“Stop biting your fingernails,” my mother would say to me so often during my childhood, that, had I received a dollar every time, I would be writing this from my Paris apartment. She had been a nail biter herself, up until her early thirties, but when she decided to quit, she decided we should all get on board. She even offered my older brother Tommy and me $5.00 each, if we let our nails grow out to the ends of our fingers. As a seven-year-old child of the 60’s, that was a huge chunk of change.
Tommy rose to the challenge like a champ, and once he had that crisp 5-dollar bill in his pocket, he bit his nails right back down, with the hunger and intensity of a bear coming up out of hibernation.
I tried to go without biting, even enlisting the help of that brush-on nail-biting deterrent called “Don’t!,” but after a few days I acquired a taste for it. Flexible little imp that I was, I believe I actually bit my toenails now and then, too.
Yes, it was probably nerves, but even through my most content phases, I still bit and ate (never spitting out) my fingernails. The only time I took a break was during 1992-94, when I was going out on commercial auditions and decided acrylic nails would help my chances whenever a close-up of my hands was required.
Those acrylic nails were a bitch to maintain, however, as it involved going into a nail salon and having them “filled” every couple weeks. Even worse was when they had to remove them altogether every couple of months and apply new ones. A sweet Vietnamese lady would hack away at my cuticles, prying the old acrylic nails off, while I writhed in pain, praying that my withered real nails wouldn’t come off in the interim. “Oh, Kelly, you such a baby,” she would say, smiling, as I nervously looked around the room for some sort of rat-filled pit they were gonna throw me in after my torture.
Those acrylic nails broke now and then, too, which would mean an impromptu visit to the salon to have just one finger tortured. And don’t get me started on the expense. I couldn’t exactly call it a tax write-off if I wasn’t getting the acting gigs I was wearing the stupid nails to audition for in the first place.
After a while the acrylic nails became more trouble than they were worth — commercial auditions were so few and far between, anyway — and I had them removed for good, and went back to my old ways of chewing on my newly freed — and free — fingernails.
Fast forward twenty years. I’d been getting pedicures off-and-on for the past decade or so, but aside from occasionally picking at my toenails, feet were easier to leave alone (that, and I’m not as flexible as I used to be), especially when they looked pretty. But fingernails had always been too easy to bite, so I continued, even with the scolding voice of my deceased mother in my head.
The fact that I probably looked like a nervous ninny, gnawing on my nails in public, bore no weight with me. I’d been doing it for so long that my inhibitions were nil in that department. I just figured it was a flaw in me that people would just have to overlook.
So what has changed? For one thing, over the past few months I have fallen in love with sugar and salt scrubs (for hands and body), along with scented lotions, which I slather on my hands every night. My hands feel amazing, but even if they looked good, my slovenly fingernails were like the turd in the punchbowl.
The other reason? Well, it’s Mother, again. She’s been gone for over two years, but my stepdad Pete recently gave me her beautiful purple amethyst cocktail ring. He had also given me her wedding ring (from him) over a year ago, and — since I lost the diamond to my own wedding ring a number of years ago and had been wearing a cheap substitute — I wear it as my own (Chuck has no problem with it).
I accepted that my mother’s beautiful wedding ring might look a bit out of sorts of a nail-bitten hand, but putting that rockin’ amethyst cocktail ring on my nail-bitten right hand was like tying a bright beautiful bow around a turd (yes, again with the turd). Something had to be done, if not for myself, then at least to honor my mom. Amethyst was her birthstone — she loved purple and lilac colors anyway — and that ring was such a huge deal when Pete bought it for her. She was so proud of it, even though she rarely wore it.
Gleaning from the same mindset that I was least apt to pick and peel at my toenails when they were pedicure-pretty, I decided a professional manicure was in order, in an almost last-ditch attempt to have presentable hands. My nails were very short, but there was still something to work with. Mimi, the lady who does my toes, was surprised at my request, but most accommodating.
So there I sat yesterday, having my very first professional manicure on my very own fingernails. Mimi recommended a gel shellac; it cost a little more, would take almost twice as long (“it has to ‘cook,'” she informed me), but it would last a couple weeks longer than regular polish. I agreed to it, choosing a purple shade, of course.
During the hour-long procedure I felt weird, indulgent, a bit desperate, regretful (for not having done it while Mom was alive), inspired (“Hey, maybe I should write about this!”) — and very grown up. My eyes welled up a bit from all the emotions running through me.
So here I sit, a day later, manicured hands with short — but very neat — purple fingernails. I was right; the “too pretty to bite” formula has worked thus far, and although nothing is certain, this could be just the beginning. I look forward to having presentable (maybe even pretty) hands once my nails grow a bit longer; I look forward to the possibility that this will inspire me to make other improvements with myself; and I look forward to the look of joy my dogs will have on their faces when my scratching behind their ears takes on a whole new dimension.