Memoir

Thirteen

I never wanted hands like my mother’s.

I used to stare at them resting on the steering wheel every morning as she drove me to school.

I can picture it now: Howard Stern is on the radio. I am thirteen years old and he is making a joke about anal sex, my cheeks burning.

“I don’t like him.” My mother stresses the word ‘like’ and frowns. “He’s so…” She pauses, locating her next word. “Crass.”

Her right hand lifts to hit the next pre-set button on the dashboard and suddenly our newish SUV fills with the mournful voice of Amy Lee, her desperate croons a familiar sound of my early adolescence.

Working hands, I think to myself. My mother has working hands. They are different, I notice, than the hands of Katie Nakamura’s mother. I spied her from Shah Hall one Friday afternoon last spring. She was strutting across the blacktop in a pleated white tennis skirt, the sun bouncing off her shiny diamond ring.

My mother’s hands aren’t delicate. They don’t flaunt flirty shades of O.P.I. nail polish, like Funny Bunny, or Royal Flush Blush, or Glitzerland.

Instead they are brown and dry, the nails thick, ridged and bitten down until they hurt. There is blood caked in one corner of her thumb where she picked off a cuticle, slowly, during the eleven o’clock news. A water-filled callous has formed on the pointer finger of her right hand, where the curve of the steering wheel has made contact with her skin repeatedly, at least four times a day, for the past nine years.

Working class hands.

In the front seat, I am sitting on my own hands. I am resisting the urge to scrape off the messy layer of metallic blue nail polish I painstakingly applied the night before. It took hours. I am fantasizing about methodically removing the polish from each fingernail, one by one by one, with my four front teeth. “What is that?” I ask my mother, incredulous.

“What?”

“That bump.”

“Oh.” My mother lets out a silent, coffee-scented burp. “A callous.” She exhales.

“Can’t you get it removed?” I elongate the second syllable of this last word to stress urgency. Removed. Re-moo-ved. Get it removed.

“Yeah. I can.” My mother flicks on her merging signal, unaware of the note of desperation in my voice. “What I need to do is drain it.” She observes this with indifference while absentmindedly picking at the hardened cuticle around her thumb, then continues. “It started as a cut. Something, a little piece of skin or whatever, got in there while the cut was healing. The body senses there’s something that’s not supposed to be there and forms this bubble around it. To protect it. It’s a defense mechanism, really.”

I wince at my mother’s logical explanation, the perfectly medical reasoning of a passionately trained nurse. I focus my attention instead outside the passenger window. It’s late March, almost April, and the light morning rain has started to slow. I watch as drops of water race other droplets down my window, and I keep score.

“I did drain it once, but it came back. I need to do it again.”

I squirm in my seat and the shift of weight over my hands causes a single knuckle to crack, the immediate release of tension too delicious for me to ignore. I crack the remainder against my thigh, noticing the warped lump of my middle finger, trying in vain to ignore my own swollen knuckles and the thick black hairs that began to appear sometime last year. I wish I could peel away the age from my hands, like I used to peel layers of dried Elmer’s glue from my palms in elementary school, revealing my stripped clean skin underneath.

“That’s not good for you!” my mother cries.

I forget to acknowledge her. We are already in my school’s drop-off line and I can see Amanda Graham waving goodbye to her own mother in the loading zone. Amanda’s fingers, like the rest of her, are thin and demure. I feel a hatred rise up in me.

“I don’t like that woman.”

My mother is referring now to Cindy Graham, an aggressive redhead who has single-handedly commandeered my class’s group of parent volunteers since we were all in the first grade. “You know, I really think we have all the help we need” is what she has told my mother, over and over again, for the past nine years. Although I don’t admit this to my mother, I’ve recently taken to throwing my share of Cindy’s homemade butter cookies in the trash whenever she brings them to school parties, my own private protest ritual, carried out in secret.

“Pick me up here at three-thirty,” I mumble to my mother as I slide out of the passenger seat without looking back.

I slam the car door shut and sling my backpack over my shoulder, letting the rain hit my face as I walk to class, slowly, chewing silently on a piece of skin.

Adriana Widdoes is a writer currently living in Los Angeles. She is a coastal hybrid of sorts.