin erupts from within.