I’m obsessively attached to my fingernails. Well, we’re all attached to our fingernails, except for George Clooney in that one scene in Syriana that I totally couldn’t watch.
What I mean is, I really want to have nice fingernails. Long, strong, no peeling layers, worth polishing. Fingernails that lead you to make extra hand gestures when you talk and cradle your coffee cup gracefully, tenderly, with both hands, just so people can notice how pretty they are.
Alas, I am doomed. Although taking calcium did help with the peeling problem that dogged me for years, I just cannot grow out a complete set of 10 good-looking fingernails of the same approximate length and maintain them for more than 24 hours.
Every single time I reach that day, that moment of nirvana where I realize that they’re long and well worth polishing with a pretty color in place of my usual clear protective coat, something happens.
I grate one while making hashbrowns.
I hit our granite countertop straight on and break one.
I’m crocheting and a microsnag gets caught in the yarn and tears just far enough that I can’t file it smooth and save the nail.
Or—in one horrendous accident right before my wedding in July 2007—I actually cut straight across the nail and into the thumb with a knife that slipped, and I wore a bandage through weeks and weeks of growing it out. Nothing says long, strong sexy fingernails like a cartoon character bandage on your thumb. At your wedding.
In a domino effect that never varies, once one goes, the rest start dropping like flies. Nails that were beautifully smooth and strong develop tiny tears down low, close to the cuticle line where it will really hurt like a son of a gun if it catches and tears, so I have to cut the nail back to protect myself. I hit countertops, encounter graters and knives, and lose the length one way or another, usually on at least half of them before the carnage stops.
I cut them all back because I hate that look of mostly long nails and a few short freaks, and start all over again.
My special bonus handicap in this quest for perfection: When I was a kid, maybe 8 or so, I smashed a finger in a solid wood door that was at least two inches thick.
I remember going to yell to my brother Don that Mom said to take out the garbage. In turning away and slamming the heavy door shut, I have no idea how I could catch the middle finger of my left hand in the door so badly that the fingernail was torn off, but I did. (For one thing, I’m right-handed; for another, just one finger, in the middle of the hand? What the--?)
I marched into the kitchen where my mother was washing her hair in the sink (this was before they added a showerhead in the upstairs bathroom in our very old house in the country, outside Lewiston, Idaho). I stuck my bleeding, ravaged finger under her face and said, “Look what I did!” Must have still been in shock, since I wasn’t yet crying from the pain.
The sudden appearance of a bloody stump under her sudsy head gave her such a shock that she couldn’t drive, so the garbage-toting Don had to take us to the hospital. They gave me a shot, sewed the fingernail back on, and told me that if I was lucky I wouldn't lose it completely. There was enough attachment in the nail bed that it did grow back, fortunately.
But I have three little notches around the nail, one on each side and one off-center at the base, where the stitches went in. So that nail is nothing like the rest of my fingernails, and I often develop one of those little microtears at the site of one of the side stitches.
Through the luck of the genetic draw I have tapered fingers and nice oval fingernails—except for Mr. Blight on my left hand. That door-slamming accident cost me a lucrative career as a hand model, I’m quite sure of it.
In a weird Lamarckian coincidence, my mother also had a childhood accident that smashed the middle finger on her left hand and ruined the nail. In her case she was behind a rocking chair when her visiting grandmother rocked back and mooshed her finger.
Mom’s quest for beautiful fingernails led her to various failed attempts in the early days of acrylic nails, leading to a nasty nail fungus and terribly weak, soft fingernails that she had to leave unpolished for a long time. She’s now back to fake nails, I notice when I visit her in the dementia facility; someone comes in and does the nails for the ladies who still have enough cognition for vanity.
I never went the fake route. It’s my own nails that I want to have as a thing of beauty and a joy forever. For over thirty years I have sought fingernail perfection, and my nails have fallen short.
The origin of suffering is attachment: one of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. In life all is transient; nothing lasts forever. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, loss is inevitable. Thus I suffer because my long fingernails are inevitably temporary adornments.
When the day comes that I let go of my attachment to fingernail perfection, and the accompanying suffering over the snags and chips of daily life, it will be a sign that I have grown spiritually.
Or that I have finally gotten acrylic nails.