On The Nose
From my as yet unpublished story collection, "THE ADULTERER'S DAUGHTER" Edit Text


            My pride in being Jewish is as plain as the nose on my face. The nose on my face, however, is not actually mine.
            There, I've said it. I've come clean after nearly four decades. That's how long it's been since my nose was "done." Or should I say "done for"?
            My mother, bless her misguided soul, would have said "done for your own good." Maybe she was sadly right. Who knows how different my life might have been if I'd lived it with my nose intact?
            Occasionally, I wonder. I also shudder at the phoniness and self-loathing that I think plastic surgery often signifies. "I’ve got to be me!" crooned the late, great Sammy Davis Jr., one of the only people I know of who had the chutzpah to choose the double whammy of being both black and Jewish in America. Thanks to rhinoplasty, I’ve got to be someone else. Nobody knows what I'd give now to get my old nose back.

Me, at age 5: No nose is good nose.

            There were few pictures snapped of me during adolescence, so I'm not even sure what I'm missing. Judging from the few family photos that remain, at age 10, captured at my brother's bar mitzvah, I had a pert little knob of a nose, covered with a constellation of freckles.
            A year later, my parents separated, my father moving out for the first of many times. Right when I began to develop, our Kodak moments were over.

At age 9, pert-nosed at a pajama party.

                  I still remember the day, during the fall of eighth grade, that I dragged my mother out to buy me my first training bra, only to discover that I was no longer in training. But while maturing nicely above the equator, I'd also developed less welcome bulges further north. My nose had begun to enlarge, to far less popular approval. In my family, any unnatural growth, be it wart, mole, or major organ, was greeted by my father with the same merciless decree: "Have it off!"
                 By 15, I was fending off my parents' entreaties regularly. Why, they asked, should I live with such obvious and distracting imperfection? They wanted me to have my nose "fixed."Why fix it, I'd reply, if it wasn't broke? I could smell just fine.
            And so I proceeded to hold my colossal nozzle high, until the "Ken and Christine" incident.
            "Ken," as I’ll call him, was a slightly older boy on whom I had a long-term crush. "Christine" was a "friend" of mine.
            She was brainy, maybe even brilliant, but keenly lacking in the heart department. She didn't seem to have many deep feelings of her own, so she would sometimes appropriate mine. Whenever Christine detected that I had some interest in a boy, she'd vie for his affections. Unfortunately, she possessed two commodities that gave her a distinct edge over me in competing for the attention of any high school boy: blond hair and blue eyes. One fetching smile from her flashed in his direction, and I could kiss my would-be Sir Galahad good-bye.

Tallis, anyone? At my brother's bar mitzvah, when I was 10, I still had a cute little nob of a nose.

                I naively let this happen to me time and time again. She deliberately stole away Dan Guthrie, a bright, sardonic boy with blonde Brillo-like curls who was nearly the love of my life until he moved away in tenth grade. She appropriated the affections of Tommy Fitzgibbon, a soft-spoken sophomore who once got up the nerve to kiss me in the biology lab. But when Christine dared to make a play for Ken, it was more than I could bear.
            Ken, a close friend of my brother’s, was also a stellar student in our high school. With a fact-packed mind like an encyclopedia, his main claim to fame was having been the star contestant among the brainiacs that our high school sent to compete on the TV game show It’s Academic, an adolescent precursor to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
           In fact, years later, as an adult, his astonishing treasure trove of trivial knowledge would one day lead him to score heavily when he appeared as a contestant on Jeopardy! But at the time all of this happened, he was an awkward, studious, nerdy but good-natured teenager. In other words, just my type.
            Ken had never demonstrated any perceptible interest in my existence until he chose to sit next to me on the school bus one spring afternoon and chat all the way home. Shy although I was, I couldn't mistake the way his eyes glistened, perhaps with budding passion. Foolishly, I later phoned some of my friends to confer about the incident in excruciating detail and confide my excitement about it. Overnight, word reached Christine.
            She sidled up to Ken the next day in study hall. By dismissal time, he had asked her out. The news sent me racing to my bedroom after school in a torrential flood of tears. Completely crushed, I sobbed for hours. Rather than try to console me, my parents pounced while I was down for the count.
            Christine had won, they said, because she had something far more precious than straight blond hair: a small, straight nose. My hideous hump was standing squarely (make that pendulously) between me and any hope of true love. Until I agreed to shed the shnoz, I was doomed to a lovelorn life.
            At the tender age of 16, my sense of self-worth was on shaky enough ground. I had always been painfully aware that I was not particularly pretty. Caught in the throes of adolescent rejection – the ultimate in vulnerability – I believed every word that they said.

