The point at which things began to go less well came when it was my turn. Of the three of us, I went second, after Andy’s girl quickly got her belly button pierced. So I guess it went bad pretty early. We’d met at Andy’s place — I was glad that I liked his fiancé — and had a few of shots of tequila before walking the couple of long blocks to the place that sold sex toys, drug paraphernalia, and also had a room in the back where tattoos and now piercings were being done. I wasn’t nervous. I’d been looking forward to it.
“Okay,” said the guy, the piercer. “Sit down here in this chair. Now, which side of your nose did you want it on?”
I pointed, rather than get into a “my left/right or your left/right” conversation.
“What?” I said.
“You know that’s the fag side, right? HA! I’m only kidding. It doesn’t matter. Hang on.” I shot Andy a look, and he came back with a thumbs-up.
The piercer had a thick piece of tapered rubber. “We’re going to put this inside your nostril to catch the needle. It’s a small needle, really, you’ll hardly feel it. It’ll stick into the rubber, and then I’ll loop in a ring, then you’re basically done. We cool?”
“Cool,” I said.
“Okay. Just keep looking straight forward and hold your breath while I’m doing this, okay?” He readied the needle, just on the edge of my peripheral vision.
“Okay,” I said, and before I’d gotten out the whole word I felt a pressure against my nostril, then some fiddling, and it was done.
The guy looked at me, dabbed the spot with a tissue, and then began to explain to me about how to care for it over the first week or so. “Don’t take it out for any reason. You’d be surprised how quickly it’ll close up. Like, ten minutes. I’m not kidding. If you’re afraid of infection or you just wanna speed up the healing, take some zinc pills or something.”
I nodded, and stood up. The piercer’s face took on a curious expression, though a serious one.
Slowly, he said, “Why don’t you sit back down?” The world around me disappeared into a tunnel, and the last thing I saw was his face, receding from me at high speed, then all was darkness.
As I woke up, I had to go down a short list to figure out where I was. I wasn’t at home, because I wasn’t under covers or anything. Plus, there were bright lights. Was I in a hospital? Opening my eyes, I saw Andy’s worried face looking down at me.
“I’m sorry, man,” he said. “I tried to catch your head.”
After the piercing, I’d forgotten to start breathing again and passed out. Unfortunately, that was not the worst decision I made that week.
Two days later, Cookie called.
“You got your nose pierced?” she said.
“Uh, huh,” I said.
“Can I come over? I got some new boots I want to show you.”
“What?” I checked the time. It was getting late. “Now?” I rolled over on the couch where I’d spent most of the day sprawled out. How the hell she’d heard about the piercing already, I had no idea. “I’ve been taking zinc to help with the healing, but I don’t know if I took too much or what but I don’t feel that great right now.”
“I’ll be right over,” she said, and she was, and she’d never looked better: freshly bobbed haircut and red dye-job, a new lacy good-girl dress, all white, and nearly knee-high black ass-kicking thick-soled lace-up boots. All the best hyphenations in one package of crazy.
She walked in, paced back and forth in front of me a couple of times, then she pounced, straddling me.
“I really don’t feel well,” I said. “I’m not kidding.”
“I don’t care,” she said. I’d never been able to pass up a chance to kiss her, which I know was sending mixed messages, but after a couple of minutes I had to push her off of me and run to the bathroom in my bedroom, where I threw up for maybe a good five minutes. That turned out to be long enough for her to get her boots unlaced.
When I stumbled out of the bathroom, wiping the bile from my chin, my body aching from the effort, she was kneeling on my bed.
“Come here,” she said.
There was no reason for it to be the worst sex we’d ever had, and it probably wasn’t actually the worst — there were so many contenders for the title — though over the years it was the one that rose up out of my mind the most often.
I took a break from kissing her to say, “I really feel bad.”
She nodded. “But you feel good enough to…”
In the moment, I only felt so nauseated.
She nodded again. Good. “Oh, I’m not on the pill anymore,” she added, a little late. “I use — ah, I mean, we should use a condom. Do you have one?”
I didn’t have a condom. I was struck by a terrible vision of my life going forward in a reality where I got her pregnant, and that was it. Fuck-me boots or not, I was through with her.
“I’m not calling you again,” she said, shaking her balled-up dress at me.
I clutched my belly. It turns out I’d taken too much zinc, and my body was simply rejecting the rest of it. I think my body knew more than I did, though. I suspect it wasn’t simply the zinc that it was rejecting.
The next morning, I’d have wondered if it wasn’t all a dream if it hadn’t been for the panties I found wrapped around one of my feet.
She was wrong, though. She did call me again, about six weeks later, to tell me that she needed my help. I stopped breathing again.
“On Sunday,” she said, “I’m loading up. I’m moving to Seattle.”