My employer asked me that question today. Practically anyone who’s ever happened to look at my hands asks me the same thing. When I got my finger tattoo, the artist asked me if I worked around acid, warning me that it would really mess up my tattoo were that the case.

The story is undramatic and weird in a sense, but it’s sort of been a running theme in my life. So I’ll tell you about it and then you won’t have to ask.

The things on my pinkies and pointer fingers are all calluses. I chew on my fingers. I suppose it’s a nervous habit, although I do it more then I’m deep in thought than nervous, per se. I have done this since I was five or so. Almost as long as I can remember.

I remember that my parents had to intervene to make me stop sucking my thumb, and then once, when I was kindergarten-ish age, we were watching something on television that scared me and I asked if I could have permission to suck my thumb just that once to calm myself down.

Somehow, I guess, that means to self-comfort turned into chewing on my outside fingers. This wasn’t a conscious choice, but I’m guessing that I picked those fingers because they’re the most easily accessible. It’s an odd thing, isn’t it? Does anyone else do it?

Every adult I can remember having any involvement in my life has tried to “make” me stop chewing my fingers. My Mema was one of the most ardent, calling me out about it before a table full of guests, probably trying to shame me out of it. That didn’t work.

Nor did the Thum that my parents applied liberally to my fingers when I was about late elementary/junior high aged. I would just chew through the burn and it would go away. (And hope I got all of that taken care of before I forgot that it was on and rubbed my eye with a pepper-stained finger.)

My first husband would remind me when he saw me to “Stop chewing your finger.”

This might have to do with my issues with authority as well as my need for efficiency, but it frustrates me to this day how much time was wasted by all of the probably thousands of “stop chewing your finger”s I have heard over the years. Novels could have been written. Encouragement given. Cancer cured. But it was so important for everyone to tell me to stop chewing my finger. I wonder why it was so important.

Is it because it’s strange? Or gross? Or destructive?

Why do people care if I do it?

I mean, I care. I don’t like the looks of the calluses on my fingers. I chew my fingers mindlessly and will often not even notice, until I realize that my finger is damp… and I don’t remember doing it. There has been one time in my life that I successfully stopped long enough for the calluses to heal. It was within the past year, and I was so happy about it… until a really stressful thing happened, and I started again. So perhaps it IS a nervous habit. Or maybe I just have to have so much emotional and mental energy free to concentrate on the “not.”

I also bite my nails. I can stop that for longer, but my nails get to a certain length and break off, and I hate catching my hair and scratching myself on scraggly nails, so I usually tire of the maintenance involved and give up on it.

Combined with the fact that I drink (most satisfactorily out of a straw) constantly, there is a pretty good case that I have an oral fixation.

So. If you happen to notice, you can have confidence that: 1) it’s not an acid burn, 2) it’s not a fungus, 3) it’s not contagious, and, unfortunately, 4) it’s probably not going anywhere.

What about you? Do you have anything you do that you don’t totally understand and would stop if it were enough of a priority for you to devote some serious attention to it? No? It must be just me…