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The Nose Knows

Beauty is, in some way, boring. Even if its concept changes through the ages … a beautiful object must always follow certain rules. A beautiful nose shouldn’t be longer than that or shorter than that, on the contrary an ugly nose can be as long as the one of Pinocchio, or as big as the trunk of an elephant, or like the beak of an eagle, and so ugliness is unpredictable and offers an infinite range of possibility.

—Umberto Eco

When I was around twelve, my family moved into a house that had two living rooms. Both had fireplaces. The house was incredibly popular because many could enjoy one of two rooms of gathered hospitality. Family and friends enjoyed libations and appetizers while us kids joined each other in bedrooms to play. I was a preteen, so I would hide in closets with my friend Darla, listening to adult gossip and jokes that were not for our tender ears.

In the room nearest our closet hiding place, Veryl, a friend of my parents, was talking to my mother in a rather loud voice. Most of us stopped what we were doing, because she could be heard all over the house.

“Where did Cheryl get that nose?” Veryl said. “She could be much more attractive without it.” The room was silent—everyone looking to see where I might be. I was still hiding so it was safe to talk. Some of my family pointed fingers at ancestors, namely my maternal great-grandmother. Others looked to my parents for their opinions, and neither really wanted responsibility. I watched them feel mortified, especially my dad. He’d always wanted his oldest daughter to be seen as beautiful as the actress he met while in the service. Her name was Cheryl. He figured the name would guarantee a pretty daughter. What he got, evidently, was a “could have been pretty” daughter with a big nose.

The nose was obviously a family disgrace. I stood next to Darla, in the closet, and my body felt as though it was wiring itself shut. I could feel myself turn hot with shame. In that one moment, I realized that what I thought I was (a vibrant, creative, and lovely girl) was a lie. I was helpless against the stigmatic beak that before that night had not been in my mind, ever. I was no longer the girl who kissed all the boys under the mistletoe tree in grade school, who got all the princess roles in school plays and was voted most popular in the second grade.

It had all been an illusion—a sham—and I stood apart from every person in that house and knew that I did not belong.

The purchase of the new house also resulted in my attending a new grade school. Although I was teacher’s pet to my old teacher, I was a source of derision to my new teacher, Mr. Floyd. He was unimpressed with me in many ways: reading my assignments and pointing out the errors of my thinking; chastising me on my inability to climb a rope; and when I proclaimed I wanted to be an entertainer, he said I’d be lucky to be a housewife.

Authorities have so much power. What they say to a preteen in the sixth grade can be a truth not easily erased. At the same time of life with Mr. Floyd, I also realized I wasn’t pretty.

From that time on, I was sure I was unworthy of what I wanted in life: to be successful, to have lots of friends, and to be happy. To survive, I began to imagine who I could portray and put on costumes of what I felt would make me appear worthy of belonging. I acted as closely to someone who “fit in,” hoping that no one would realize that I was an imposter.

I ran for Student Body President in the seventh grade, and I lost, just as I expected. I sang “Wayward Wind” with Judy Heinrichs in the school talent show and even though many came to me to praise my performance, I inwardly rejected their input and of course, stayed away from too much that might expose my true, untalented self.

In high school, I was lucky enough to snag a handsome boy to be my boyfriend. He too had a fragile self-image. He was a hood. He was a rebel. His fight against those in charge enlivened me.

I had a small group of friends, but I was not welcome into the gaggle of popular girls who were the cheerleaders, the school officers, etc. I stayed away to avoid rejection. I was again hurt by Larry Marr, who told me one day on the school bus that I’d never get dates because “of that nose.” I proved him wrong. I got a misfit, but I got lots of dates with that misfi

I was an amazing actress and was given so many accolades as the lead in school plays. I found that any time I could be someone who was not me, I played the part well. Any time I could do comedic pantomime, I won contests. I was the best when I had a script of a persona well versed in her role, not the wounded person who had no idea what her role could possibly be.

All of the rest of my life, I took this beak of mine and this unsure, frightened sixth grader within, and I found ways to perform for public approval.

In many ways I fell flat on my face but in many ways, as I found my path into adulthood and productive life, I picked myself up with my own hand tailored script that gave the illusion of skill and confidence. There were successes as I fine-tuned my well-planned persona, but there were also very painful times of failure and mortification as the inner me sabotaged any real possibility of happiness I wanted.

I would never climb that rope.

I would always look for more ways of using make up to deter attention to that protruding blob in the middle of my face.

My inner belief of not belonging was self-fulfilled many times. It was the strongest inner message I held within, and it always proved true.

The stress of all this resulted in warning signs of elevated cortisol and other signals that my authentic self was lost and desperate to be found. Who was I? What will my wounded child come up with next and how will I loosen from its grip on my soul? Once I had retired, I had no role to fulfill, although I tried very hard to make up some so that I could create my costuming and scripting. Nothing worked. I was flung into a world where I was confronted with myself, all of her, and did not know what that meant.

Slowly, through women’s groups and spiritual study, the sixth grader with the beak MPS met another part of me. The creative part. The loving part. The hopeful part. And I saw that there was a larger and more expansive being than the person who strove to be acceptable to the external critics for whom I’d performed. I slowly stopped hiding and agreed to lunches with people I admired. We actually got along, just by being ourselves,

Friends began to join my world in intimate and authentic ways. Pretty soon I felt open heartedness.

The sixth grader merged with the first grader in me, the one who realized she loved writing so very much, and I began to write again. Everything I choose to do was chosen because it made my heart sing, and I didn’t know my heart could actually sing.

Rather than marry a hood, I married a gentle man who loved animals and helped those who needed him. One day he challenged me to measure our noses. I was gratified and happy—his was bigger.

A soul friend reminded me that living authentically is to live in a state of “I Am.” “Especially,” she said, “when you end it with enough.

As a woman now in her seventies, my first grader, six grader and all of the pieces of me that have tried so hard to be who I came to this earth to be joined in joy that I’m whole now. No scripts. No performances. I don’t need the externals to define my worth. I recognize the imposter and I celebrate the real gal. It all works.

The same soul friend took a picture of me and I saw the difference. No pose, no preening. I smiled authentically into her camera. I can see it now.

I am enough.

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