– Opposable thumbs

The tips of the nails on my thumbs are always notched, never rounded. The padding around the nails is usually cracked and, in the winter when it’s dry, split and bleeding. Every day these useful digits are under pressure.

My thumbs

With them, I peel stickers off apples; hold tiny bits, like garlic cloves and jalapeños, as I mince them; scrape dried paint drops off the floor; pry open the tightly sealed container of a glucose test strips bottle, six times a day; dislodge nits from children’s scalps and hair and pinch them off; peel up the ends of tape from the roll; snip withered leaves and blooms off plants as I walk by them; puncture plastic bags of mulch or frozen french fries; press a rubber eraser down on the page; pick snarls out of thread; unknot shoelaces; unbutton and button my pants; buckle belts and Mary Jane shoe straps; unscrew the empty reservoir from my insulin pump; fish coins out of my wallet; adjust a slipped bra or camisole strap; floss; and more.

When I, occasionally, use my teeth as tools — to open something stuck, or to bite open a knot — I hear my mother’s voice in my head: “You’re going to crack a tooth!” No one, however, objects when I maltreat my thumbs. They’re designed for many tasks, for any task.

Emily, my sister, broke both her thumbs when she landed and keeled backwards after completing a running long jump during Field Day activities in 8th grade. I was in college at the time, and I remember that sinking feeling of sympathy when my mother called me and told me about Em’s accident, and that her hands would be casted for six weeks.

Imagine six weeks without the use of your thumbs.

Photograph by Jimmy.

3 thoughts on “– Opposable thumbs

  1. For weeks I tried to train my other fingers to “be thumbs.” In the 8th grade, our English teacher Mr. Laramee made us write in our journal daily, and I continued to do so even with my hands in casts. Although I am a chronic-tosser-purger, I believe I saved the Snoopy Covered journal as a reminder of how determined I was to get by without thumbs. To this day, if I run into junior high friends, I am given the Fonzi double thumbs-up and a “Haaa–eeeeee.”
    Mom-if you are reading this-please check my tub of memories for my Snoopy Journal – but NO snooping!

  2. Even though Leicester was a rare vacation, I remember when you broke those suckers.


    Did you give up being a synchomaid during that time?

    How is Liz?

  3. Emily, that’s so great that your 14-year-old mind thought to do that: train your fingers to be thumbs. I hope you saved that journal. You could write more about it. I want to!

    Bryan, I never saw Em in those casts — I kind of envy you that you did. Liz is great! Emily is still coaching synchro, so I guess you can say she never gave it up; she just occasionally took breaks from it.

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