by Tabitha Rasa

Last year on my sober anniversary, to celebrate five years off booze and drugs, I got a tattoo. A large, body-augmenting, gorgeous thing splayed across my lower back. A tough place for a tat, but well worth the effort. I've never done any research into this, but my suspicion is that people have different reasons for getting first, and subsequent, tattoos. The first one is done for lots of purposes; but once you find out how it feels, the rest you get for the pain -- and for the endorphin high the pain induces. It really is an amazing feeling. I only have the one (because I'm afraid of turning into one of those people who are covered with ink), but I'm dying to get more.

My friend Jodi tells me there's this Polynesian culture in which they get tattoos without ink; instead they use sesame oil. After the initial redness and scabs disappear, it's completely invisible. Only the wearer (and I guess the tattoo artist) knows about it. The Polynesians regard these tattoos as talismans, as secret personal emblems of power.

[bozth, ze plane]

My tat, because of where it's situated on my body, is more secret and personal than it would be if it were in a more traditional place, such as the arm, shoulder, or ankle. I get to choose who I want to see it. Plus, of course, because it's on my back, it's more for the viewer's pleasure than mine; and a specific kind of pleasure: it's an ornament meant to be displayed during sex, doggie-style.

It is kind of a drag that everybody and their mother has a tattoo these days. People are now getting sick of their tats. It's more tired than wired by now. Laser removal of tattoos has become a prominently advertised service of Dr. Zizmor, the dermatologist of New York subway-ad fame, which tells you something.

This year, I wanted to get another tattoo, but couldn't really decide what to get; I spent five years deciding upon the perfect first one, time I consider well spent. After all, it's not something you want to rush into. So I let my sixth sober anniversary pass by without additional body ornamentation. Then I found myself having a psychic crisis (many of which I've described here in Enterzone. I had recently re-started therapy, but with a male therapist; I have difficulty relating to men, and it was proving to be the hard work I'd expected it would be. I was bottoming out on yet another crush on yet another unavailable guy. And my seven- years- younger- than- me sister was getting married, to an excellent person. I just felt like I could have peeled my own skin off without flinching.

I began to think of getting another tattoo. But I knew it was a bad idea. Somebody once told me, "Never get a tattoo after a bad breakup or when you just quit smoking." Sane advice to an unsane girl who was doing both of those things at the same time. It saved me from ending up with my ex-boyfriend's logo on my butt right now. I might add to that advice, "or when you feel like a hard lump of shit."

But I needed something really painful, something that would get me a big endorphin high. I eat so much sushi and other super-hot (spicy) foods that that no longer works; I'd have had to eat a whole jalapeño to feel better. And nobody should eat a whole jalapeno; I'm sorry, it's just crazy.

So, more or less on the spur of the moment, I got my nipples pierced. It was a comparatively reversible act, should I change my mind afterward. It wouldn't impede breast feeding if I ever were to have babies. (I hope to have kids. If I couldn't breast feed, I wouldn't have gotten pierced.) I knew it would hurt, probably a lot, so I expected to get an endorphin rush off of it. And I felt like shit, and I wanted my outsides to feel like my insides.

So I went up to Andromeda, a piercing joint here in NYC on St Mark's Place. I got pierced by a very very nice but, of course, German woman piercing artist. Everything was terribly sanitary and careful. She explained the whole deal to me, step by step. Making sure the marks were placed where the piercings would go took as much time as the piercing itself. I told her I was nervous (the sweat was running down my sides; I was truly scared). I totally trusted her, and I'm one of the least trusting people you'll meet.

I sat in a chair and she squatted down in front of me. I could have sat in front of the mirror but I didn't want to watch. I only like to watch surgical procedures when there's anesthetic (and remember, the whole point of this was for it to be painful). She clamped this forcep onto the nipple and told me to take a deep breath and let it out three times, and on the third exhale she pushed the heavy steel needle through. Then she threaded the steel ring through the hole right behind it in one motion.

I had both of them done. The second one was worse, of course, because I knew what was coming. I said "OW!" pretty loud then, but otherwise I was very stoic through the whole thing. I got lightheaded right after she was done with the second piercing, so much so that she made me lie down and got me a cup of water, which surprised me, because I'm usually so tough. (I mean, I love giving blood; nothing makes me squeamish.

Afterward, she explained how to keep them from getting infected by cleaning them with the surgical scrub, washing my hands a lot, etc. She told me to go get some juice and a sugary snack because the adrenaline depletes your blood sugar. I didn't know about that, but I did it anyway because she told me to.

For the next couple of days, I won't shit you, it was pretty rough. I thought I'd made a mistake. They hurt. A lot. I called up a friend of mine who'd encouraged me to get mine done and who'd said it hadn't hurt her at all and she said, "Oh, well, I meant the actual piercing didn't hurt. Afterward they were sore as hell." I felt like a dupe, kind of. But by then they were already pierced, and I figured I would just wait a little while and hope it would get better. And after only about two days, it turned out, they got much less sore.

Three weeks later, the initial healing period is over and, although my nipples are still tender and there's a lot more healing to do before I can forget about them, they don't crust or ooze or bleed anymore and I'm not worried about it anymore. And I have been assiduous about keeping them clean because the idea of getting an infection there is truly nightmarish.

They look fucking great, of course.

I can't wait until they're completely healed. Because these I did as a sex thing, too, but this time it was more for me than for my partner. Piercing a nipple makes it much more sensitive, and there's the psychological effect it has as well ... something about having a ring through a part of your body that makes you feel like an animal. And yet, it's secret, personal, private, just like my tattoo.

Copyright © 1996

The RASA-ta Stone

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