Most of you out there know about my tongue piercing.
But most of you don't know why I got it.
I was sixteen when my father died. He died in April of my junior year of high school, and it was - as you can imagine - very hard to handle. In June, I turned seventeen, and started thinking of things to do to manage my grief. I drank a lot of alcohol, I even tried drugs. I wanted to do something drastic, something BIG, to act out in my anger and sadness and complete incomprehension of how to deal with everything happening to me. But I was generally a good kid, so I didn't want to do anything TOO drastic. I did some research and went to my mom.
I laid my plan out before my mom. A tongue piercing, I said. It's discreet, it doesn't have to be permanent (like a tattoo would be), it's safe. I found a reputable, licensed place to do it. They'll do it for 17-year-olds with parent permission. So I asked if she would let me do it. She said yes - I imagine she imagined all the other horrible ways I could have chosen to respond to my grief and decided my decision was actually a pretty good one.
About a month before senior year began, my mom and I went to the piercing place. She signed off on the permission papers and I got my tongue pierced. No, it didn't hurt. I had to relearn how to talk with this strange object in my mouth, and how to eat, too. For the first six weeks, I carried mouthwash with me everywhere, so that I could disinfect after eating and drinking. But after a few months, it was just a part of me. I often forgot about it completely.
My teaching job is at a private Christian school. I interviewed back in June and was offered the job the very next day after my interview. I went in for a meeting to go over my contract and sign. I went in later for meetings with other teachers, to get a tour of the campus, to begin prepping my classroom. I went in for new teacher training - a week's worth of seminars, workshops, and meetings. And after all that, it wasn't until a few days ago that the administration decided to hand down an ultimatum: Get rid of the tongue piercing, or find a new job.
In case you're wondering, no, there is no rule written anywhere that says staff members can't have piercings, tattoos, etc. Nothing in the contract I signed, nothing in the staff handbook - just nothing. There is, however, a rule that students can't have these things, and so I was told that I had to get rid of it. They didn't even tell me themselves - they sent the woman who had been most ardently arguing on my behalf. She was most apologetic, but she had no authority to sway the principal and vice-principal. I had to take it out or leave the school.
I knew I couldn't leave the school. For one thing, I believe very strongly that God called me to that school for a reason - leaving because of something I didn't like would have felt so wrong. And for another thing, I felt that I could serve my students better by staying and modeling obedience. Now, don't get me wrong - obedience only goes so far. There will always be a line for each and every person that cannot be crossed. There are things with which I disagree strongly enough that I would leave the school in protest - racism, emotional abuse, etc. But there are other things - like the removal of a tongue piercing - that I would obey under protest. I have made it clear that I don't agree with the rule, and I've also made it clear that if students ever ask me, I will tell them the story of why I got it, why it was important to me, and why I removed it under protest. But I will stay at the school.
So Thursday night, I removed it:
I can't describe to you the ache in my heart when I removed it. True, it's just a piece of metal, but it was so tied into my grieving for my father - whom I've already been missing so much - and it felt, in a small way, like losing him again. Nine years I had that piece of metal, and now I'm left with an empty hole.
I put the bar into a necklace and I now wear it around my neck:
Still, though, it's not the same. Still, my heart aches at the loss.
Still, I feel empty.