When I was 15, my nose became a topic of growing concern... to my parents.

                The surgery was performed almost immediately, during spring break. I didn't dare tell my friends until after I had woken up from the anesthesia. Had I divulged my plans in advance, they might easily have managed to dissuade me. By the time I told them, it was too late.
            I’m still amazed to recall that I chose to attend a good friend’s birthday party a few days later, boldly facing both boys and girls with the skin beneath my eyes noticeably black and blue from the surgery, and my swollen nose still swathed in bandages. Sick of solitary confinement, I was dying to see people my own age and reluctant to miss the occasion. Besides, I assumed that everyone would figure out what I had done soon enough anyway, when I returned to school mysteriously transformed.
            By the time the bandages did come off, Christine had – no surprise – already tossed Ken aside. His irresistible charms were apparently not sufficient to outlast a single date with her. But I can’t say that I truly blamed her. In light of everything that had happened, I had abruptly recovered from my former infatuation myself. In its place I developed an unshakable feeling of resentment toward him that lingered for years. Of course, I don’t hold him morally responsible for considering another girl more attractive than he found me. But neither could I help feeling that he played a starring role, however unwittingly, in changing my face and my fate.

My brother's nose was not exactly petite, either, but somehow the issue never came up about him.

                Although my appearance was subtly altered from that day forth, my social life underwent no instant change. But that’s only human nature. After people are used to seeing you a certain way for years, I don’t believe they’re capable of changing their perception of you. I don’t think you’re capable of changing your perception of yourself, either. It’s as though you might lose 50 pounds, but if you were on the chubby side when you were young, then chubbiness is what you, and they, still continue to see.
            My love life did improve dramatically, though, as soon as I reached college. I couldn’t understand it at first, and kept looking behind me to try to figure out at what or whom a boy was really staring. During freshman year alone, I dated, among others, a co-captain of the football team, a DJ on the campus radio station and the photo editor at the school newspaper. But that probably had less to do with my newly tapered nose than other inversely proportional changes. By then, you see, I had developed two anatomical commodities of my own which made me difficult to compete with for the attention of almost any college boy.

At 15, a year before the surgery. Nobody knows what I'd give now to have my old nose back.

            Meanwhile, I've remained embarrassed about having had the surgery all my life. Once, when I was in my early 20s, my good friend Suzanne, who is infamous for her bluntness and candor, had the nerve to ask me if I'd had "a nose job." Although I knew the answer was probably unmistakable, I vigorously denied it. This query was asked and answered many times, always the same way.
            Evidently, Pinocchio syndrome doesn’t run in my family, for my repeated falsehoods failed to make my abbreviated nose grow back.
            I'm still ashamed to this day, although no longer to the point of needing to lie. How sad it is to be surgically altered rather than learn to take pride in who you are or how you look. And how cruel it seems for anyone to tell a teenager, whose confidence hangs by a gossamer thread, that she can only become lovable with the aid of a cosmetic procedure.
             I'm not saying this to punish my parents -- to malign either my late mother or father. They must have genuinely believed that they were acting in my best interests at the time. I can't imagine, though, that I will ever consider such extreme measures to be in the best interests of my daughter. Or anyone else's daughter. Or, for that matter, my son.
            This leads me to an interesting question.
            Next to my older brother's whopper of a snout, mine was a mere Whopper Junior. Why, I eventually asked my mother, wasn't his nose ever altered, too?
            "No comment," she replied, with an uncomfortable laugh. Neither was she forthcoming on another perplexing area: Why, when my parents were harping incessantly about the need for me to marry a fellow Jew, did they need to make me look less Jewish?
            For isn't that, in essence, what Jews having nose jobs is all about? (Or, as my above-mentioned, extremely direct friend Suzanne insists, isn't it about Jewish men lusting after Gentile women – fine-featured shiksa goddesses?)
            This, though, is what I really want explained: I went on to marry a nice Jewish man. Meanwhile, my brother, with his muzzle intact, ended up marrying a Catholic. Ironic? Yes. Mere chance? Heaven nose. 
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