I have two perfect hands, and they are a goddamn mess. I love them. They remind me to be amazed by this human body.

I didn’t always know to love them. My family always made fun of them, so my friends and I did too. They are thick and padded, just like paws. Too big to hold boys’ hands, too squishy to wear pretty rings, and too ugly to wear bright nail polish. I’ve never been able to keep dirt from getting under my nails so I clip them so short it hurts; but the dirt just goes deeper.

They’ve looked just like my grandmother’s since I was a little girl. But even on her deathbed, Thelma had perfectly manicured, long, hot pink nails. She would hold my hands and examine them next to hers in wonder. I thought she must have been offended that I kept them such a mess.

I remember holding just my grandfather’s index finger back when my whole hand fit around it. My mom called them my patty cake hands. One day they would do all the things I’ll never tell my mother, to people I barely knew. It’s strange looking at old photos of those innocent hands and I wonder if they’re the same hands at all.

My meditative movement teacher led me on a path to loving these hands, and maybe one day I’ll love all of myself. He compares them to octopi and encourages us to see and feel them as if for the first time. He playfully calls them “pentapi” - what a wonder it is to embody these magical five-legged creatures.

It fascinates me the way humans identify with our hands in a way unlike any other body part. I’ve held an hours-old godson in them, and I’ve breathed with them the last exhale of a dog that loved me from birth. I’ve held the ocean while sand ran through my fingers, and I’ve willed my tremors away for a yellow swallowtail to trust them just for a moment.

My hands stay covered in paint and glue and dirt and clay. They are dry from being scrubbed with a rough sponge and turpentine. My chewed-to-shreds cuticles, and a scab where my writing-callus belongs are a dead give away of my anxiety. Lately I keep them protected with too many band aids, and every kind of cream and salve and ointment - but the oil painted dirty band-aids seem grosser than scabs, and the cream makes it hard to control a pen or paintbrush.

I have accepted that these hands are meant to be a goddamn mess. If hands say as much about a person as I think they do, I am proud as hell of these dirty paws.

Richmond, VA, USA. Annie Ward is an artist and new-born writer. She is learning to make art as confidently with words as with paint.