"Right on the Nail" by Jamie Kahn


When I was a little girl, it seemed that my mother always had long, manicured nails. They were kept neat, and never reached Jersey Shore lengths, but I took note of how they extended past the tips of her fingers until they reached their uniform ends. They were her real nails, not like the fake ones that make clicking noises whenever they touch a cell phone or tabletop. But they always mesmerized me.

As a kid, I had a bad habit of biting my nails. I didn't even know when it started because it went so far back. I always looked at my nubby fingers and imagined that one day when I was a grown-up lady that I'd have classy, manicured nails just like my mom. I assumed that it was something that happened as a coming-of-age. It would be like getting my period in the sense that one day it'd just happen and from then on I'd manage it accordingly. I thought that I'd just stop biting my nails and paint them neatly one day as a part of my biology.

These assumptions weren't constant, so it was easy to let them slip over time. I thought that it was something that was supposed to come one day, and that I just didn't know when. I found myself thinking this until I was eighteen. As I was driving one day, I caught a glimpse of my hand resting on the steering wheel and was almost confused at the sight. When will my pretty nails become a reality? I'm eighteen, driving my car. Going to class, at college. How do I become more of an adult than this? I wondered.


So, that day, I went home and painted my nails. They were short at first, and scraggily looking, but at least they sported a mature pale-pink. After a few weeks, they grew out and I filed them to look like my mother's always did, squared off at the top. Identical like a row of glossy soldiers. It was strange at first to see them. To see them as a part of my body, but eventually they were just my fingernails as usual. And I didn't have to wait for a special day to come or for some force to decide.


The universe doesn't paint nails. It's up to the person who wants a manicure to get one. Adulthood isn't just a thing that happens. Even in small increments. I chose to get my drivers license. I chose to go to college. I chose to become a registered voter. And in the same vein, I chose to do my nails. When it comes time to grow up, choosing is often half the battle. And once the choice is made, all that's left to do is pick your color of polish.