I notice people’s hands. I can vividly recall exactly what my grandfather’s hands and fingers looked like as he packed his pipe with loose tobacco from his worn, zippered leather pouch. Even though my father’s veined hands, towards the end of his life, were mottled with purple bruises and nails yellowed/cracked – they were still distinctly his – and so familiar to me. The shape of his fingers, hand movements and gestures, color and texture of the skin covering his hands, comprised an indelible print on my father’s profile page. Details of family, friends, even acquaintances’ hands also seem to stick with me and become an important part of their personal profile in my memory bank.
And so, I guess, it would not be unusual for me to focus on my daughter’s hands. Ever since she was a little girl, Hayley picked at her cuticles – until they were bleeding and swollen – and then some. They were painful to look at. I vacillated between purposely not looking at them to avoid getting upset, and carefully observing their condition, making a mental note as to her current stress/anxiety level – a type of barometer, I guess. Occasionally, she grew her nails a bit and stopped picking the cuticles long enough so they would heal some; but usually, they were disgusting and painful to look at – almost on the verge of self-mutilation, in my opinion. .
Last spring, I noticed that Hayley’s fingernails were always dirty. My god – yes, Hayley’s standard of hygiene was different than mine; but really, dirty fingernails? After all, she wasn’t digging ditches or anything. In retrospect, this was a red flag to Hayley’s downward spiral – and a sign/symptom of her ‘hard’ drug use. She was probably smoking crack at this point. I learned recently that in the process of cooking up crack (heating cocaine powder + baking soda + water in a spoon) to prepare for smoking, black soot forms on the underside of the spoon which gets under the nails, when handled, and is hard to remove. And then, there is the undeniable fact that when you’re ensconced in the lifestyle of smoking crack cocaine, constantly high and on the prowl for your next hit, dirty fingernails are just not a priority. I only found one reference to the link between smoking crack and dirty fingernails on the web. Here is what one addict had to say:
I remember looking at my dirty fingernails from “fixing” my chore, and feeling disgust.
I definitely knew that Hayley’s dirty fingernails signified serious trouble. But I had no idea how to confront her or what to do about it. She was always so well defended and masterful at deflecting the issue “at hand” back to how unfair and unreasonable our suspicions and concerns were. Basically, I think, I was intimidated by her, and unsure of myself.
My daughter’s dirty fingernails – – – this is just one of the many things I think about.