A dress over polyester pants was one indication that I was a Mennonite kid. Not wearing jewelry was another. My Old Colony Mennonite parents likened ear-piercing to self-mutilation. If God sanctioned holes in my head for the sole purpose of pride and vainglory, why, he would have saved me the trouble and put them there himself. That was how they saw it.
All my little Mennonite contemporaries and I could do was gaze in wonder and envy at tiny matching butterflies, lustrous pearls and gold hoops adorning the ears of the English girls. “Rubies are my birthstone,” Denise Hodges explained to the class at show and tell. She turned to present her profile and used both hands to turn the sparkly red emblem in her ear. Emeralds are my birthstone. My bohemian mother sewed me a yellow dress emblazoned with green checks in which to parade my birthright.
I took links from old broken necklaces and bracelets and pressed them into my ear lobes – when my parents weren’t looking, of course. I hid these trinkets in my room but when I wore them before the mirror, I was almost as beautiful and sophisticated as the English girls at school.
In the summer when I was fourteen I asked Ange Martens to pierce my ears because she was fifteen and knew all about it: she had seen other people pierce ears and so I trusted her ability without reservation. I put ice cubes to my ears to freeze them while she sterilized the point of a safety-pin in the flame of a bic lighter. When my ears were numb, she slowly worked the safety-pin through them and stopped the holes with a pair of cheap gold-coloured studs. Pulling my hair back to view them before the mirror was the crowning moment of my short life. Denise Hodges’ rubies turned a scuffed, pallid pink in comparison.
My glory didn’t last long though. I hid my ears from my parents behind my hair on even the hottest days but they turned red and painful to the touch. They swelled up around the studs and oozed fluid no matter how carefully I cleaned them. I held out for longer than was sensible – in the fall my parents had pulled me out of public school and enrolled me in the newly established Old Colony Mennonite private school and so rebellion became a matter of principle. Eventually, trying to keep my hair over my ears while hopping double-dutch skip rope threatened to ruin recess and the pain overcame my convictions. I took the earrings out.
When I was about twenty-two, I made an appointment to have them re-pierced at a chic little salon in town. My experience with Ange had imbued in me the notion that even the humblest of estheticians provided their clients with an anesthetic, but now a swab across the ear with a smelly antiseptic, a shot of blunt force through my feeling flesh and I was stunned, done and dusted almost before I knew where I was. Still, I thought as I left the salon with tingling ear and watery eye, I’d bettered my chances for success this time by having my ears professionally pierced.
Removing them from my ears was the easy part. But a diamond swaying from the lobe of a perfectly perforated gal pal was enough to make me lose my place in conversation. A gold hoop grazing an elegant neck in the pew in front of me was enough distract my attention from a spirited exegesis of 1 Peter chapter 3. Purging the earrings from my heart was another matter altogether.
Forever lasted seventeen years. Assured that my problem could be solved by fitting my ears only with 14 karat gold, I had them pierced again in April this year. They didn’t get infected, exactly. They just got irritable and refused to heal. But because they hurt less than previous times, it took me three tries to give them up.
At first, I bargained with myself. I allowed myself two glorious hours to wear an exquisite pair of diamond drop earrings I’d laid away for the time when my ears would be healed. Once the two hours expired, I said, I would take them out and commit my body to unadorned asceticism forever. But the pleasant weight when they dangled from my ears only reeled me further in; the sensation against my neck when I tilted my head as intoxicating as I’d dreamed it would be and I could not give it up.
Clean exasperation fuelled the second try. I pulled the studs from my ears, tossed them on the bathroom vanity and stepped into the shower unfettered and glad to be done with the troublesome business. Less than ten minutes later I clambered out, groped for the studs and pushed them back through the holes, fearful lest they’d already begun to close.
They’re closed now though, for good this time (really). I’ve finally accepted a bit of inadvertent truth in my parents’ puritanical prohibition against ear piercings: metal rods don’t belong in my flesh. Woe betide me should I ever need a hip replacement. I’m okay though. I’ll always be a Mennonite girl and maybe this is how God heads me off when I subconsciously try to escape that.
Besides, it doesn’t mean I can never wear earrings. I didn’t want to try clip-ons at first; I assumed the only style they complemented required shoulder pads and an androgynous haircut but they’re actually not that bad. They deliver that deliciously dangly sensation when I tilt my head almost as perfectly as the diamond drops. I’ve laid them away again until someone worthy enough to receive them comes along.