The Awful Truth

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When I was seven my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Because we lived in a small town she had to go away for her treatment. It seemed like she was gone forever.

Because my parents were old-fashioned and old school, we weren’t told exactly what was going on, just that my mom was undergoing “tests” at a special hospital in Vancouver.

Because my older brother had a cruel streak, he told me our mom had died and our dad was too upset to tell us the awful truth.

When I was seven I started biting my nails, eventually gnawing off the entire nail on my ring finger.

My mom finally returned home to us, weak and worn out after her gruelling treatment. She was shocked by my bare nail bed and took me to the doctor. He made me wear a bulky splint on the finger until the nail grew back in, thin and translucent as onion skin.

I bit my nails for years afterwards. It’s not a habit one can kick lightly.

I finally stopped, as suddenly as I’d started, about a year after I finished university. I still don’t know what prompted it. It certainly wasn’t due to any will power or conscious effort on my part.

Recently I’ve started chewing on my fingers again–not so much my nails, but hangnails, loose tags of skin and even the edges of my cuticles. I tear at them with my teeth, often drawing blood.

It’s gross and it’s dirty and I’m embarrassed by the appearance of my hands. They tell the world I’m not coping too well right now.

And I can’t stop.