If You Keep Picking at It,
It Will Never Heal

by Amanda K. DeBord


Stop picking at yourself. I picked and picked. Scabs, dry skin, toenails, any part of my body that wasn’t firmly attached was in danger of being torn off. In the summertime, I’d anticipate the moment my annual sunburn would start to peel, and rub at the pink tender skin hoping to catch some newly-formed blister. If a hangnail should threaten a finger, I would sit endlessly transfixed, picking and pulling, peeling back each thread of loosened skin until little remained but a bloody but smooth mess.

My obsession with smoothness extended beyond my own body: a loose corner of a pop-bottle label could drive me to distraction. I cursed drink manufacturers who attached their labels firmly with that gummy adhesive that never seemed to come fully clean. An easy, pull-away wrapper and the remaining bottle, label-less and anonymous, were enough to calm me for hours.

Mostly though, and to my parents’ disgust, I picked at myself. Doctors said it was stress, so my parents did their best to remove it. I was no longer required to do chores. All the better, for any time spent putting up dishes or groceries usually resulted in a cabinet full of unlabeled jars and cans.

Still, I picked. I picked and I scraped and I tore, sometimes using my teeth to grasp tiny shreds of skin or nail.

This year, for my birthday, my mother bought be a salon-quality nail manicure set, hoping to show me how to smooth and trim my nails in a more preferred and lady-like manner. I was delighted to learn of the tools’ ability to dredge up previously unseen rough spots, to snip and trim even those blemishes that my teeth couldn’t grip.

That evening I filed and filed, and trimmed and clipped. Hours later I felt, for the first time, my finger tips as smooth and clean as they had never been before. I held the red-stained cuticle stick between what was left of my thumb and index finger and marveled at the whiteness of my bone. I licked the blood off, and even with my sensitive tongue, couldn’t feel the slightest ridge.

Unbuttoning my jeans was a challenge, but still, I felt calm as I undressed for bed. I looked down at myself, wishing that I still had nerves in my fingers so I could feel the smooth skin. My nipples and navel were the only landmarks on the clean pink expanse.

I picked up the file again.


Copyright © 2006 by Amanda K. DeBord

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