I believe my hands are ugly. My fingers are not long and elegant and dainty like I always thought a young lady’s ought to be. No, they are short and fat, ending in short jagged unpolished nails. While my fingers are too stubby and indelicate, my hands in their entirety are too large. They are awkward—clumsy, and there is a big, embarrassing freckle in between the middle and ring fingers of my left hand. That said, those hands are my favorite body part.
They are the veteran soldiers of children’s games. My thumbs once waged heavy wars on those of my friends; my fists—metamorphosed rocks, paper, or scissors—have suffered many casualties.
I heard once that if you crack your knuckles when you are young, you will be arthritic when you are old. I will probably be arthritic when I am old.
They are tambourines at concerts, tissues in flu season, and post it notes every day.
There is a multicolored picture in the front of my anatomy class. It is fleshy peach with grotesque yellow lines that criss-cross and dash it like the highways on a map. There are blue rivers and red bypasses on it as well, and while I should be taking notes, I try to plot a course on the hand map with my eyes, following the blue as it winds over and under the red and the red as it becomes the yellow and the yellow as it fades back to red. I never reach a final destination on this map; the roads are too hard to navigate.
There is another poster in my anatomy class. It is black and white and it informs me that in each of my hands, there are twenty-nine bones, twenty-nine joints, 123 ligaments, thirty-four muscles, forty-eight nerves, and thirty arteries.
In a town called Ensenada, Mexico, I let the cool clear Pacific lap at these hands—tired and blistered after days of hammering roof tiles and sanding down drywall. In a town called Virginia Beach, Virginia, they turned to raisins as I floated like a buoy—carefree in the waters of the Atlantic.
They have been paper cut, bug bitten, dog licked. They are makeshift cages for fireflies, blindfolds, sling-shots, paint brushes, hair brushes, tooth brushes. Once, in a church recital they were my voice in song.
I don’t wear many ornamentations on my hands, mostly because it annoys me to have things clanking against my pen while I write, but you can always find a green bracelet on my left hand because I believe the ugliest hands, are those that act in violence.
These hands have fed the hungry, built houses for the homeless, held the lonely, loved unceasingly. They are restless.
They are ugly, and I love them because of this, not despite it. My master’s after all were the rough, callused, splintered hands of a carpenter. They are scarred deep where iron nails once pierced them. They were shaken by lepers and kissed by the poor. His hands cannot have been much to look at either, and this I believe: no student is greater than her teacher.