At first, it wasn’t about changing. It wasn’t about coping. It was about not drinking. Another hungover suicide attempt landed me in the psych ward, and I realized I couldn’t kick alcohol alone. So I went to meetings. I listened. I heard sober drunks say things like, “I try to do the next right thing. It’s nothing noble. It means making the bed. It means brushing my teeth. It means feeding the dog.” They told me to write gratitude lists. To forgive myself. To question my motives. To pray. They told me to get a sponsor. They told, and I did.
I found Charlotte.
Charlotte is old enough to be my mom. She has shoulder-length dreadlocks and straight, white teeth. She laughs a lot. She says “mmhmm,” with emphasis on the second syllable. She can pray like a preacher’s daughter and call your ex a motherfucker in the next breath. She’s heard my inventory of resentments, fears, debts, and sexual mistakes and hugged me afterwards.
In the beginning, her mantra was, “Honey, you’re okay.” I’d call her after fighting with my boyfriend and she’d say, “You’re okay.” I’d be pissed at my boss, ready to quit, and she’d say, “You’re okay.” I’d wake up anxious and she’d say, “You’re okay.” When that boyfriend left for good, I dialed her number and watched my face crumple in the mirror while I waited for her to say, “You’re okay.”
When depression left me gasping, fingers twitching toward knives, Charlotte would tell me to do my nails. I’d glare at her then—I want to die, and you’re giving me beauty tips?—but now, I get it. A D.I.Y. manicure is like hitting “reset” on a camera. It pulls me out of my head, refocuses my lens. As usual, Charlotte was right.
So tonight, as my brain rages, telling me I’m hopeless, broken, not worth it, I won’t binge on whiskey or reach for a razor. Instead, I will paint my nails.
I will sit on the bathroom floor and choose a shade of blue from a dozen different colors, from black to pink to brown.
I will push my cuticles back and sever them with a tiny, U-shaped blade.
I will draw the brush across my left index fingernail first and feel the coolness of wet polish. I will paint three coats of color then a topcoat, just like Glamour says.
I will hold my hands in front of my lips and blow.
I will sit in stillness until they dry, careful and silent. For fifteen minutes, I’ll be okay, just like Charlotte said.
And when I stand up again, fingers tipped sapphire, ocean, stormy sky, I will be changed. Not brand-new, but better than broken.
Emma Faesi Hudelson teaches writing at Butler University in Indianapolis. She lives in a house by the woods with three dogs, two cats, and one husband. Her work has found homes in Booth, BUST, Linden Avenue, The Manifest-Station, and others.