Supine and naked, we were attending some friend-of-a-friend’s spa party. But space was at a premium, as it is in so much of the city, so the crisply uniformed spa workers stacked a blonde woman on top of me.
We both studied the ceiling for a moment.
“I wasn’t planning to get anything done,” I finally said. “Spas always make me too nervous to enjoy anything besides leaving.”
“I’m already nervous. I’m getting my ears pierced,” she admitted. “I feel so silly for waiting this long. But I’m so afraid of needles.”
She tried to laugh self-consciously, but just exhaled a few times really fast and then felt even more self-conscious. I still couldn’t see her face, but I held easily the full soft weight of her being (kuschelig I am), and I silently appreciated the way that her loosely pinned-up hair was not falling into my face, because ew I have enough nightmares thanks.
I couldn’t help feeling a tenderness toward this stranger and her reasonable, ignorant fear.
“I got my ears pierced when I was 9, after begging and begging,” I told her. “As soon as they did the first one, I said — through tears — they could stop, and I’d live with one. It would be fine, a lot of people only have one earring.”
It was my turn to laugh self-consciously, and a ripple ran through our body-stack.
“But my mom and the minimum-wage mall piercer were having none of that, so they finished the job. What I had started to learn, as soon as the first one was done, was –“
And it was about that time that the spa attendants swarmed up, efficiency en masse, chattering to Top Bunk in a process like surgery prep on speed.
One white uniform pulled her arms out straighter, another turned her head to one side and then the other, still another prepped the tray with the piercing gun and wipes.
“What I learned was that the needle didn’t really hurt, it just surprised. In, out, gone.
She stiffened, sighed.
“What hurts is your own body’s own response to the invasion. It’s a lot slower, throbbier, then achier, crustier. But it also has its own timeline, which means it will end. You inflame, and you cool. And you will love the results.”
Of course that’s about the time I woke up, so I never did get to see her results, or buy her a pair of sparkly new earrings to celebrate her rite of passage.
She wouldn’t be able to change them out for six weeks anyway, unless guidelines have changed in the last 30 years, but that’s part of the rite, too — anticipation after the dread.