Somewhere in Nashville today, an eight year old girl might be piercing her own ear cartilage with a safety pin without her parents’ permission. She is doing so because of me.
The locker rooms at the Y are separated by gender, but they are also separated by age. Anyone under the age of 13 is supposed to be using the Family Locker Room. I had always assumed that this was so little kids weren’t running around annoying the single adults, but maybe it’s also to keep kids out of an area where said adults might be walking around naked. Mainly, this rule translates to one thing: the adult locker room is a strange world of forbidden fascination. I imagine this is why 3 little girls, all clad in blue karate gis, were running around me as I gathered up my bag, boots and cloak after an hour on the elliptical machine. Then they weren’t running. They were just standing there, staring at me. The brave one spoke up.
“You have TWO earrings in your ear,” marveled the freckled, curly-haired 8ish year old.
“Oh no,” I answered, pulling back my hair, “there are SIX.”
Awed gasps all around. In adult land, I’m the most white bread goth chick alive. To these kids, I was Fakir Musafar.
I am interrogated until these girls know exactly how long cartilage takes to heal, how to pierce an ear, how much it will hurt and to “not walk around with a safety pin in your ear because it’s not very classy.”
“When did you get your first one?”
“When I was four. The second one, I did a long time ago, when I was sixteen.”
“How old are you now?”
(This time, the awed gasps translate to “holy crap, that’s older than MOM, and she’s OLD.”)
“Wow…that WAS a long time ago. What about that? Did that hurt?” She motions toward my tattoo, a black bow just above my wrist.
“Yes, especially on the tender meat on the inside, but it only took an hour and a half.”
“Did it hurt a lot?”
“Have you ever been stung by a bee? It’s like that, but it takes so long that you just get used to it after a while. Then you go home and take a nap.”
“I could never have a bow on me. That’s going to be there until YOU DIE.”
“I wondered that, but after a week, I couldn’t imagine my arm without it.”
“You can get it removed with surgery.”
(She also asked if my earring holes would hear all the way. This little girl remaking me in the image of Martha Stewart with a tone of “it’s not too late for you.”)
“But I don’t want to have it removed. I want more of them. I want to do my whole arm, but I keep having to spend money on other things, things around the house.”
“What color is your house?”
“Gray, but next summer it’s going to change to light green.”
They pause. I could fairly see the gears turning in the brave one’s mind.
She has read my name from the ID tag on my gym bag and said my name with a certain brand of solid, deadpan, “let’s get serious” tone. I’m startled, momentarily thinking that this little girl has, in fact, been hired by my mother to remake me in the image of Martha Stewart.
“Are you married?”
“Do you have a boyfriend???”
Her tone gets more and more strained with each question, as though she’s begging me to throw her a bone. To make the world make sense. To explain how someone can be OLDER THAN MOM and still be single.
“We just broke up, actually.”
“How long were you together?”
“Almost a year.”
Again, her world is making no sense. A year is FOREVER.
“It’s fine, really. Sometimes people just can’t get things to work and you have to realize that maybe you should just be friends instead.”
This is me, putting on my happy, independent face. I’m single! I have freedom! Wheeeeeee! Everything will be wonderful and everybody will be friends and bluebirds will my onto my finger if I put my hand out the window in the morning. I most certainly was not drunk for two weeks, I didn’t do jigsaw puzzles and cry and I certainly haven’t been freebasing sappy Gavin DeGraw songs. No, sir. Everybody’s wonderful and there are frickin bluebirds and–
“But do you have a boyfriend NOW?”
(God, are we still on this? Look, I told you, HAPPY INDEPENDENT FACE.)
“No. It’s a little too soon. I’m just having fun doing my thing and hanging out with friends.” (Also, bluebirds!)
Her face is calling bullshit on me. I am being CALLED BULLSHIT ON by an 8 year old in a karate outfit. This, readers, is why I have a hard time taking myself seriously. I’m standing there, trying to explain the complexities of relationships and moving on to someone who (statistically) does not yet fully grasp abstract nouns. Also, I am sweaty and would like a shower.
I excuse myself and leave the three confused girls standing there in the locker room. I’m still not sure who the Y is trying to protect with that “adults only” locker room rule.