Mar 29, 2010

A Nailbiter

My name is Girl Clumsy and I'm a habitual nailbiter.

I've been better in my adult years. Sometimes, I've even managed to grow nails up to 4 or 5 millimetres long (the white part, that is). Once, I got a thumbnail close to 8 millimetres! I had to file it and keep filing it until it resembled a dagger-like point, but I managed to make it last for a whole week. I enjoyed that thumbnail. Used it to skewer hot chips on, which takes a certain amount of wrist dexterity if nothing else.

I'd like to think of myself as "cured". But I'm not, no way. If anything, all I've done is move the problem. Generally now I leave my nails alone, and just bite around my cuticles. The thin flesh line that separates keratin from skin is virtually all but destroyed, leaving just a ragged, decaying edge, like so many rotted foundations of a once-grand Roman villa somewhere along the Appian way.

But then even that description implies they might be of interest to someone with a passing interest in prehensile archeology. Even the keenest metacarpal fetishist would shudder at the top end of my digits.

I was a chronic biter as a kid. I remember tearing so many strips of nail off that my fingers would seep blood. Nails grow in layers; one by one I would wrench them off with my teeth, as if possessed to cause myself as much pain as possible, concentrated in the fingertip area. Once suitably sacrificed, I used to wrap the tops of my fingers up in swathes of tissue. Bright red stains would ooze from the white paper; each finger creating its own little flag of Japan. I'd go to bed like that sometimes; the compression of the paper after the finger-binding ritual oddly comforting.

"Stop biting your nails!" my Dad would cry, often absent-mindedly shoving a thumb into the corner of his mouth seconds later. I wonder if these traits are inherited, or learned. My mother took good care of her nails; not prissy by any means, but they were always long and pretty and well-trimmed. My Dad and I looked like we'd been scraping our fingers along bitumen.

We tried "Stop 'n' Gro" and other misspelt nail solutions with a 'n' in the middle. Paint on a varnish that smelt like it'd been secreted from the Chernobyl facility four hours after core meltdown. Trouble is, the committed nailbiter doesn't let a foul taste stop her. In fact, the metallic twang of varnish hitting tongue almost becomes a badge of pride; swallow down that taste, what else can you throw at me? Huh? I will bite, for all your stuff and bitterness!

A large woman who gave me orange lipstick to wear told me she would cure my nailbiting. I was fourteen, and the large woman with short blond hair was the make-up teacher in a modelling/deportment course I was taking. The large woman with the short blond hair and the marks on either side of her nose where her glasses left an impression in her foundation told me I would be so entranced when she painted my nails a beautiful pearly pink, that I would no longer want to bite them.

It turns out while pearly pink polish may look like fairy floss, it doesn't taste like it.

The blond woman wasn't impressed. Probably why she gave me the orange lipstick.

Somewhere though, after high school, I ceased incessant nailbiting. Perhaps it was when the face was so marred by acne I thought I'd better have some part of my physical landscape unravaged? Whenever it was, it seemed to happen without me knowing.

But chronic nail abuse takes its toll. I have short nails to begin with; while most people have nail beds that stretch down towards their top knuckles, mine are stubby little roots that struggle to thrust saplings forward. Brief successes are not uncommon, but the results are brittle: easily torn, easily cracked, the nails are the Amazonian rainforest unable to compete with the sheer brute force of my bulldozer teeth.

Right now the nail ends long before the finger does; the cuticles are fractured and peeling, and a twinge of pain is ever present when I tap down on the keyboard.

Is a a bad habit? A coping mechanism?

Or does the nailbiter simply bite?


  1. Pity you are not a carpenter... The there would be a joke sitting away here...

    Wait, Easter approaches... There's a gag just waiting to be told...

    I feel I have to ask though.. How do you get rid of the chewage??

  2. I'm worse. The skin around the edge of the nail. Can't stop effing about with it.

  3. Mum complained about me biting my nails, but I've only ever done it once a month when they get too long. Never really got into the bad habit of the "Nibble them down until you look like you've been interrogated by Yakuza who carry toothpicks on their persons".

    Although that does make for an interesting story for those who cry "What HAPPENED to your NAILS?!"

  4. I had the very opposite problem. I'd leave my nails alone to wander ever skyward. The damn things would creep outwards making me look ever so prissy and would be the envy of every girl I knew.

    It was only when I started playing the piano that my sister insisted that I trim them right back so that when I played 'Chopsticks' it didn't sound like I was doing it _with_ chopsticks.

    Recently I grew the nails on my right hand out a bit so that I could do finger picking on the guitar. It felt good. Like I was nurturing them. But the missus hated them and when it came time to play the Chaplain in Catch 22 I figured that they (like long, unkempt hair) could be historically inaccurate and distracting so off they went again.

  5. have you considered moving on, say, to your toes?

  6. Sigh.
    I forgot your blog hates to let me sign in.

    That was me,