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No spiritual connection, but happy with myself.

The height of summer, 2007. Or, at least, as high as summer ever got this year in our part of rural Gloucestershire – and no, I'm not talking about the floodwaters!

The day was a beautiful, sunny Monday. The sky was clear, and bluer than Frank Sinatra's eyes. The fields and hedgerows sang with green, the woods looming all dark and verdant over our little town. The situation? My boyfriend/best friend Pie and I, seventeen and eighteen respectively, were making the most of the longest summer holiday we have ever had or will ever have. This was the summer after undergoing the ordeal of our A2 Level exams – that's our 'high school finals', I think, to non-Britons!

We had agreed, a while ago, that he wanted and would look good with a piercing at the right side of his lip. He had seen it on many a guitarist hero of his, and generally liked the look. Now, I had suggested to him, tentatively, that on the same trip to Gloucester when he gets his own hole poked, I'd like to have something done to myself as well. I had suggested this tentatively because, having been pierced before (and knowing him too well!), I could imagine him not wanting his day, the day of his first ever body mod, eclipsed. But he leapt at the idea, and, grinning, I agreed.

He had wanted his piercing to be done before our upcoming trip to London, and Camden Town, so we duly scheduled a Monday where we were both free. The day dawned, and Pie was nervous. Tremblingly, 'oh god, oh god, oh god' nervous. I wasn't allowing myself to anticipate anything – I'm still wary of getting too excited about things in case they somehow get thwarted.

And, in typical style, events seemed to be conspiring against us. We woke up late. We trudged down to the bus station only to find that the timetable had been changed recently and buses no longer ran to Gloucester between 10am and 5pm. Cue fluttering hearts and sweaty brows until we deduced, with much cursing, that if we set off for the train station at a brisk pace we might make it before the next train to Gloucester. If we missed that one, we might as well go home and go back to sleep.

We made it to the station with time to spare. And a good job, too! We spent a good fifteen minutes fooling around with the newly installed ticket machine. In the end, it bested us, and we were forced to take ourselves off to catch the train on the other side of the platform, hoping that the conductor would be understanding. (She was.)

I suppose you could call us lucky, because we made it to Gloucester, and to Kara, in good time and in one piece. (Well, two pieces, but you see what I mean.)

Now, the time has come to explain the difference between me and Pie.

Pie is a very sensitive guy, and I mean that in a literal sense. He has a low pain threshold, feels the cold more acutely than most, and is constantly popping out with rashes and skin problems at the slightest provocation. He doesn't often get nervous – unlike me – but when he does it's for reasons such as the fact that he's about to have a needle pushed through his lip. He knows he doesn't like pain. What he wanted was the piercing, over and done with. If he could have been knocked out for the whole procedure, he'd have gladly accepted.

I'm different. I can't explain why, because I don't know as yet. If someone doped me for a piercing, I'd be pretty miffed. I was excited about the whole thing – returning to the studio, waiting, filling in the forms, looking at the jewellery, and then... the nerves. The needle. The blood. The pain. I wanted it all.

So I forced us to a Subway for breakfast before setting off for Kara, the combined hair stylists' and piercing studio that seems to be the only choice for me and everyone I know. I loved the mingled nerves and excitement jostling for space behind my ribcage, but couldn't quite concentrate on it, as I was busy conjuring up all my reassuring platitudes for Pie, who was seriously considering backing out at this stage. I knew he wanted it, and that he would regret it if he let fear get the better of him.

It felt so fantastic to be walking into Kara again, after passing it by for weeks! We took the stairs at a moderate pace, hearts thudding. When we reached the top floor, we were the only ones there. We took our seats, were served with our forms, and left alone again for a few minutes.

The forms were the standard questions on metal allergies, medical conditions, age and consent. I finished mine in no time and hopped up to inspect the jewellery in the cabinet. I had known what I wanted for a while, but suddenly, presented with the range of choice before me, started to have doubts. Was I sure? Didn't I want this other one done? I quashed them, but not without a bit of dithering.

Soon after this, we were joined by one of the piercers. At Kara, the piercers seem to be all female, all young and all with bleached hair. They consistently remind me of nurses, with their blue plastic aprons and their cool, pleasant manners. Our girl asked us what we wanted done – lip for Pie and navel for me – and I asked, in my own inarticulate, rambling way, if it would be okay if we went in together, and if Pie went first (this was something he'd asked for himself – he said he wouldn't be able to go through with it if he had to watch me first!). She agreed gladly, and we all trooped into the little room.

