I challenged my creative nonfiction students to dig a hole with words, so I ought to try digging one myself--but what kind of hole? Follow the White Rabbit through a portal to a dream world (curiouser and curiouser), or follow a ditch-digger with hands dirty with the earth he shifts from one place to another day after day after day? What could possibly connect the roustabouts drilling deep into local shale formations and the surgeon who cut a hole in my abdomen to remove diseased organs? And what about the guy who so long ago drilled holes in my ears, slowly and painfully, because I so desperately wanted pierced ears?
I'd waited a long time to experience that pain. All my friends in school had pierced ears, but my parents didn't see the point of paying good money to get new holes poked in one's body just for the sake of adornment. For months (years?) I employed my best persuasive techniques, possibly including whining and tears, to convince them that I was mature enough to make my own decisions about ear-piercing, and finally my parents told me I could get my ears pierced when I turned 13 if I paid for the procedure myself.
So I saved up my meager allowance and pooled my birthday money and took my treasure to a store at the mall that offered cheap piercings--not a real jewelry store but a little shop full of the kinds of chintzy sparkly things that appeal to 13-year-old girls.
Now my friends who'd had their ears pierced told me it wouldn't hurt. "They just load the earring into this little gun and shoot it into your ear," they said. "You won't feel a thing."
Well, the store where I got my ears pierced had not yet adopted the little earring gun technology. They used a needle. (I assume that it was clean and that they'd been trained properly, but what do I know?) The sales clerk sat me in a chair right next to the entrance to the store and pushed the needle through one earlobe and then through the other--slowly, painfully, in full view of every single person who happened to be sauntering past that store.
I felt like a circus sideshow: "See the living flesh pierced with swords and daggers! Feel her pain, watch her agony!" I was in agony all right but I didn't cry--couldn't cry, with all those people watching--couldn't admit that I was experiencing anything other than delight. I was finally getting my ears pierced, finally joining the ranks of women willing to make painful spectacles of themselves for the sake of beauty! Big girls don't cry, even when total strangers walk right up close to watch sharp needles drilling holes in their earlobes. Slowly.
When it was over I went home with earlobes adorned with modest gold balls, but I don't recall whether I ever told my parents what a painful process I'd endured. I wouldn't want to admit that maybe they'd been right, a little bit--that getting holes drilled in my ears just because "everyone else is getting them" is a little ridiculous and, to be honest, the opposite of mature. I was just happy to finally be pierced like my friends, and to look forward to the next big step--when the holes in my earlobes healed up enough to allow me to switch from tiny posts to the big dangly hoops and dazzlers that seemed to be the ultimate in womanly sophistication.
I still have holes in my earlobes but I'm not wearing earrings today. Some days I remember to pause before the jewelry box and root through the options to find something sparkly to complete my outfit, but more often I forget. I'll carry the holes on my body always, but I prefer to keep the pain and public spectacle buried within the caverns of memory.
Until one day something inspires me to start digging.