Monday, August 8, 2016

The Great Nose Chop of 1983

I have an older sister who looks nothing like me. The only resemblance is the nose, and that isn't from our DNA: it's because we had the same plastic surgeon.

I was born with what I'd call an average nose; it didn't call attention to itself and I never thought twice about it unless I had to sneeze. My sister, on the other hand, was born with a pretty face that never got noticed because her nose was large, with a bump, and it commanded all the attention. People noticed her nose and then moved on without looking any further.

Some people can have an unusual nose or even a big one and they do just fine. For my sister, it was a misery. When she was seventeen my parents got her a nose job and she was thrilled with the results. She started having dates, smiled more in pictures, and my parents were convinced they'd done the right thing. In my sister's case, I think they did.

Then something weird happened. For some reason, my parents, neither of whom had a big nose, decided they wanted to be thrilled too and so they both went in and got nose jobs. They downplayed the black eyes and plaster casts and acted like the family had found a new togetherness activity.

Then they looked at me. They seemed to be looking at my nose, looking at it straight on, looking at it sideways, and muttering to each other. I knew I needed to worry.

They began trying to convince me I should get my nose fixed too.

"But I don't have a big nose," I told them.

"No, but it's a little crooked," they told me.

"I don't think it is," I said.

"Just a little," they said.

I was 12. I needed little convincing that looks were everything. That was how I ended up in the plastic surgeon's office. He disappointed my mother by saying I should wait until I was fifteen to have the procedure. I was relieved. It would give them three years to forget the idea.

They didn't. Right after my fifteenth birthday, my mom made the appointment. She assured me the recovery was nothing but I was worried: she'd had several years to forget what it was actually like.

The surgeon's staff wore fuschia colored scrubs. That's all I remember. The color of them had made my mom terrifically impressed, as if ordinary doctors wore the blue ones and really gifted ones chose daring colors.

My next clear memory is of sitting in bed, propped up with pillows so I wouldn't choke.
I had a plaster cast on my nose and both my eyes were ringed with purple bruises and were swollen nearly shut. From my bed I squinted out at the world and tried to remember this would make me pretty. Eating or drinking was very hard because I couldn't breathe through my nose: I had to hold my breath to swallow and was scared each time I did.

My mother got out the Polaroid and took several pictures so I'd know what I looked like. They made me gasp. The Me in the photos looked like the victim of a Mafia beating. I wondered why she had taken pictures we'd never be able to show anyone.

After a few days, I felt better and could get in and out of bed without help. That's when I started having the next phase of recovery which was suddenly needing to run to the bathroom and stand over the toilet as dual streams of blood violently rushed out of my nostrils. My mother called the doctor and he said it was normal so we all tried to pretend like it was.

Then weird long things the size of earthworms started coming out of my nose. The doctor said that was just the packing and my mother saved them in a Tupperware container. At my post-op appointment she asked him if he wanted to see them and he made a face and said No.

After a week the cast was off and the black and blue marks were almost gone. My friends Jean and Rosalyn came over to cheer me up and look at my new nose. They took one look at me, gasped, exchanged a look, and then looked back at me again.

"Jesus," Rosalyn said. She was never one to mince words. "What the hell did your parents have them DO to you?"

"It looks the same," Jean added. "It looks exactly the same."

"It does," Rosalyn agreed.

"Shut up," I told them.

But they had limited powers of shutting up. They began discussing my nose with each other, right in front of me as if I wasn't there. How it looked exactly the same. How they didn't understand why I'd go through all that for nothing. How they'd never get nose jobs. How even if they'd ever thought of getting nose jobs, this would convince them it was torture and no one should get one.

"Shut UP," I told them. "You're SUPPOSED to be cheering me up."

"Oh yeah," Rosalyn said.

Then they both fell silent, searching for anything else to talk about.

"School is really dumb, same as usual," Jean offered.

"Yeah," Rosalyn agreed.

Then they were both silent again as they stared at my nose.

After that, life went back to normal. My sister had her new nose and my parents and I all had refurbished noses that looked almost identical to the ones we began with.

About six months later Rosalyn and I were sitting at the kitchen table as my mom made dinner. Rosalyn mentioned plastic surgery and all the different things that could be altered.

I saw my mother pause in her cooking and I looked at my friend. I put my finger to my lips and silently told her SHH.

And for once, she actually did.

Amie Ryan is the author of Green Shoes Mean I Love You, Starfish On Thursday, and Marilyn: Loved By You, available at

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