My nails are vivid chartreuse, hand-selected by a friend with my only wish being that it be something “cool”. When I originally saw the color my mind immediately went to “Shrek at the nail salon” but the more I stared at the strange mix of green and yellow, the more it grew on me. The urge to lacquer my nails, to decorate the body has been there since I realized that I could get a reaction from it. Once I sequestered a deep blue tube of nail polish from my mother’s top shelf and gave myself the manicure I thought I deserved. When my mother saw her ten-year-old son waltzing around with sapphire nails she put a stop to it and made me remove them at once. I tried to say that my younger sister had done the deed but she knew as well as I did that I was the one who tried to cajole my sister into being my life-size Barbie doll. The next time my nails were touched was when I accompanied a friend to get her mani-pedi before the senior prom. She thought it’d be funny if I joined in on the primping, so she paid for me to receive the service as well. I walked out with buffed nails and a clear coat, it wasn’t obvious, but it was present and in plain sight, an invisible longing. I felt like I had successfully gamed the system, the one that my mother had enforced in the first place.
The next time I touched my nails was in New York City while attending a Parsons summer program. I was a virgin to the city, and when I first saw the skyline from the jersey turnpike, I had to stifle a gasp. My roommate and I were flitting our way around Urban Outfitters, making fun of clothes and prices, when I noticed a sparkle from the corner of my eye. It was glitter nail polish, five dollars, by the in house brand. I took the tester and slowly painted one, then two fingers with my right hand. After observing my surroundings, I used the same hand to slip the polish into my bag. When I got back to the dorm room I immediately locked myself in the bathroom to apply the polish with full force. One coat then two. Big chunks of glitter caught the fluorescent lights, reflecting back at me a person I didn’t know could exist. This person was shinier than I was, fitting in better at the nightclubs I snuck into, could flick a cigarette with ease. The glitter would catch drops from air conditioners falling on the garment district pavement, reminding me of who I could be. When I left the city on a greyhound a week later I was crying, the glitter couldn’t exist outside of this place. In the glare of the highway the glitter mocked me, it reminded me of what I was loosing, what I might never have again.
A year crawled by slowly, but eventually, I clawed my way back to my glossy city under the guise of interning. I proceeded to build my kingdom, making sure it was tough as nails, this time it would be forever. I didn’t sleep because the city was always the brightest at night, and I would be too. I went from pregame to bar to china chalet to abandoned building to rooftop to stumbling through Chinatown at seven am, still running off the tequila-sodas and Adderal. I was determined to be apart of the shine, no matter how often I fell asleep in the office bathroom. Soon enough I found a shiny boy that fit nicely into the surrounding glitz. Every night was spent going to a new place, meeting new people, only stopping to inhale more white crystal. I burned the brightest, my love was the brightest, and I burned fast. I clocked in fifteen miles a day running around to designers and showrooms, my ribs countable when he climbed on top of me. I burned until the final rainstorm snuffed me out, the streets flooding my shoes and socks as I shoved the last suitcase into the taxi. I kept looking back, waiting for him to look at me through the glass, to see the shine that was leaving him, but he didn’t meet my gaze. My nails were chipped and dull, the clouds over LaGuardia heavy and menacing. As we ascended I sunk, drowning in a pool of my own making. I couldn’t see a thing, I couldn’t make out the last of my sparkly city as I left, everything wet and salty.
Saltwater met me with open arms and I was only too happy to sink into something besides myself. I felt so far away from my kingdom come, where I had been held in the arms of my beloved, buoyed by my love. This water was warm but empty, here I didn’t shine, I was see-through. As I closed my eyes I let myself sink beneath the surface, I opened my mouth to let the saltwater in, to let the shine go, to let him go, to let myself be absolutely transparent again. I still wear glitter nail polish but have also taken to hot pinks, sunset oranges, seafoam greens, and chartreuse as well. I’m not as concerned with being enveloped in glitter, and I wear it more casually now, it doesn’t swallow me whole like it used to. I used to be afraid that I would always be chasing that sparkle, that I could never get it back once it was lost. It took leaving to know that I could return, to know that it’ll always be there waiting for me, next to the other polishes on the shelf.