The Hands of Time….

Do you ever look at your hands and think, “Did I do hard time at a prison picking rocks?”

I caught a glimpse of my hands while taking a selfie in front of a mirror. I normally don’t pay much attention to my hands but when I saw them reflected back to me in the mirror……my pudgy, tiny, wrinkly hands dwarfed by the huge Samsung phone, I thought, “Damn girl!!!! Your hands are Ugggggly!”

The selfie I was taking was to document my journey to brighter, whiter teeth. I had purchased a teeth-whitening kit and was excited about my new smile in “one to two weeks of using the product as recommended”.

My brain said, “Guuuurrrrl, your teeth ain’t the issue here….your ugly ass hands are!”

I shouldn’t be surprised at my revelation. I have been taking my hands for granted all my life. When I was barely out of the womb, I began chewing my fingernails. No…..I didn’t just nibble my nails, I gorged upon them as if they were a food group. As a child I would sit in front of the television, twirling my little baton in my right hand and have my entire left hand in my mouth, ravaging my fingernails. People would say, “Do you know how many germs are on your hands and fingernails?” and I would respond by biting the corner of my cuticle, pulling it off and chewing it – I sounded like one of the zombies in the walking dead as I feasted on my flesh.


My fingernails bled, my cuticles bled, and my nail beds began to shrink down in size.

That’s when I realized that I was bendy enough to pick at my toenails: ten extra digits in my buffet of nails. I couldn’t chew them, but I could pick at them until I had a corner free and peel it back. Sometimes it didn’t let go willingly, sometimes I would have to tug and twist until the crescent of toenail finally let go. I am certain that if it had a voice it would be saying, “Noooooooooooooooo!”.

There was no toenail that was exempt from this picking practice. In fact, my baby toe no longer even grows a nail which weird’s the heck out of the technicians at pedicure salons. They gently lift my foot out of the warm, soapy water and towel dry it in preparation for the pedicure and then begin to examine my toes. The last time I was at a salon getting a pedicure, the technician didn’t speak English so I had to imagine what she was saying to her counterpart as she examined my toes. There was the shocked look, followed by the worried look and then she would look at me as if to say, “WTF?”. I would shrug my shoulders, no longer embarrassed about my feet and continue to flip through the magazine I had in my lap. Then she would call over her boss and they would have a conversation about my toes in a language that I could not understand; the conversation punctuated by laughter and pointing. Finally she would say to me, “Nail polish today?” worried that she would have to paint the empty nail bed of my baby toe. Not unlike the scene from the famous Anjelah Johnson ‘Nail Salon’ comedy performance, only my technician didn’t ask me if I wanted “Crystal Gel”. Remember the dude from Silence of the Lambs who made a coat out of human skin? I wonder if he could recreate fingernails?

I would respond with, “No….no nail polish needed…..because obviously” and she would visibly relax saying “I will give you an extra massage because you don’t need polish”. Then she would begin carving and scraping my heels, followed by dousing them in some acid that would magically remove my calluses. The massage was followed by the warm wax and I would leave the salon ¼ inch shorter.

But I digress……we were talking about my gnarly, nasty hands that are reminiscent of a old prisoner who picked rocks every day.

My father would try desperately to entice me to quit chewing my fingernails. He would vacillate between, “I wish you would quit biting your fingernails” to, “Judy! It’s a dirty, filthy habit!”. He offered me large sums of money to quit chewing my nails and when that didn’t work, he conspired with my Uncle. They created a slurry out of grass and clay and told me it was “chicken shit” and dunked my hands into it hoping that it would keep me from chewing my nails. I remember clearly when I defiantly plunged my hand into the mixture and then went to the bathroom to scrub them clean. I would not be ‘scared straight’ by anything! (Also…I knew deep down that it wasn’t chicken shit).

I continued to chew and pick at my nails – finding solace in the mind numbing practice.

Which brings me to today and the fact that my hands are ugly and my fingernails are half the size of the nail bed. My ten digits are my best friends and always there for me when I need to stress chew. Could I give that up? It is a relationship based on supply and demand – one that has worked for 53 years.

If I stopped today, my expectations of the outcome would need to be lowered. I have one fingernail (my favourite one – my ‘treat’ nail) that is so badly damaged that it would probably grow into a bizarre looking like a coke snortingesque talon. The rest of them might come back, but even so, they would be attached to hands that look like they picked rocks for a living.

Regrets…..I have only a few, but my hands are one of them. Is it too late to turn back time? Is it too late in my life to begin caring for my hands (and feet?).

I don’t want to lose all of the memories that are triggered by the sight of my hands. Those same hands cared for babies, changed diapers, made cookies, gestured wildly while telling a story, held the hands of someone dying, wiped the tears from a face, and yes….actually did pick a few rocks.

The skin on my hands is reminiscent of my grandmother’s hands – soft and crepey in that patch of skin between the thumb and the next finger. Sure….the fingers are little nubbin’s but my kids have known nothing else in their lives. The fact that I have very little fingernail has kept me from being asked to remove slivers or peel tape off of a window. The lack of fingernail also makes it impossible to pick up a dime off of a tiled floor. Ying and Yang.

I guess taking the selfie in that mirror prompted an even deeper reflection……

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