A Piercing Presence
“I think I want to get a piercing today.”
I looked up from the dissection tray and scrutinized Kris through my smudged glasses.
“You think?” I said, pushing a stray hair out of my eyes with the back of my hand.
“Yeah,” he leaned back in his seat and stretched his arms wide above him, “I only just thought of it now, but,” he punctuated the stretch with an audible crack of his neck, “I think it’s the right thing for today.”
Kris pinched the metal bar of his tongue piercing between his teeth, bearing the bright pink ball on the end as he flashed his silly, devilish smirk at me. I couldn’t help but smile back.
This was the third time I fell in love with him, but it was only the first time I realized that he might be falling for me too.
I hadn’t known him all that long, but Kris was the kind of person who made you re-think your staunch denial of love at first sight. The kind of person who really leaves a permanent mark on you; a piercing sort of relationship, if you will.
The warmth of his flame made a moth of almost everyone who grazed his aura. And though it was true that he loved fiercely and with (truly reckless) abandon with more people than any of us could ever fathom, there were only a few in his lifetime who were welcomed to sit at the table reserved for his most valued persons. I don’t know how I ever came to be one of those select few, and I guess I never will, but I know that I was forever changed because of it.
By the end of that first week of classes together it was clear: everything about Kris was effortless (his darkest shadows notwithstanding). His daily style was often some combination of form-fitting jeans that hugged the bubble of his dancer’s butt just right, a thin black t-shirt that hung on his lithe frame like he was the model for its production — with a V-neckline that dipped down to his proud sternum and matched the chiseled shape of his torso — and flashy sneakers, topped by the perfectly coiffed swoop of his dark bangs. I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to weave comfort and class seamlessly into this polished, quintessential look of his.
His stride rolled and swayed like he was literally dancing through life, and the way he could declare any given moment the perfect time for an adventure was nothing short of remarkable.
I palpated the bicuspid valve with a latex gloved-finger and asked without any hint of innuendo, “Where are your thinking you want to put this piercing?”
“I’m not sure yet,” he said with a shrug. Leaning in next to me, he peered into the metal tray and idly poked at a ventricle with his forceps. I studied the strong angle of his jaw in profile as the sophisticated aroma of his spicy cologne wafted over the scent of formaldehyde that hung around us and implanted itself into the walls of my memory. “We can figure it out when we get there.”
I didn’t realize that I was coming along on this ride with him. But just like that, I’d been invited to join him on a seemingly innocuous journey that would ultimately bond us forever.
We packed up our things at the end of the lab — we’d been dissecting pig hearts, of all things, which is all the more morbidly perfect now that I know how our story ends — and headed to my car. I’d driven to campus that day out of sheer laziness; little did I know how convenient it would be for impromptu adventuring.
With all the windows down and the care-freedom of our youth billowing through our hair, we sang along to Lady Gaga like we’d always been these people and drove straight into to the heart of downtown where his favourite piercing parlour awaited us.
A bell tinkled as he walked in through the door ahead of me. With walls lined with screen-printed t-shirts, gaudy ball caps, and an array of stickers and pins, the place had the air of a knock-off Hot Topic with a touch of modern hipster chic.
Kris beelined it to the counter and rang the service bell to alert the staff that we had arrived. A bearded, muscled, tattooed man who matched the decor of the place emerged from the back room and smiled warmly to greet us.
The way Kris leaned his hips into the counter while he flirted with the muscled tattoo artist threw me in the best way. I admired and revered how Kris was able to approach anyone with the confidence of someone who had already won.
After some very short deliberation, he decided his left tragus was where he’d be poked that day. He ran his hand through the wave of his hair as he contemplated the colour the jewel he wanted most.
“What do you think?” Kris was still looking down towards the selection of rings and bars on the counter in front of him, so I didn’t realize the question had been directed at me. He turned to look at me, hips still pressed suggestively to the glass. “Pink? Maybe purple.”
