When your image is the only thing you can control, it's no wonder you'd get a nose piercing

In Sickness and In Health:  “You only live once,” Nick told me the other day

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The Independent Online

Last year, Rebecca’s husband Nick was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns, she writes about the aftermath of his accident

Despite having a tattoo when he was getting on for 40, Nick was always terrified that his mum would find out. Whenever we stayed at his parents, he’d be extra paranoid about her spotting it, and if I showed his folks any holiday photos, he’d sit twitching, in case one of them revealed the design that he’d had inked on the small of his back. As it turned out, when I blabbed to his mum about the tattoo, she didn’t give a damn, but then that’s probably because I told her when he was speared with tubes in intensive care and I figured he’d be safe from her wrath.

I hope that she shows similar sang froid when she comes to visit him this week and spots his latest bit of body modification – a nose piercing. Given that he’s also desperate for more tattoos, I reckon a nose stud is pretty innocuous, both because it can be kept clean more easily than a tat, and because it can be taken out if he decides he doesn’t want it any more. I don’t think he will take it out, though, because he likes it, and it’s part of a wider interest in how he looks, and the power he has to change that.

It reminds me of being a teenager, when everything was so UNFAIR and I wasn’t allowed to do ANYTHING. The only thing that I that felt I had any autonomy over was my body, so I had it pierced as often as possible, regularly changed my hair colour (wrecking my parents’ towels in the process, soz Dad) and had my first tattoo. Nick, as he reminds me tearfully whenever I tell him off for shouting at his carers, can’t go anywhere or do anything. He can’t even wipe his own bottom. So no wonder he’s keen to have control over his image.

It began last summer when his personality finally started to flicker back, in between the shouting and swearing. I’d bought him a Coca-Cola T-shirt I thought he’d like, but as soon as he could talk again, he took a great dislike to it, banishing it from his hospital room. Since then, he’s taken more interest in his hair, not least the fact that it’s turned so dark after more than a year spent mainly indoors. He now has monthly trims, and I’ve been instructed to lighten it with the modern, posher version of Sun-In to bring him back to blond.

He now wears one of my silver rings, having coveted it for months, which on him looks like a knuckle-duster. I was also ordered to paint his toenails black, so his carers either cackle when they see his feet, or, in the case of cool cat Carmelo, say that Nick reminds them of The Cramps’ Lux Interior. This weekend I painted the nails on the hand that I can get to white, and as soon as I finish typing, I’ve been told I need to do another coat.

I love his reason for the return to the goth look that he left behind decades ago. “You only live once,” he told me the other day. So if his mother gives us any grief about his nose (or nails), we can reply with exactly what teenagers today say to their parents about similar bodily rebellions: YOLO, mum.

Twitter: @rebeccaj

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