A Natural History: Danielle Evans


A Natural History of My Earlobes

Text and images by Danielle Evans

fig 1

fig. 1: Earrings

Because your mother said that piercing your ears was mutilating your body to hang ornaments in it.  Your mother was in labor for 23 hours, which gives her a certain moral authority when she insists that you are perfect the way you are.


Because you don’t have the sort of friend who would ice your earlobes and stick a threaded needle through them.  You wear magnetic earrings that make it look like your ears are actually pierced, but they are always falling off, or squeezing your earlobe until it is sore and red and puffy.



1) In the 6th grade your former best friend steals your sneakers after gym class.  They moved your ‘gifted’ classes to their own wing of the school, and gym is the only time see her now.  You walk around in your socks all day.  When you confront her about it, she calls you an Oreo.  All the other black girls you know have had their ears pierced practically since they were born.

2)Gustavo, who walked you home from the bus stop six times last year and gave you his field day ribbon after he made you miss your relay race, stops talking to you and gets a girlfriend named Veronica or Victoria or Viola. She has earrings.

3) The white girls in your class invite you to their birthday parties out of obligation.  This is better than at your old school, where they teased you mercilessly and refused to invite you to anything.  Still, sometimes someone tells you that you can’t play truth or dare because you can’t have a secret crush on a white boy, or asks you why you’re so weird that you put lotion in your hair, or says cheerfully that you don’t really seem that black at all. At Emily’s birthday party, everyone makes jewelry out of meltable plastic strips.  You think if you had a pair of neon plastic tropical fish earrings, this would all be worth it.

You beg.  Your mother gets tired of saying no.  She says you can pierce your ears when you’re 18 and you don’t care what she thinks anymore, but until then, stop asking her.  You say I will never stop caring what you think.  You are not yet the kind of person who would say a thing like that for a calculated purpose.  Even once you are, disarming sincerity will often work in your favor.


Because it hurts more than you expected.  You go to the mall with your mother and they put sparkling pink studs in your ears and you pull them out an hour later.  It will be another five years before you start listening to the same music that the white kids do, but when you do, you will decide that well, whatever, nevermind is an appropriate summarizing statement for the nineties.


Because you are not enough of something, so you try being other things.  You want gold hoop earrings with your name in cursive in the middle.  You wear press on nails on a regular basis.  You throw up and take pills and lie about the meals you skip, but you still have your mother’s thighs, and you are tired of hearing people tell you how healthy you look while you are killing yourself.  You dye your hair indigo black.  Your girlfriends ask why the hell your hair is blue.  The frat boy who sometimes doesn’t leave your room all day tells you he likes it because it looks more natural than the dark brown dye did. Brown was your natural hair color.  You resolve for the first of many times that you will never get involved with another white boy.


Because people expect your ears to be pierced.  They buy you earrings, and are embarrassed when they realize their mistake.  On your 18th birthday, the third boy who took you on a genuine date gives you a necklace with a pendant containing your name written on a grain of rice.  He remembered your ears.  You put the necklace on, which is awkward because you are wearing a fuzzy turtleneck sweater, and because you are wearing the sweater to cover up a row of hickeys put there by a different boy a few days earlier.  In all the years you’ll know him, the boy who gave you the hickeys will remember your birthday exactly once, six years later.  When he calls, you will curse him out.

You will lose the necklace, because you keep taking it off and squinting to read your name in the pendant.  People call that sort of thing careless, which is exactly the wrong word.  If you didn’t care about it, you would have left it safely neglected in a jewelry box.  You will lose a lot of things because you keep checking to see that they’re still there.  Nothing about loving things requires you to handle them delicately.


Because your mother tells you that you are permanently damaged and you make her want to die.  You go to the movies with your friends the next day.  You are 22 years old and have no idea what the hell you are doing in a mall in Iowa.  Midwestern malls terrify you, the way they keep reaching out, out, out, instead of up.  It’s been months since you have seen an escalator.  There’s a Claire’s across from the movies, and its rhinestone spangled windows seem like something out of the uncomplicated past that your mother swears you are delusional for claiming never existed.  You think: Yes, exactly.  A small but permanent hole.  A blonde girl draws on your earlobes with a marker and shoots them with an earring gun.  You love your mother so much that sometimes you don’t know what else there’s room for.


Because something cracks open when you meet him.  You once drew a Venn diagram concerning the man of your dreams:

venn diagram image file

You are amazed that he actually exists.  You thought that your whole life would be an act of translation, and then you meet him and think maybe it won’t.  For eight weeks you clean your ears with adolescent diligence.  You buy earrings.  Your favorite pair features a rhinestone studded cartoon cat.  The second time you have sex with him, your earring falls out in his mouth.  You tell him to keep going.  What you actually say is less delicate than keep going. When you are finished he rolls over onto the earring, which stabs him.  He leaves a few minutes later, and puts the earring on your nightstand.  You refuse to be the kind of woman who asks him to stay the night, and you refuse to be the kind of woman who checks her nightstand after sex to see what was left there.  You let the hole close up and keep pretending that how highly you think of him and how little he thinks of you will average out.


Because they don’t. Etta had it right, and sometimes all you can do is cry, girl.  Eventually, you put the earring in a mailbox shaped coin bank that you won in a raffle the first night you slept with him.  You walk around with one earring for weeks, deciding whether to repierce the right ear or unpierce the left.  No one notices.  You take the left earring out.  You fly your mother out for her birthday and end up sobbing on her shoulder.  They told you both times you pierced your ears that it would leave a permanent mark, but it doesn’t.  There’s just a minuscule lump of scar tissue in each earlobe.  Nothing you would know was there if you weren’t feeling for it.


Because you don’t need earrings.  You have too many things and the planet doesn’t have enough.  People die for small, shiny trinkets.  This is not a statement of your moral superiority—people die for the metal in your cellphone and laptop too.  You make daily compromises with the things you would like to destroy and the things that would like to destroy you.  There is war and recession.  The U.S. elects a Black President.  You cry.  Your friends who tell you he is going to change everything aren’t listening hard enough.  He is a political moderate and a politician through and through, which disappoints you.  Still, the people who hate him hate you too.  You lose sleep worrying about his safety.  You wonder if it would have made a difference if you’d all grown up seeing his daughters.  You never repierce your ears. In the absence of religion, you take cues from your body.  The scar tissue is there to remind you where it hurt.


Danielle Evans is the proud owner of three bottles of You Don’t Know Jaques nail polish.



“A Natural History of My Earlobes” is part of the Natural Histories Project. Click here to learn more >>

Danielle Evans’ work has appeared or is forthcoming in magazines including The Paris Review, A Public Space, Callaloo, and Phoebe, and was featured in The Best American Short Stories 2008. Her short story collection, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, is forthcoming from Riverhead Books. She teaches at American University, and is currently at work on a novel.


One comment

  1. […] The Owls […]

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