By Ela Aktay
When you cut yourself and get a wound, after a period of time there’s this weird-looking permanent mark on your skin. You know, where tissue builds up and creates a scar. Well, I have a tiny starfish-shaped one on my belly button. I love that scar. Every once in awhile, I lift my shirt and touch the ever-so-slightly ridged skin. It’s my battle wound. Never mind that it was a battle I lost, I still love that scar.
I’m in the tattoo store. My heart is racing like the Energizer Bunny. I’ve got the classic sweaty palms, lump in the throat, pit in the stomach. Just breathe and do it. I lie down on the table and grip the sides so tightly I counteract the deep breaths that I thought would actually relax me. I shut my eyes tight and brace myself for the stabbing pain to pierce through me. Faster than I can say, “ok, I’m ready,” it’s done. Really? That’s it? Seriously? That didn’t hurt at all.
I walk out of the store beaming. Look at me—I’m cool, I’m edgy. I have a shiny fake diamond in my pudgy doughboy tummy. I’m grinning like an idiot, with no idea what’s in store for me later. It’s not always the instant it pierces when you feel the pain.
I call M. and proudly announce my daring feat, as if this is enough of a reason for him to come back. Waiting for his accolades, my satisfied smile is reduced to a child-like pout when I hear him laugh, “No way. You would never get your belly button pierced.”
“Oh yeah, just wait until you see it,” I whine.
M. never believes me when I say I’m going to do something. This time, I’ll show him. He’ll be the one saying, “I’m sorry, I was wrong, you’re exactly the bold, sexy woman I want.”
I stare down at my belly button again for like the 10,000th time. I smile. I don’t care what he thinks; it makes me happy. Never mind that it’s starting to hurt like hell, I keep smiling.
Dressing is a challenge. What the hell was I thinking doing this in the winter? Pants rub at the waist and it hurts. Tights rub at the waist and it hurts. Dresses rub at it. Anything I wear rubs at it. Nothing feels right. Is it ok to wear a sack to work? The pain grows. I’m uncomfortable. But it still looks good.
My belly button starts to turn a slight red. It’s not infected. It’s just this pain that refuses to go away. I’m not giving up. I’m keeping it, even if it hurts so badly—because it looks so cool. I can make this work. I’ll just take better care of it. I’ll be really careful.
I know how to do careful. If “walking on eggshells” were an Olympic sport, I’d get the gold. Living with M. was a delicate balance between not awakening the dragon and entertaining the prince. The prince was beautiful, strong, and radiant. With him, I thought anything was possible.
I start to see little connective stretches of skin form. Scar tissue is building, preparing me for healing. “Nooooooo! I’m not ready yet. I don’t want to heal when I haven’t even been able to show off my belly button. It’s not fair.”
Even though it’s bright red and the scar tissue is building, I still think I can make this work. Yet I haven’t done anything to make it better. I’m paralyzed, frozen, watching it get worse. I don’t want it to fail. I want it to stay, looking all shiny and pretty.
More connective tissue forms, pushing the diamond stud almost out of my skin. I ignore it. Maybe it will get better on it’s own. You know, kind of like when you cut yourself, your skin closes up and heals on its own. Yeah, that makes sense. Ignore it—it will definitely get better. Ignore the throbbing, searing white hot pain and keep on smiling. Suck it up. It will go away.
With M., eventually the pain did go away—if I kept quiet long enough. No reason to think it wouldn’t work now.
But it doesn’t. And I can’t ignore it. The constant stinging is kind of hard to ignore. I finally open my eyes, look down, and the piercing is hanging literally by a thread, by one little connective thread of stubborn skin hanging on for dear life. So what do I do? Lie to myself. “I’ll call the store. They’ll know what to do. They will save it,” But I don’t actually call the store for help.
The next morning, I take a shower. Within a few minutes, I hear the indistinguishable clink of metal. A little silver shiny stud rests on the tub floor. The end. Over and done. I tell M. over the phone. “You never really did want it anyway,” he says. I start to protest, and he smugly says, “No, your body rejected it because you didn’t want it. I knew you never really wanted it.” Maybe he’s right but I’m not convinced. Maybe you can want something and just because it doesn’t work doesn’t mean you never really wanted it. Maybe you just didn’t know what to do anymore. Maybe you believe in magical fixes. Maybe you hope and pray for the best without actually doing anything because that’s what you know. No matter how bad it was doesn’t mean I didn’t love it and that I didn’t want it.
A long-time Indiana resident, Ela Aktay is a writer and storyteller currently living in Chicago. She also works as an editor and content strategist for educational publishing. She is currently working on her debut collection of short stories.