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My legs dangled high above the ground as I sat next to my mom on the train. As I fidgeted the way little children do, my mother spoke to me. “You have plump fingers, not thin and bony like mine.” I frowned at her as she held my then tiny hands in hers. She continued, “This is a very good thing. Round, full hands like yours do not do hard work. They are made to be pampered.” I doubtfully glared at my digits. She laughed and proceeded to tickle me silly with her long-fingered, sandpapery hands. Though time has proven my mother right about most everything else, I remain unconvinced about that one claim. Despite their appearance, my hands are not for show. They, like my eyes and mind, are my tools, but unlike the latter two, they showcase who I am to anyone who cares to look.
From a distance, my hands resemble those of a little girl. They fit the smallest-sized gloves and my fingers can’t stretch wide enough to palm a grapefruit. Mostly, people only notice my hands when I paint my nails. On special days, they are decked in bright colors and dramatic patterns to fit my mood. Sometimes those days are holidays, but more often, those days are special because of competitions or major tests. On nights when I stay up late studying, I keep myself alert for that extra hour by painting my nails between page turns. One nail to four pages, forty pages to one coat, read until the last layer is dry, and then I can go to bed. The next day, the flashing colors give me an extra boost of courage by reminding me of the time I’ve committed.
Closer inspection of my hands reveals permanent marks that record my bouts of enthusiasm. There’s a pale ragged scar along the left thumb where a craft knife slipped after cutting through a stubborn stick of balsawood, and my left pinky doesn’t straighten all the way, a memento of my junior high basketball days. The mistakes and injuries aside, my right hand also bears the brunt of fencing. The side of the index finger is one large callus from practicing parries, and there are layered dark scars just a centimeter away where my glove and weapon grinded until the skin broke.
However, most marks are transitory. When I took AP Chemistry last year, stains and burns from one lab never had time to fade before the next one earned me more. After an afternoon painstakingly building balsawood bridges or endurance flight planes, the tips of all ten of my digits are lightly coated with a flaky layer of blood and superglue, testament to the hot, red pain of glue burns and knife cuts.
My hands broadcast my moods and feelings when they are in motion,. When I’m relaxed, they tap softly to a cheerful beat, but when I’m solving a problem, they twirl pens or pencils, keeping rhythm with my hurried thoughts. When they adjust a microscope or paint a poster, they move fluidly, reflecting my own confidence, but when I feel driven — be it during a fencing bout, buzzer competition, or game of Rockband — they are tense and sometimes move impossibly fast. At their most expressive, they deftly draw diagrams in the air as I energetically explain and describe concepts, but they can also be very steady when I reach out to comfort a friend.
To remember who I am, all I have to do is hold my palms out in front of me. Some things about me, like the size of my hands, I can’t change, but when I reach out for a handshake that will engulf mine, I still keep my grip firm. When I try too hard (and even sometimes when I don’t), I get myself hurt, but I’m learning to smile and move on. My hands, like me, are unassuming from a distance and imperfect at close range, but the important thing is that they are always very capable. When I feel their underlying strength and versatility, I remember that my hands are important to me not because of what they look like, but because of what they’ve done, what they can do, and what they will learn to do in the years to come.
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