This I Believe: I Believe in Long Nails
My hands are red and pruny from being in my mouth too long. There is a slight discharge of blood from one nail bed.
I can’t stop.
I wish I could keep biting and picking at my fingers, but my hands feel like they are submerged in a tank of piranhas. My heart is swimming with them.
Biting my nails was the only way I knew how to cope with stress. I grew up in a house where the minute I heard a loud sound, I knew it was going to be a long night. My mother’s boyfriend was on his first beer – and there were many more to come. First, it was doors smashing into their frames, then cabinets cracking from force, and sometimes it was glass being reduced to shards.
When this violent behavior occurred, I didn’t have time to cower in a corner and pray that he wouldn’t come into my room. I had to go into the inferno. I was the one who cleaned up the glass. I was the one clearing the endless Guinness cans off the counter. In between these chores, I gnawed at my fingers, savoring every bite that I took. I chewed them until they started bleeding and sometimes, I moved down my fingers, pulling and tearing at my skin. The mutilation was painful, but it was my reward. Like an extra suitcase, my habit followed me right out the door when we finally left.
Despite the distance and growth I’ve enjoyed since this time, there are days where I am in so much distress that all I want to do is rip my hands apart and bite them until they bleed.
But then, I remember the pain, and I never want to feel it again. After all, I have learned to cope – through a lot of therapy, obviously – but also by getting my nails done. I would save up my money, head to the nail salon, and get the longest, practical nails available. Despite tending to wear drab clothes, my go-to nail colors became Lavender, Rosy Future, and Bubblegum Pink.
Now, I look at my hands, and the corners of my lips reach my ears. I love having long nails. I love ceaselessly tapping on every surface in the house. I love the struggle of picking up change because I cannot get the right angle with my nails. And now, I love being able to just get my natural nails painted because they’ve been allowed to grow long enough to pass as acrylics.
This is why I believe in long nails. To me, they are so much more than a fashion accessory: Nails are a reminder to care for myself – the self that deserved care all along.
This I Believe Illinois is NPR Illinois' annual essay program for Illinois high school seniors. An expression of where their minds are as they prepare to enter the adult world. This I Believe was started by radio journalist Edward R. Murrow in 1951 to allow anyone able to distil the guiding principles by which they lived. Special thank you to our sponsors: The Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise, BLH Computers, Illinois Times, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and Mary Beth & Harvey M. Stephens.