A month ago I slammed my finger in a door. I blame my boyfriend for this. We were in the bar where we went on what could be called our first date, which was actually a weekend-long hangout a little over a year ago. As I walked into the bathroom I was flooded with memories of that afternoon, an unseasonably warm day when we’d walked around Brooklyn holding hands and shyly kissing. It was when I went into the bathroom that I was alone for the first time since he’d arrived, and I looked into the mirror and met eyes with myself, sharing with my reflection the secret understanding that something momentous was happening. A year later, I’d paused to nostalgically experience those emotions, which were brought on by the particularities of this bathroom. I was lost in thought, unknowingly trailing my hand on the doorjamb, when my reverie was interrupted by a loud noise and an extreme pain.
“I’ve just slammed my finger in the door,” I thought to myself rationally, as pain began to course through my finger, my hand and my entire body. “I certainly hope it’s all still there when I go to look at it.” Thankfully, it was, though it was reddening and swelling even as I cursed and hopped around the bathroom. I tried to brace myself against the pain, but finding this futile, I instead gave into the pain, opened myself to the pain, experienced the pain intensely and wholly. “This is what it feels like to slam your finger in a door,” I thought. “You know this pain. You’ve slammed it in drawers.” In my mind, I saw the drawers I’d slammed it in, remembered the feeling of surprise and betrayal even as it was happening yet again in this very moment. Outside my mind, my body was shocked and hurt and angry. I realized that I was whimpering and beginning to cry. I looked in the mirror and saw my face crumpling. “Owwwwwwwwww! Fuck! Fuck! Motherfucker! Shit!” I howled. Should I go outside into the bar and seek help? No, I decided, I was too animalistically embarrassed. I needed to hide. I needed to calm down. I still needed to pee, which was the reason I’d gone into the motherfucking bathroom in the first place.
“I wonder if this pain is worse than childbirth,” I mused. “If I can get thorugh this, then one day I can force a human being through my vagina, no problem.” I hissed. I breathed. I cradled my finger in my other hand. I smushed it in my underarm. I shook it. I made fists. But still I whimpered, still I whined.
Finally, things calmed down a little in the bathroom. I peed. I washed my hands, wincing. I walked out the door, glaring at it, instrument of death and dismemberment that it was. I was all shook up. I approached the table where my boyfriend and I had been happily drinking beer and eating lentil soup, the same table where we had shyly drank and kissed a year ago. “What happened to you?” he asked. “You were in there a long time.”
“I slammed my finger in the door!” I said, and felt fresh tears rising to my eyes, typical to the moment that we share our pain with others. “It hurt so bad!”
My boyfriend kissed my finger. We started home. The finger was bruised and turning purple. Over the next few days, it swelled up. Everyone discussed whether the nail would fall off or not. My best friend’s mother, who is a doctor, told me that if I had gone to the ER right away, someone would have taken a hot needle and poked a hole in the nail to drain the blood, but now it was too late. I looked this procedure up on the internet and read that the blood often shoots up out of the nail in an impressive geyser. I regretted not seeking it.
Over the next week, the swelling went down but the skin underneath the nail remained purple. I took the opportunity to dig out a nagging splinter in a finger on my other hand, figuring why not add insult to injury? The resulting hole stung for a week, every time I squeezed a lemon or washed with soap. Sometime a little later I also stubbed my toe on the refrigerator, cracking the toenail and requiring a doctor to sand it with a tiny Dremel too. It was a month of digital trauma.
My students all reacted differently to my wounded finger. The younger ones were sanguine and asked what had happened. “You should be more careful,” they admonished solemnly. The older ones were horrified and said, “Ewww! What is UP with your finger?”
As the weeks passed, checking in on the finger became a pastime for a few of them. Two of my students in particular never failed to ask after the finger. One of them, a nine-year-old, was very concerned about it. The other, an eleventh grader, asked rather brusquely about it each week. Something about the way he asked rubbed me the wrong way one Thursday. “Well I dunno how it is,” I replied. “Let’s take a look.”
“See, there’s all this purple crud underneath, but I don’t know if that’s fresh blood or a dried scab. I’m worried that if it’s a scab it’s kinda festering in there, you know? Like, how’s it gonna fall off if it’s trapped under the nail?”
He looked visibly disgusted.
“If I could just get something in there, like something sharp, for example, I could do a little recon on the situation.”
There was a paper clip on the table.
“Whaddya know, that IS a scab! If I just gently scrape it, here, it kinda comes out in little bloody flakes.”
I had never seen this particular eleventh grader work so intently on his precalculus homework.
“Uh, Emily, I’m finished. With my homework. If you want to check it,” he said.
“Hang on, there, I’m really onto something here. Ahhhhh-HA!”
With that, I excavated the last of the scab.
Problem was, the scab was kind of like glue that was holding the remainder of the nail onto the nail bed. Without the scab, the nail loosened and began to detach from the cuticle up. It also turned white, like the end of the nail that normally overhangs the fingertip, instead of translucent pink, like the quick of a nail is supposed to be. Eventually it got so I could pry up about three-fourths of the nail from the nail bed. But the left-hand quarter of the nail remained stuck. It was still intact and living. The door had struck the finger on the right side only.
So now I’ve removed the dead, loose nail, traumatizing my boyfriend in the process, and the left side remains attached and living right down to the cuticle. It’s a rather deformed looking situation here. The nail bed is exposed and what I think is new nail is growing from the bottom in a big pink lump. The remaining part of the old nail is hanging on from the side, with the white stripe we normally find at the top of our nails is instead oriented vertically and in the middle of the nail. To add to this mess, there is this weird blob of scar tissue leftover from when I broke the same finger playing softball in the tenth grade. I’ve been trying to get at this scar for a decade. Now I finally have the chance to exfoliate it, so my right ring finger has in a sense come full circle.
My mangled finger is a shocking sight. But I think it’s beautiful. After being annoyed with my nail for the past month for turning purple and then falling off, I’ve suddenly realized that my nail made the ultimate sacrifice. It was my nail that absorbed the force of the slamming door and probably allowed me to keep my fingertip. It was my nail that died that my living tissue may live. And now it is my nail is that is regenerating itself just so it can continue to protect and serve. And so I give thanks to the nail that is gone and thanks in advance to the new nail that is coming in. I don’t see it as ugly or gross, but rather a testament to the fact that we can be wounded and we can be new again.