"Hey. That smells really good." Evie said, throwing her bag near the pantry and putting her hands on her hips.
"Thanks, I hope it tastes the same, I'm starving."
Our galley kitchen is long and narrow; it is possible to stir fry, wash dishes, and rummage through the refrigerator from one point on its slick linoleum floor. But soft lights bounce off of our short supply of honey-colored wooden counter space, and if you prop a laptop on the microwave, music runs laps around the high ceiling.
"Guess what," my roommate said, looking amazed.
"What?" I asked, poking at my vegetables, growing brighter and more tantalizing.
"I just got my nipple pierced!" She laughed at herself and subconsciously put her hand over her boob. "It's the worst pain I've ever experienced in my life."
"Holy shit! That's awesome! Do you like it? Does it look good?"I asked, wielding a spatula.
"Wait, I'll show you."
She unzipped her sweatshirt and pulled down one side of her plain brown bra. "What do you think?"
A short metal bar, a ball on either end, sat flat against her chest, gleaming, neatly bookending her nipple. "I don't know what I expected: a ring or a larger bar, but that looks so cool," I said.
"Yeah," she said fondly, pulling her shirt back into place "I think it looks great too. And the place was really clean and the guy was really professional and stuff, just like you said."
The piercing place, two doors down from the closest Catholic elementary school, doesn't have a name. Instead, uderneath its dusty red awning it advertises its services by placing photos of all its piercings and tattoos, all taken just after completion, in the shop's six windows.
I like getting pierced. It sounds primal, and somewhat objectionable, but I like the idea of adorning my body in a decisive and yet less permanent way than a tatoo. It is the visible evidence of having made a decision that I still stand by. If I didn't, I'd remove the metal. It also doesn't hurt that my piercings speed up and or confound the first impressions process.
"When I first met you---I don't know, I think you come off as, like, this good girl, who is very kind and nice---and then I saw the bar in your ear and I thought it was cool, cause it didn't seem to fit."
When I tried to relocate the shop on a Saturday in October, it had disappeared. I walked up and down the familiar section of Calle Fernando el Catolico, hypothesizing that it had changed its awning or its location, leaving a friendly "We've Moved" sign that would direct me where to go. I finally found it, one block up from where I remembered it. They'd added a few new photos to their repetoire: a tatoo gleaming on already swelling skin, a bolt through the back of the neck, and a bar at the base of the male abdomen, just enough muscle recognition to hint at what was below the frame.
"Hola, que tal?" The man asked me, turning down the volume on Dr. Dre.
"Me gustaria conseguir un piercing."
It was early Saturday, only noon, so with one hand in his gelled hair, the kid behind the counter had to ask the "piercing artist" to come to work ahead of schedule. Minutes later, he strutted through the door in jeans still stiff with newness, and went to prepare the back room, trailing the scent of cologne and cigarettes behind him.
"He was really nice, and he talked to me in English. And there was this girl from Finland who's working here as a nanny. And she didn't speak any Spanish until she met her boyfriend and she got her belly-button done while he got his tongue done. It was so cute," Evie recounted, slamming rice and chicken fillets onto the counter. "This is fun," she said, pouring oil into a pan "And now that I'm cooking my nipple doesn't even hurt."
There's something about cradling a new piercing that reminds me of the new-haircut feeling. An acute sense of where your body is in space is heightened by the thrill and surprise you feel when you encounter yourself unexpectedly in the mirror. How you'd envisioned yourself is suddenly divulged to the world at large, a more accurate manifestation of your sense of self staring defiantly back at you. Piercings are often more hidden than the effects of a haircut, but they have the same effect on the psyche.
"I had no idea you were so bad-ass," Evie said.
It grows on you.