My seven-year-old wants a navel ring, and she won’t take no for an answer. She drifts into our room at night, hours past her bedtime, eyes closed and joints stiffened in rigor mortis, mumbling navel ring, navel ring. We cancel her subscription to Teen Vogue – though she mostly just flips through it for pretty pictures to pin to her door. She leaves her open diary in strategic places around the house, its pages graffitied with embittered words directed at either me or Marcia. We never knew she had such a garish vocabulary. Her teachers note a general “apathy” and “languor” toward her education, and ask if there is something going on at home that the school should know about. I’m no pushover, but this is more than I can handle. I ask Marcia if we should step up to the negotiation table. She stands firm. Our daughter goes on a hunger strike, which worries us, because she was a finicky eater to begin with. Damn school with their Gandhi and Cesar Chavez. Three days pass before my wife is finally able to lure her away from starvation with a big chocolate sundae. She protests sleep, chores, groundings, and even keys my car. She tells her classmates about our lovemaking habits, and in art class, threatens to cut her wrists with safety scissors.
The body artist we drew wears a leather skull cap and vest; every inch of exposed skin is inked. He looks at us like we’re nuts but agrees to take her on. He sets her up in the grimy chair and dabs her bare stomach with antiseptic. Her face blanches as he clamps the skin and lines up the needle – which looks less like a needle and more like a drill bit. She squirms and kicks. A woman in a Circle Jerks t-shirt bangles my daughter’s wrists and holds them above her screaming head. The artist restrains her legs with the thigh of his tar-stained jeans. A single drop of blood runs down her stomach and dries against the waist of her OshKosh capris. My wife is crying. For once, I don’t know who the bad guy is.