It was familiar to me by now. Tiles, big window, long, paper-covered bed. I stood by the window while Pie was asked to sit on the bed. I knew pretty much exactly what would happen, from my experience with my own lip piercing, but this time I took the chance to carefully watch what the piercer was doing. I was fascinated. I've always been a geek for surgical procedure!

Kara is a good place. I cannot state this enough. It's certainly very impersonal and cold, but it is also impeccable with its hygiene and manners. Fresh needles, clamp standing in antiseptic. She marked the dot on Pie's lip and asked him if he was happy with it. He wasn't quite, and she moved it a little further to the side. Now, this was the point that took me by surprise upon my first piercing: 'Oh crap, she's got the needle now, she's actually gonna stick it in me, this is so quick!' She took up the needle and carefully pierced the place where the dot had been marked. I concentrated on Pie's face. His eyes were closed. He didn't even surrender so much as a muscle twitch. I was surprised. I supposed he must have a higher pain tolerance than I thought. Nope! He's just really damn good at not showing when it hurts.

She then fitted the ring with a degree of effort which, judging by Pie's expression, didn't go without at least a pinch. The ring she used, a BCR, would have been a reasonable diameter on a usual white patient, but on Pie, half Filipino, it was too small, giving no room for the inevitable swelling. But still, he was happy with it upon inspection, so we let it lie. A mistake, as it turned out, but we wouldn't discover until later, when the lip swelled.

After this, Pie felt a little faint, swaying on his feet, so the piercer instructed him to lie down on the bed. I sat beside him, holding his hand, and watching the world go by on the street outside through the window. I didn't really see any of it. I was thinking about the journey my navel had been through since I had been conceived. It was where I had once been attached to my mother. Then it was a messy-looking stump. It had endured over a decade of fluff-picking and seam-inspecting. Now it was going to have something new.

After a while Pie felt steady enough to get up, and stood by the window in my vacated place, gripping the windowsill and vehemently not looking at the rest of the room or piercing equipment. And then... then it was my turn. I stood while she marked the position on my belly button and I evaluated it – affirmative – then lay me down on the bed where Pie had been only moments before. I had wanted to watch my own piercing too, but obviously this was a no-go because of the area, so I stared at the ceiling while she cleaned then disinfected – I jumped; that disinfectant is freezing! – my belly button. I found handholds on either side of the bed and breathed deeply.

This pain was barely even that. It was a steady, pinching pressure as the needle was pushed through. I gripped the sides of the bed hard and gritted my teeth, nonetheless! Then the needle was through, and only a similar, fainter pain when the jewellery was pulled through and fixed in position.

"All done!"

I sat up gingerly, and was surprised to find that bending didn't hurt a bit. Pie's sister had had her navel pierced earlier in the year and had agonised over moving her midriff immediately afterwards. My pain came later, when I was at home, making the bed! I stood up, and inspected the new piercing in the mirror. I had chosen a black titanium barbell, and Pie a plain silver BCR. Immediate joy – I grinned at myself like an idiot. "It's perfect! It's absolutely perfect!" It was even better than I had imagined, the most beautiful piercing I'd seen.

That was only partly my euphoria talking. I still think it's one of the most beautiful I could possibly have gotten done. I still love it to bits.

We thanked our piercer profusely, paid, and left the shop, to head for the train station. I had the usual bounce in my step and couldn't stop smiling. Like always, I didn't want to stop talking about the piercing. I was lucky in this respect: I had a like-minded companion! We nattered nineteen-to-the-dozen all the way into the station and onto the train, him about the incredible pain and almost collapsing right there in the studio, and me about how little it hurt and how pretty it was.

Since that day, the shared experience has been less of a connection than I imagined it would be. When I had gotten my first piercing, Pie had been there, and I had felt good about him seeing it, like it was a gift I had shared with him; but these piercings seemed just simply no more than themselves. There was no special understanding. True, we both went to the bathroom at the same time to disinfect ourselves, and used each others' Q-tips and sea-salt water, but beyond that we just dealt with them like we would any piercings. I don't know what I was expecting.

Nevertheless, my navel piercing is something I feel good about. I take off my top and catch sight of myself in the mirror and smile, and feel more myself than I did without it. It hasn't revolutionised me, or given me any epiphanies, but it fits into me perfectly, and re-completes my vision of myself again. That's what my piercings are for me – I don't wrack my brains for something that will be meaningful and amazing. I live with my own body, day-in, day-out, and gradually come to realise, like an artist looking at a painting, that it's missing something, or would be that much better with a little something here... And then I get it, and the experience makes me feel so alive, and taking care of it centres me so well, and its unique presence on my body makes each day that bit more special.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 12 Sept. 2007
in Navel Piercing

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Studio: Kara
Location: Gloucester

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