Each morning, to the sound of my alarm, I wake up with the same thought in my head. Stop biting your nails. It’s a thought that’s been ever present since the age of eleven, after my first and only relapse.
I had been rather successfully bribed into kicking the habit for a few years up until that point. My parents bought me a rather special Subbuteo set, complete with miniature versions of starlets like Michael Owen and David Beckham. There was a little scoreboard, with interchangeable names, that you could position at the edge of the grass-green mat upon which the game was played. The allure of it all was far too strong. When presented with the ultimatum, the nails or the game, I jumped readily at the game and flicked those little players around the pitch for months.
And so passed a few years of pleasant, clean nails. It’s no coincidence that this coincided with the halcyon years of junior school. Those shimmering days, stripped bare of strong colour in my minds eye, like peering out into the ocean through a telescope, watching the water reflect back a blurred scene of calm serenity. There was no latent anxiety then, as I played the Mayor of Hamelyn in a fluorescent pink leotard. There was no humming fear as we won the local junior’s league and lifted the trophy at a local school hall. There was no need to chew my nails into oblivion, really, until I was shipped off to secondary school.
Was it the whirlwind of change? Or the presence of the larger, older ghouls that floated through the hall and punched you in the arm? I can’t quite be sure. The relapse came just a few days into Year 7. In an English lesson, I found my eyes wondering to a point at the bed of my fingernail where earlier that morning I had picked away a piece of tomato ketchup that was still there from last night’s sausage and mash dinner. The sauce fell away with ease, but in the process, took with it a somewhat large chunk of cuticle, leaving the behind a mess of spaghetti and unconnected flesh.
I stared at this warzone with interest. Surely, it wouldn’t be so hard just to clean it up with a click nibble? It’ll be easy. Just take that tiny bit off, tear the bit to the right in half, grab at the middle and then it’ll all be gone, ready to regrow.
Sure enough I was a master, and bringing my finger up to my eye, I could see that I had indeed ironed out the mess left by the ketchup. Like all good habits, I didn’t immediately kick off again, going at each and every finger without thought. In fact, the next day, I didn’t bite my nails at all. Towards the end of the week, I took a hangnail off with my teeth, but it didn’t hurt and drew no blood, plus I’d seen other people do that, so what was the harm?
The next week, after a particularly bad telling off for a reason I seem to have misplaced, I chewed my little finger nail half way down, leaving the nail-bed exposed to the sunlight, and soon after caught an infection there too. The finger throbbed for days beneath a plaster I changed each-day. At night, I would wake up to find it seeping salty green juice across my pillow and I vowed never to raise my fingers to my mouth anymore, such was the pain and embarrassment of a ruined, misshapen finger.
Thirteen years later, I stare now at my digits, with their torn faces, and curved, shallow shields. The nails are crooked, jagged, scattered. They are sick, weak like starving children, begging for sustenance, for a chance not to be suffocated in their growth. I am an active bringer of sadness and misery to the family of fingers that live on my hands. Like a cruel headmaster, I bring meaningless punishment unto these creatures that help me each day, to text, to eat, to type, to write. I wake up each day with the same thought, though it is, now I think of it, more a regret. I can’t help myself. As soon as I think quit, I cast down my eyes and see there, before me, my fingers in my mouth. You know what? Fuck it, just take them from me. Give them to someone who deserves them, who won’t bloody eat them.
That’s all I am these days. A quivering muncher of fingers.