I was scrubbing my hands after finishing some grub work in the yard the other day when I noticed a white dot in the middle of my right index fingernail. I was immediately awash in guilt.
What was it? I asked myself. When did it happen? Who will notice it, and what will I tell them?
What I was trying to remember was the lie I had told, the blatant untruth that caused that white dot to appear on my nail. Lies, of course, were the cause of white spots on fingernails. Everyone knew that.
I was probably 5 years old and for several weeks had been stretching my belligerent young wings in that patented and infuriating way known only to boys. My mother had been reduced to tears and my father had reached a level of anger that caused his temples to throb.
I stood in the doorway, hands on hips and lower lip jutting forth, obviously confusing defiance for independence, when he crooked his finger and beckoned me to come. Slowly, I moved forward with dead certainty that when I got there I would be upended and paddled into a painful state of remorse.
Instead, to my surprise, he took hold of my hands and looked at my fingernails. Then he let out a deep sigh and slowly shook his head.
“It’s worse than I thought,” he said sadly.
“What is?” I asked, a visible tremor in my voice.
“This,” he said, brandishing my hands. “Look at those fingernails. Look at all those white dots. How many are there?” I narrowed my eyes and began to count. I got as far as nine but couldn’t remember what came next.
“Each one of those white dots is a lie you’ve told your mother,” he said. “And this one,” he said, pointing to a particularly large one, “was a really bad lie.” He then said that before he could decide on my punishment, I had to account for each of my lies.
Slowly, I ticked off each one. Yes, I had taken the last cookie. Yes, I had stolen my brother’s piece of candy. And, oh yeah, it wasn’t the dog that broke the vase. For punishment, I had to promise to tell the truth until all of those white dots had grown out and were gone. Mortified, I spent the next month keeping my hands in my pockets and being scrupulously truthful.
Science would like us to believe those white dots are called leukonychia and are caused by zinc or calcium deficiency.
Nice try science. But we both know the real cause.