My hands crack in the winter. More specifically, my thumbs crack wide open. Sometimes they’ll bleed, but usually it just hurts like hell. This year it was my right hand that got the worst of it. And actually, this winter wasn’t so bad, probably because the winter was so mild. Or perhaps because I found this cream, O’Keeffe’s Working Hands, at Grove Pharmacy this year. Who knows.
When I was really young, it was my feet. They would crack and split and my dad would rub in Nivea while I writhed in pain. I remember pulling out tiny, aching sock threads from the healing cracks between my toes. I enjoyed the strange combination of pain and accomplishment, like removing an ingrown hair that has lain coiled and waiting for my frustration to prompt an emergency attack.
I know why my hands are so dry, and I know why my thumbs crack and bleed. It’s the dishes. It’s the dishes, and it’s my refusal to wear the rubber gloves I buy and then neglect. I love the sound and the feel of water gushing out of the faucet. And moving a sponge around a pan or plate or inside a plastic Toy Story cup is relaxing for me. With the gloves on, it becomes an awkward chore to be put off and avoided, so I trade smooth hands and painless thumbs for brief moments of connection to water and a chance to block out everything but the rhythmic, cleansing turns around a crusty soup bowl or caked-on pasta plate.
Over a sink of dirty dishes, usually as water runs over my hands and wrists, I’ve sobbed, grumbled, argued, sniffled, and pulled myself together. It’s a form of therapy to perform a useful but mundane and repetitive task. It’s time during which I can’t hear much of what’s going on around me, and it’s an act that both literally and metaphorically cleanses me. Scrubbing the dishes, washing the day’s sustenance from our plates, reminds me where I am and where I’ve been. And in the same way, feeling the pain in my (posable) thumbs – knowing I have chosen to allow the skin to break open, to expose it to the world – makes me feel real and alive and human.