Noel treated me to a manicure for her wedding and tonight, two weeks later, I picked all the gel away from my nails, and as soon as I did, my hands looked like mine again. It got me thinking about this AFS student that attended my high school back in the 80’s. He was from Germany and everybody loved him and all the girls had crushes on him, even me.
I had piano lessons with him for one period a day. This is funny to me because I do not play piano. I took lessons for eight years, but I guarantee you that I cannot read a note or play anything except for Unchained Melody because Lolo loved that song and I used to play it for her and she would sing along, quietly, sporadically, and definitely off key. In fact, the only plus that ever came from taking piano was that when the DJ played Unchained Melody at Noel’s wedding, I could feel my grandma with me, hovering over our Noel, loving her from whatever it is we call heaven.
Anway, Ghita and I had piano together and the only thing I remember about it is that he commented on my painted nails and said that European women would never do such an ugly thing to their hands, and he shook his head at my ugliness. Other than my wedding day, where I got a french manicure (french is European, yes?), I have not painted my nails since that day.
So for two weeks now I have been walking around with these long fancy nails. Nails that are totally unproductive. It is hard to type. I certainly cannot paint or draw or even open a can of diced tomatoes. I tried to open a box of clay at school today and practically tore my ring finger off in the process. I remember my grade school friend’s mom looking right at me when I was eleven years old and saying, “There are two kinds of hands in this world. Hands that work and hands that sit. Only lazy people bother with fingernail polish.”
I have been staring at these foreign nails now for weeks and they made me think about all the things I believe about myself that are likely untrue.
My hands are aging. A lot. My left pinky is turning in from arthritis, the wrinkles in my fingers are deepening. They are no longer young hands. Sean always tells me I have man hands. “Gerbil hands,” he says, and it is true that I do not really have long, artist fingers like my kids do, like my husband does…
What I have noticed, however, is that I have the hands of a writer. My pinkies are turning inwards because of how close A lies next to S on the keyboard. I will tell you something else about my hands. They have cradeled each of my babies soft new heads. They have wrapped countless gifts. They have delivered flowers, cut down weeds (well, not really), changed diapers, mopped up puke, and tonight, at five thirty, they held Lizzie as she sobbed about volleyball practice. They held her and held her until all of her fear and anger and humiliation went away. I am not sure if that is how European women do it, but if you ask me, it definitely was not ugly.
Tonight, when I got out of the bath, I walked into Lizzie’s room and borrowed her sparkly white nail polish. I took time to paint all ten fingers, paying attention to the shape of each one. This week, these nails will remind me that it took hugging a thirteen year old girl to erase what an eighteen year old boy said to me twenty-five years ago. This week, they will remind me, as I teach all new students, that one simple sentence can sink deep into someone else’s consciousness without us even knowing it.
This week, these nails will look like me again.