I sidled up next to him and looked at the box of jewelry. “I was thinking I might want the purple one.” It was as if by simply breathing the same air as him inspired me with a glimmer of his confidence.
“Yes! Do it!” He was enthusiastic and not the least bit surprised. Kris always knew what you needed before you did and was the first to champion you through some much needed spontaneous fun. “I’ll get purple too. Then we’ll match.”
With our selections made, we followed the muscled, tattooed man into the piercing room. Kris turned to look at me, mouthing an “oh my gooood” to convey just how he felt about the aesthetic appeal of our body mutilator.
“Will you hold my hand?” he asked. There was no hesitation in his admission of vulnerability, his masculinity never in question. “I just get a little nervous at first.”
“Well, yeah, of course,” I said, “because you’re going to have to do the same for me.”
The tattooed man used a blue fine tip marker to plot where the piercing would go. He gave Kris a handheld mirror to confirm to location.
“Yes, that’s perfect,” he said, excited and nervous, pinching the barbell in his tongue between his teeth.
Laying down on the table, Kris looked down his body at me to confirm that I too was in place. I slid my hand into his, though he was the one to give me the gentle reassuring squeeze as he smiled and lay back down into position.
The tattooed man talked through the steps with us, warning Kris that that there would be a little pressure and a pop. Kris made a face at me that suggested he wanted to make a lewd joke, but he refrained from saying anything out loud.
Everything went as the tattooed man suggested. My heart skittered when Kris squeezed my hand a little tighter just as the needle lined up with his flesh. But in the moment immediately following the forewarned popping sound of the needle breaching the cartilage, a kind of all-consuming pliancy came over him. His palm flooded with warmth and I swear, a part of him melted into my hand right then. It was fleeting, but the look of euphoria that washed over his face was incredible and I was suddenly overcome with awe at the realization of how special this moment had been for us, and that he had chosen to share it with me.
And then, as if nothing had ever happened, he hopped upright on the table and looked at the fresh piercing in the mirror.
“Oh my god, yes, it’s perfect!” he said admiring the purple fleck sparkling in the ball of the ring threaded through his tragus. Then he turned to me with a roguish smirk and added, “Now your turn.”
Laid out on the table over the crinkling doctor’s office paper, I went through the same motions Kris had only minutes prior.
I’d removed my glasses to eliminate the obstruction for the piercing, so I turned to Kris for reassurance when the blue mark had been drawn into the shell of my right ear.
“Yes, right there,” he said to the tattooed man. “It’s gonna look so good,” he told me, already holding my hand. My forearms tingled and my throat went dry, but when Kris rested his other strong hand on the flesh of my thigh, the envelope of his nurturing energy wrapped all around me as effortlessly as he moved. I swelled and deflated under the ease of it all.
Kris reminded me not to hold my breath; my heart rate picked up as the tattooed man counted down to my moment of rebirth: “And 3… 2…1…”
The initial puncture of the needle on the surface of my flesh was shocking; my jaw clenched as I hovered at the top of my inhale — (“Breathe, babe,” Kris whispered knowingly.) — and the pop of needle passing through the less forgiving cartilage echoed through my whole body.
To my surprise, though there was pressure, there was no pain. I just felt the same cascading warmth that I’d seen on Kris’s face wash over me, passing through my palm into his supportive grip. Kris pumped my hand in his grip twice in quick succession as my breath fled from my body and everything that had tensed was then open and dilated, submitting to the passing shock of something moving through me. I felt something in me flood through the circuit formed by our woven hands and when we locked eyes, I knew that he’d caught the same flash of intimate bliss flicker on my face.
When he wrapped his arm around my shoulder and kissed my cheek, it burned with the same fire we held in our palms, that same fire that we would hold for the decade following that fateful day in a piercing parlour where we got matching declarations of lifelong love.
His flame may since have gone out, but no one will ever hold a candle to him.
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