An exasperating habit
I am examining my fingernails. They are less unsightly than a week ago when I donned the gloves again at night. The thumbnails are still ugly. They were more chewed than the others and lag behind. My mind wanders to one of a small handful of recollections that go back to my early childhood. I am three or four. In Montessori school. I am about to open my lunchbox when my teacher reaches down and takes it away from me. She says that since I enjoy biting my fingernails so much, I can have them for lunch. I look at her, bewildered, finger in my mouth. I cannot remember if she returned the lunchbox. She probably did. I might have remembered if she didn’t. Another recollection surfaces. In this one I’m fifteen. I and a classmate, another fingernail chewer, challenge each other to stop. We check each other’s nails every day. He stops. As far as I know he never chews his fingernails again. I grow up. Still chewing away.
I am in my twenties now, a recent migrant to Australia. I wrap strips of sticking plaster around my fingertips. They are grubby by the end of the day and I put on a fresh set the next morning. After a few days I give up. I tell myself there must be an easier way. Why don’t I make a resolution to stop. Pretend it’s the New Year. Fast forward a few years. Someone tells me about a foul-tasting liquid that I can apply on my fingernails like nail polish. I purchase a bottle and paint the stuff on. It doesn’t work. The taste isn’t foul, just bitter and I learn that I am not averse to a bitter taste. Again, many times, I try to stop without props or aids. I enjoy success, but always short-lived because weeks of resolute effort can be undone in a chewing session lasting a few minutes.
The habit has now developed a disconcerting twist. I manage to refrain from chewing my fingernails when I am awake, but not when I’m asleep. The soft cotton gloves I wear to bed work most of the time. On a few disconcerting occasions I have woken up to discover that I have removed the gloves and ripped off weeks of growth down to the quick, sometimes beyond, all in my sleep. But the gloves are all I have for now. I wonder if I’ll ever find a permanent remedy. No, not that one, even if it is guaranteed to cure me once and for all.