And then some boys started to pierce their ears in 1981.
At the moment the parish determined it an "epidemic" in a letter to our parents, the nuns marched just the boys, single file, into the church which was attached to the K-8 school. Lit only by the dim November sunlight filtering through stained glass windows, the space was awash in muted reds, blues, and yellows. Sad eyed, John the Baptist...the pious Peter...the shameful Mary Magdalene gazed upon us for a long stretch of silence.
We were to reflect.
When the nuns clacked their knees against the pews, we watched them struggle as they shuffled towards the pulpit. From the lectern, several nuns stood shoulder to shoulder like a Greek chorus and took turns with pressed lips against the microphone/ They admonishing our practice of ruining our bodies with piercings. We insulted God who blessed us with beautiful bodies. Moreover, they officially forbade any male piercings--even though it was too late as there were already holes littering a lot of little ears.
They decreed that boys were not permitted to wear their earrings to school; if your ear closed up, so be it for it was God's will.
Consequently, the boys just put band-aids over their earrings.
The frustration of the canonry escalated from the lay teachers pleading with us to strip the band-aids and metal from our ears once and for all to the infamous moment with Sister Mary Peter. Already a character because of her nasal-voice and bulldog jowls, she was the first educator I saw physically handle a student.
Losing her mind and cinching Dino’s band-aided ear between muscled thumb and forefinger, Sister gripped it and ripped it. She raised her chubby palm and a bloody mass that still glinted.
"Do you think you are cool, young man?"The room held its breath.
As Sister pitched the fleshy earring into the waste bin, Dino's ear blossomed red like a slow summer rose even though he didn't utter a sound. A rivulet of blood snaked down his neck and disappeared inside the eggshell blue shirt collar.
She berated Dino and he took it for a while. Eventually he simply stood up and left the room. And then she cauterized our souls by defining "cool" for us.
"God was cool. And nothing you little shits do will ever change that."Sister Mary Peter disappeared for a few weeks after that incident and Mother Superior soon announced over the loud speaker that boys would be permitted to wear band-aids on their ears--even if they were only covering up a damnable earring.
With our tensions eased and angry parents huddling in the main office with the Monsignor on a daily basis, we antagonized the anxious faculty by asking their opinions while openly debating which ear made you gay.
“Look, Sister! His earring is in his right ear! Is he gay?”
“No, Sister, it is the left ear that is the gay ear--isn't that right, Sister?”The fact is, we didn’t know. We asked because we were afraid of the answer--and no one could garner a straight answer from any lay teacher or nun. Uneasy, our teachers would not touch the question.
But a part of us really wanted to know.
Just as many boys had earrings in their right as in their left. So, we would nudge each other when we saw an earring in a boy, no matter how tough he was.
“Look, he likes boys.”Even though we wore earrings too.
While I didn’t smoke in 8th grade, most of my friends did. Like little James Deans leaning against cyclone fencing, cigarettes nestled behind some of the band-aided ears, we pawed at the girls with just our eyes--the girls skipping rope--the girls giggling in tight circles for warmth--the girls blowing smoke "the French way" in shaded recesses of the building--the girls shoving a nervous friend into my path as I played catch with the other boys --the girls who shrieked with wide-eyed smiles when the small rubber ball bounced towards their knees peeking beneath navy jumpers and taking turns gripping it firmly in their hands--the girls taunting us with the ball and their smiles, and after handing the ball back, using their palms to press our blazer collars flat and back into place--the way they should be--as only girls could do.