I told my Mom the other day that I needed to get my nails done. It was cold and raining. I was (am) stressed and exhausted. My Lyme is acting up, finals are in the next two weeks, and I haven’t worked out since Thanksgiving. So, I went to the nail salon for ‘therapy.’ I tried doing my reading for school while Gita began my pedicure, but, as is true on most afternoons, started falling asleep as soon as my head hit the chair. I was in her hands. Getting your nails done is a funny thing. Some days, we do it to take care of overgrown cuticles or dry nail beds. Other times, we do it because we’re vain. And sometimes, we do it just to feel taken care of by someone with whom we have no obligation to other than gratuity. There are actually, for once, no strings attached. You can exhale.
Gita kept smiling at me behind her pink lipstick and a gold nose ring twice the size of mine. It wasn’t the type of smile that sometimes happens in a nail salon when the woman doing your nails says you’ve definitely been biting. It was genuine.
She asked if I was comfortable. Yes, I’m totally fine.
I didn’t look comfortable, was I sure? Yes.
Truthfully, this pedicure seat was extremely uncomfortable, but I didn’t bother to bother her with it. It was enough, having my feet soaked and rubbed and getting to just sit while New York got rained on outside the door.
I didn’t used to like getting my nails done. One of my best friends never understood when I didn’t want to go with her. It stressed me out before I got so ‘tired’—picking a color and sitting around and having to keep my hands still for so long. The other day, being touched where I ached was all I wanted.
Gita took my hands for a manicure, “You’re tired, aren’t you?”
“I’m exhausted,” I admitted.
“I see you doing work while you’re getting a pedicure. I used to be like that. Study and work. How often do you work?”
“I guess I work every day,” I told her, not really sure what else to say. I didn’t want to admit that I was just a student, not doing much of anything beyond class. I also didn’t want to talk about myself.
So, I got to know her. Gita used to work for the government in Nepal doing water supply and sanitation work. She had gotten the equivalent of a Master’s degree there, but she couldn’t manage to get one in New York. It was too difficult and too different from her home. She has a 13-year old daughter and an 8-year old son. She works in a nail salon, and she smiles more than 3 times per minute. Talking to her gave me something like energy, which I struggle for on a daily basis.
I came to New York to heal. To some, this is counterintuitive, but it’s close to home, the doctors I need, and now, I do call it home. I will always miss this apartment on East 10th. The heat never works and my landlord has cut me off because I locked myself inside too many times, but it’s the place I’ve come back to feeling broken, tired, stressed, sweaty, drunk, excited and happy for the last four months.
Last January marked the month with the most physical pain I have ever felt from Lyme disease—the near inability to get out of my bed and breathlessness walking to my car. I cried, a lot—thanks, Abbey, for always taking me to Taco Bell on those days, which undoubtedly made me feel worse, but better. I was physically down; I was mentally and emotionally completely absent. Thanks to my parents’ relentless commitment to help me, I’ve used New York to get help from amazing doctors and to work on myself. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve taken time for myself, I’ve thought about how deeply I care for the people in my life (there are too many good ones to count), and I’m so much better than I was. But I’m still tired.
What I’ve learned from New York and all of its crazy is that healing is tiring. Every day, things break us and we are forced to heal. A boy ignored my text, I ate shit walking down the street, and I can hardly get myself out of bed if I miss a dose of Lyme medications. Or, you’re Gita, working to support your kids in a place that hardly values how smart you are. You’re remembering Nepal. Things can feel bad, but they’re better than they were once upon a time. Even if something will seem trivial tomorrow, it affects you today. I am not so naïve that I ignore the fact that for me, it could be so much worse. I’m afforded the privilege to go to the nail salon, where a woman like Gita will take care of me for an hour, making me feel better in a way that is completely impersonal, yet not at all.
At the end of my nail appointment, she opened my umbrella for me and I went home filled with thoughts but ready for sleep. I don’t know what Gita goes home to, or how it breaks her or how, every day, she heals and she keeps going. Everyone in New York, and everywhere, has a battle. Every day. Even on our best days. I’ve never been so acutely aware of this as I have become in New York. I don’t know why four of my siblings, my Mom and I are fighting Lyme and why it most likely won’t be cured in my lifetime. I’ve been 3,000 miles away from my best friends at school for almost a year now. The time has been invaluable, but every day isn’t easy. Maybe Gita feels the same, but she still shows up to work and does her best and, best of all, is kind. We’re doing what we can with what we have—that should be enough.