Julia got me into painting my toenails a few years back and I’ve been doing it ever since. Nail polishing was a fun and relaxing activity to do together and painted nails are a lot more attractive than plain ones. I even found myself enjoying, for perhaps the first time, the appearance of my toenails.
The truth is, I’ve always liked nail polish, despite enduring a traumatic nail polish event as a kid.
I was in second grade at the time. One day my mom and my three sisters got out the nail polish to do their fingernails. I didn’t want to miss out so I asked if I could do mine too.
Sure I could join in. But the women in my house were wise: they told me to stay away from the blood reds and the bright blues and the emerald greens. Choose a more subtle color, they advised me, and so I chose the palest pink from the collection of bottles. It was practically the same color as my nails. I figure no one would notice, which was important, because everyone knew boys did not paint their nails.
The next day at St. Mark elementary school all was calm in the second grade, until my teacher, Miss Pierce, a mean old gray mare if ever there was one—who we all secretly called Miss Fierce—started talking about personal hygiene.
An important part of personal hygiene was washing your hands and keeping your nails clean, Miss Fierce said. No argument from me on that. But then she said, “Everybody put your hands on your desks and I’m going to come around and inspect.”
Immediately my pulse rate shot up. What the hell. Of all days! Can’t we do math? Can’t we work on spelling? Nope. It was time for a personal hygiene lesson.
Miss Fierce began walking the aisles, inspecting each student’s hands. “Very nice, Mary.” “You need to do a little more cleaning, Thomas.” “Keep your nails trimmed, Kathleen.”
She started coming up my aisle. Now my heart was hammering. I was praying (Catholic school) that my color choice gambit would pay off. You couldn’t really tell I had polish on my nails. They simply looked clean and uniform.
My turn next. My hands trembled on my desktop. Miss Fierce paused and squinted at my hands. I’m sure her eyesight was terrible, she was so damn old. She looked again and a frown creased her forehead. A confused look filled her eyes.
She took my hand in hers. She used her fingernail to scratch at one of mine. Some of the polish flaked off. She raised her glance to the ceiling for a moment, perhaps beseeching God for wisdom on how to handle this sin. Then she called out, loudly, to the entire class, as if she were screaming about a fire: “HE’S WEARING NAIL POLISH!”
Everyone burst out laughing. Except me, of course. I felt my face burn. I wanted nothing but to disappear. At recess I was the object of unrelenting ridicule. I think I took a swing at someone.
That was the last time I touched nail polish, until Julia got me started again. Apparently, I’ve gotten over that humiliation, because now I’m thinking of painting not just my toes, but my fingers again. This time I won’t shy away from the reds and the blues. Maybe I’ll even go for purple. Take that, Miss Fierce.