Someone once told me that when you bite your nails, it means something. It means something bad. That every time you stick your fingers in your mouth, you’re not just enjoying the chewiness of your flesh, the clean peel of the skin, the crisp cut of your nail that clicks down with your teeth. No—you’re anxious. They said it’s something worth thinking about. That it’s worth noting any patterns.
Like: when I pace the guest room while my husband and I fight—when we can’t hear each other anymore, but keep talking anyway; or when I’m ordering food at a restaurant and overthink the decision of a salad or a sandwich—suck in my stomach to make it feel less full—like I’m not so far from my goal; or when I can’t keep it holding it in and the shame comes—my hand back in my mouth for comfort after I’ve ordered the Rueben; or when I’m visiting my old man and he’ll say, “you still biting those things?” When he shakes his head and I bite again.
It was my childhood friend who taught me how to bite. We were probably eight years old, swimming in my pool. Our blonde hair floating in the water around us like a golden cloak. The sun streaking everything electric blue. We chased each other, our palms raw from holding the rough walls as we clung to the side like spiders, the balls of our feet starting to bleed. It was after our race, when the waves crashed against us that she asked me. Her green eyes sharp and sweet, staring into mine.
“Have you ever bitten your nails?”
“No,” I said. “How do you do that?”
“You just…” She stuck her thumb in her mouth, her teeth clamping down. “Bite em,” she said, mouth full of hand.
I had never noticed her fingers before, how hurt they looked in the water. Puffy and white, shriveled up with puncture marks all over. They almost glowed, like a torn ghost’s hand floating up from the deep end. I bit down hard and felt a sting. Told her it hurt. “You’ll get the hang of it,” she said. Told me to keep practicing, and I did.
Decades later, my hands are in my mouth before I even notice they’re there. It takes great effort not to keep biting. To stop and consider what it means. I think it has something to do with worry. When concern becomes over-concern. And, man—how good it feels to get rid of something. Make a clean cut. Bite off something I can chew. Even if it is so small as a piece of skin.
I bite them now as I write.
Victoria Sottosanti is an author, writing mentor, and ballet instructor in the Seacoast of New Hampshire. She received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of New Hampshire where she was awarded the 2017 Nonfiction Prize Gift. Her work is forthcoming this spring in Creative Nonfiction magazine and has made it as a semi-finalist in River Teeth journal. Currently, she is revising a memoir about her battle through abuse, addiction, and finally facing God in the woods of Freedom New Hampshire. Visit her website to learn more or reach out! www.victoriasottosanti.com
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