Sunday, July 1, 2012
I panicked in the nail salon. My girls had begged me for months to take them and I had finally relented. Nervous and not knowing what to do I took them to the young receptionist, put my hands on their heads and said, "two children's manicures please". She motioned for them to pick out the color they wanted and then to each have a seat. I fixed a fake smile and pretended to be interested as I helped them choose their colors. Relieved when my part was over I sat down to wait. The chemical smell was overpowering and stung the inside of my nose, the back of my throat and I was sure I could feel it singeing my brain, right behind my temples. I imagined it would give me cancer if I stayed too long and felt immediate pity for the women who worked there. I glanced around and saw them as some sort of overlooked, socially accepted slave trade and I'm pretty sure it showed on my face. Overworked and underpaid, managed by some fat cat man who, for this particular salon, happend to be on vacation for the next "month or so", I overheard the receptionist tell someone who walked in. I saw the polish on the wall and all the money in the drawer that pays for its application as going to fund his lavish vacation to his homeland and my stomach knotted even tighter. I texted my husband for comfort. No response. I texted a friend to lift me from my spiral of misery. She called. Her cackle of laughter filled my ear and I had to step outside so no one could hear what I was about to say. (Sweet relief from that god-awful smell!)
"That is so funny!" she said. "What the hell are you doing in a nail salon?" I filled her in on the details, how I felt I was depriving the girls of some girl-thing I was supposed to allow them to participate in and how if I didn't I'd end up screwing them up somehow but that I wanted no part of it. "I bet if you stuck your feet in that tub and had a really good pedicure you'd enjoy it," she said.
"No way, no how. No one's messing with my feet, no thank you. But now I know what to get you for Christmas." What I hadn't told her and what had set my heart to racing and made me feel the most like running out of the place in a full sprint screaming wasn't just the manicure, the thought of the sweat-shop-like stereotype I'd imagined (whether that's true or not), the focus on vanity and creating a facade, it was all of those things combined plus one more. After a few minutes of sitting and waiting a second receptionist walked in, the shift relief for the first. The two girls stood uncomfortably close, face to face over the podium at the front in a soft, friendly, sweet conversation. They were young, teenagers, pretty and obviously good friends, perhaps even sisters or cousins. I could feel their bond from where I sat. It was pure, innocent and uninhibited, like watching music. I squirmed in my seat. Fire went up my back and into my cheeks. Intimacy such as that between two females was so foreign and unnerving that I was on the one hand envious and the other terrified. The past immediately reached forward through space and time to taunt me and I was ashamed about all I hadn't learned. The phone had rung at just the right time, my easy escape and ironically it was my old friend who knows practically everything about me. Fortunately I lived through the experience and my daughters had a wonderful time except for one thing. As we walked through the parking lot to leave my youngest asked, "Mommy? Why didn't you get your nails done? Next time you have to."