Thursday, August 16, 2007

Nailing My Self-Esteem

The moment had come. After years of poor decisions and disappointing romance, I had a real date on a Friday night. A nice, attractive, funny, intelligent, gainfully employed man my age was taking me to dinner. I had not been on a real date in four years. After I hung up the phone, I commenced the preparations. In just one week I would have my coming out as a 30-something who dates. A dating debutante, if you will. Where to begin? Even in my darkest hour, I always managed to maintain my roots and get a healthy cut every 6-8 weeks. I had "these make my butt look good" jeans, strappy sandals, and fun dangly earrings. And then I looked down at my hands. After digging my way out of a dark and muddy depression, I looked down at my cuticles and found that all this clawing had made them ragged. What better way to usher in a new chapter of self-love than a manicure?

Feeling hard-as-nails a' la Sally Hanson, I decided to forgo the usual filing and polish and get a whole new set of nails. You know the kind: those clean, french manicures with perfectly straight tips and a tough acrylic finish. I called around for an appointment and found that the best salons were booked through the end of the month. At this point, I reverted back to the old Sherri. If the best required a wait, I would work my way down the list until I found someone who could give me what I wanted right away. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that my old "walk-in self-esteem" was driving my decisions until I found myself flipping through back issues of Hairstyle magazine at La'James School of Cosmetology. Suddenly, I felt as thought I was lying in sheets smelling of stale cigarettes when I'd booked a non-smoking room. I was not where I wanted to be.

My nail technician greeted me in the waiting room. "Come on back and let Tavita take care of you!" TaVita was a 45 year old divorcee with four children who specialized in airbrush nail art. Her own nails reached nearly 1/2 inch ("business length") and were adorned with delicate butterflies and a tiny spider on her pinky nail, complete with a web. Because it was my first visit, she offered to paint my own eight-legged friend on the nail of my choice, complimentary. My new, enlightened and self-loving brain wanted to say "No, thank you, I don't care for nail art," but I chickened out and told her I suffered from arachnophobia.

For the next hour, I listened to her life story, which included heart failure at 35 ("I died on the table three times, thank you Jesus, he brought me back!"), her boyfriend who didn't like her going out with her friends ("Man's 45 years old and act like he can't open a can of beans without me"), and her frustration that she has to get a license to practice what she's been doing for years ("Been doin' my cousins' nails since I was 16). Instead of sitting back and being pampered, I found myself counseling her, agreeing that it must be frustrating to have to pay for a license to practice what she already knew, but now she could be official, open her own business, and have an excuse to get out of the house (wink, wink). We also talked about her penchant for Burger King and I suggested that even "flame broiled" may not prevent heart disease.

As she painted French tips on my new acrylic nails with what I can only guess was a bottle of white-out left over from her days at Trend Business College, I realized that I was doing it again: Building a relationship with someone I barely knew, who had not asked me anything about myself, and hoping I could change her. I looked around the room at the other beauty students realizing their foil-wrapped and highlighted dreams, and knew I had settled once again. No one in that room knew who I really was! Tavita might have experienced near death by Whopper, but I was a survivor too! This morning in the salon was supposed to mark my debut as a new, long-wearing woman!

Tavita snapped me out of my reverie when she took my hand and said, "Come on, you sure you don't want a teeny little spider on your pinky?" I stood up and said, "No, Tavita, I don't want a spider on my pinky. It's just not my style." After fishing out enough bills to pay because my nails were too long to pull my credit card out of my wallet, I walked out the door, got in my car, fanned my hands out in front of me and burst into tears. Was I just destined to settle? Was my low self-esteem as stuck in my psyche as this acrylic was to my nail beds? And then, I did something I'd never done before when I was in the throes of despair: I called someone for help.

My sister Sara answered on the second ring. For those of you who don't know Sara, suffice it to say that she always knows what to do and has enough self-confidence and take no prisoners attitude for the both of us. If I wore those goofy rubber bracelets, mine would say "WWSD" What Would Sara Do? I explained my situation and, after she finished her raucous bout of laughter, she said, "Ok, here's what you do. You hang up the phone, dial 411 and ask the operator for the nearest nail salon, and then call me back when you get there." Ok, ok. This was a plan. I stood in front of "Modern Nails" and rang Sara. "Modern Nails? Are there Asian nail technicians? If there is someone whose name is Nguyen or Tran, go in." Anh Dung, the Vietnamese nail technician (whose name, incidentally, means "heroic"), greeted me with, "You need nails?" I sat down at his station and held my nails out for his inspection. I was ready to launch into a long explanation when he interrupted me, looked me in the eye, and said, "Where you get this?" I told him in a barely audible whisper, "La'James Beauty School" and he clicked his tongue and said, "Criminals." For the next 30 minutes, I was treated to an expert manicure with perfect acrylic french tips. I paid my $26.50 and called Sara to tell her it was a success, to which she replied, "Of course it was, dumb ass. Now don't ever settle for beauty school again."

At 7:30 on the dot, Mr. Real Date walked into the restaraunt. I reached out to shake his hand, praying he would notice my shiny new nails and good butt jeans. And then he did something that hadn't happened in a very long time. He looked me in the eye and said, "You look beautiful." Finally, I nailed it.