I’m standing in the lobby of a tattoo and piercing parlor on 2nd Avenue, my hair freshly blown-out and blonde from a four-hour salon appointment, my tawny blazer just grazing my thighs. A proper grown up lady. (No matter how hard you try, everyone ends up turning into some stylistic amalgamation of their mother, my exposed midriff be damned.) The telltale buzz of a working gun sings behind a closed door, where I imagine someone sits, trying desperately not to cry, lest they look as lame as I feel right now, a girl dressed up like Business Casual Fridays, wanting to get her septum pierced.
The girl behind the counter, who I delayed and dumbly notice has the piercing I want (“Oh! Ha! Ha! You have one, too! Duh.”) tells me you can turn it in right away. I sense that the fact that I’ve basically asked how quickly I can make it look as though I do not have a ring through my face is indication I should not really be getting one at all. But, in truth, I have work to consider: the occasional modeling job that falls in my lap that does not require my looking like some sort of rebel without a cause.
But I am a rebel! And I do have a cause!
My friends, however, do not feel similarly. My impulse to just get one right there and then is—for better or worse—thwarted by a two-hour wait, which gives me plenty of time to field the opinions of my buds, whose advice ranges from “This sounds like your first 30-lyf crisis! Don’t!” to “It’s not you” to (the totally practical) “You’ll have to change your wardrobe.” My outward appearance seems to have everyone thinking I am not a total badass worthy of a bullring. In fact, the only person who is totally in support of this septum thing is my best friend, a girl who knows what my interior looks like in spite of myself: a bloody mess wholly warranting as many piercings and tattoos as I see fit.
And so how do you reconcile the two? The outward put-togetherness and the inward chaos? And, why, really, do I need to wear that chaos on my sleeve, or, you know, on my face? I suppose this is indeed, as my friend put it, a “30-lyf crisis.” I have never been the person who expresses emotional turmoil via external signifiers. Everything, no matter how ugly the reality, has been enclosed by a rather pretty shell. That stereotypical teenage bedroom with the posters and junk and everything screaming “I AM A UNIQUE PERSON” was a luxury I was never afforded, given my mother’s lack of fondness for nails in the drywall and an affinity for only paint in “Navajo White.” From 1995 through 2002, any exploration of self using experimentation with clothing was thwarted by a Catholic school dress code amounting to khakis and polo shirts. Modeling only extended the problem: Hair should only be this color and that length, nails a neutral pink, underwear in nude over a “bikini ready” nether region. Groomed, perfect, a doll for someone else to play with, a blank slate on which to paint.
Like a kid who goes to college having never had a sip of alcohol, there are some things I just never got out of my system. And so now, here I am, 30, trying my hand at being “rebellious.” I tell the woman I’ll call and make an appointment for the following day, and, to my surprise I do, despite my friend’s tight opinions of me. But later that night I blow my nose and relish in the ease I am about to rob myself of, and cancel the appointment.
Not that I’m lame or anything; it’s just that my inner punk is hygienic.