Call it a tic.
There is destructive pain like breaking your fist against a wall. There is constructive pain like holding a heavy kettlebell above your head a beat or two longer than normal.
Pressing a bottle cap into the palm of my hand is neither of these.
It is a coping mechanism, an afterthought of anxiety, an involuntary habit that calms me. Like biting my nails.
A bottle cap pressed into the palm of my hand hurts a little, sure. But, on that smiley face doctor’s chart my pain only elicits a flat line at the mouth: no wince, no frown, no tears. Somewhere between an overenthusiastic high-five and burning myself on the oven.
I don’t carry bottle caps with me, but there always seems to be one in reach. With an unseen and effortless sleight of hand, a cast-off from someone’s IPA becomes my toy at a party. It’s an instant and clandestine way for me to deal with the discomforts of protracted social interaction. Of course, sometimes I just drink whiskey.
At home if I encounter a bottle cap, I generally I press it into my palm out of boredom. Sometimes I use one to quell that unnamed thing that starts as buzzing in the lungs but shortly makes the whole body shake. But mostly just boredom. It’s like one of those squishy stress balls only with sharper edges.
Each pointy ridge digs its mark, but I stop well ahead of breaking the skin. I just like the feeling, the sensation of hard metal denting soft tissue. The bottle cap is a spiny little friend that releases the pressure valve of cluttered thoughts. The indent it leaves behind looks like a star. The elasticity of my skin causes that star to vanish quickly, sometimes within a minute, usually within five.
When a bottle cap is unavailable, I sometimes use my thumb. But the fingernail leaves behind an inelegant crescent, which somehow seems more desperate.
A bottle cap pressed into the palm of my hand feels like distraction. It feels sharp and ecstatic and then dull. It feels ephemeral and transcendent.
And then it feels like I’m holding garbage.