Caitlin walked into the house on Office Tuesday. She’s my bookkeeper, MMB manager, strategic planning partner, and my daughter. I don’t know if I even greeted her before I said, “Oh my gosh, you look just like me when I was in college.” I called for Russ. “Honey if you want to know what I looked like in 1971, this is it.”
“Like what specifically?” he asked.
“It’s the flared jeans, the boots, the tweed jacket, the hobo bag, the hair past the shoulders and parted nearly in the middle, the eyebrows, the long eyelashes, the round bootie. This was me,” I said.
Every time I turned to look at her I saw myself. Except for one thing. She doesn’t have a crooked nose. For all the softball she played in grade school, including pitching seven extra innings in a championship game that left the palms of my hands black and blue (I didn’t know hard clapping could bruise your palms), not one ball landed on her nose. (Yes, they won.)
I wasn’t as lucky. I also wasn’t an athlete.
Growing up in the spring months in Hastings, North Dakota we’d play softball during recess. I think we were around nine-years-old. My twin brother Brent was a hot shot player so he got the good positions like first baseman and pitcher. Me? I was way out in center field, just me and the crickets. I remember the blue skies the most. I guess I spent a lot of time looking up. One time I was pulled out of my reverie when I heard shouting.
“Brenda, Brenda, Brenda! Ball coming!”
I saw that fat softball heading my way. I froze. I didn’t run for the ball. I didn’t have the glove in front of my face. When it hit my nose I fell to the ground. I was dizzy with pain. Blood was getting all over my dress. Someone ran to get Mrs. Foster who came onto the field with a wet towel in her hands. The game ended and my mom was called.
There was no rushing to the hospital. It was far away. We were farm kids. It was probably just a nosebleed.
My pride was bruised and my nose was crooked
My nose wasn’t shattered but after a few days when the pain subsided, what I saw when I looked in the bathroom mirror was a crooked nose.
I didn’t talk about it, but I did obsess over it. I hardly understood what plastic surgery was but I started saving my pennies (literally) so when I got older I could have surgery to make my nose straight again. Whenever I looked in the mirror, I only saw a crooked nose. I didn’t see brown eyes, wavy hair, lips, ears, or eyebrows.
So I had two problems. I was terrified of softball and wouldn’t join the other kids when they played. Instead, I’d run to the monkey bars and play by myself. My other problem was that I was sure no boy would ever pay attention to me because I had a crooked nose.
My twin brother cured one of my problems
We were in high school when we were living in West Fargo. We had a huge front yard there on Sheyenne Street. It was perfect for playing co-ed softball or touch football games. I so wanted to play. Brent felt confident that he could cure me of my softball phobia.
He spent hours pitching softballs to me in the yard.
I couldn’t hit a single ball. With every easy pitch he tossed, I kept wanting to duck. Finally, he said, “Switch the bat to your left hand. Try hitting it with your left.”
He tossed the next underhand pitch. I hit it. “Yay!!!” he said, waving his arms in the air. He tossed the next pitch. I hit it again, hard.
He tossed me eighteen more pitches and I hit every single one. I was practically cured!
But I still felt bad about my nose.
I got a new perspective in college
I started college in the winter semester. Imagine me dressed exactly like Caitlin and I’m trying to find the math building for the first time on the North Dakota State University campus. I’m signed up for Advanced Allegra. I get up to the second floor, walk into room 210, and the class is nearly full. I find a seat in the fourth row back near the tall wood-framed windows looking out over the walking paths that lead to the science, humanities, and language arts buildings.
Every day I take the same seat in the fourth row. And every day the same young man sits to my right. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we don’t. I’m aware of every detail about him; his soft-looking honey-brown hair, his blue eyes that seem to twinkle, and his steady voice–not too loud, not too soft, just right.
One day he asks me if I know about this coffee shop that’s opened in the basement of a building in Moorhead. He offers to take me there. The tables are made from empty wooden spools that once held wire that utility companies use. Peanut shells are all over the floor. Young people with guitars come up to the front and sing folk songs. It’s pretty far out!
Over the coming weeks, we see each other in class, go listen to music on occasion, and hang out at the cafeteria on campus as study partners when big tests come rolling around. We’re great math students. We hardly need to study but it’s wonderful having an excuse to look into his blue eyes.
Our math teacher surprises us on the last day of the semester. Gary and I have our test scores in our hands when the teacher looks at us, smiles and says, “I think I’ve watched two people fall in love in this class. I wish the best for you two.”
We keep seeing each other once the class is over. We sit in his truck and he puts in a cassette and says, “Have you heard of this guy Elton John? I think you’re going to like this!” I do. I pretty much like everything that involves being with him.
I ask him over to my parent’s house. I want him to meet them. As he’s leaving we stand outside under the light of the front porch. His face is close to mine when he reminds me that he loves me. And then he says, “And I really love your nose.”
Tears come stinging into my eyes. Is he being cruel? Is he making fun of me? My feelings about my nose are so tender, so private. He doesn’t know how I’ve saved money to get it fixed one day.
I feel raw and exposed.
But when I look at him I can tell my reaction has hurt him. He means no harm.
“But it’s crooked!” I protest.
“But I love it. It’s different. It makes you unique and I love that about you,” he says. “It’s perfect!”
Suddenly it’s okay, it’s all okay. I have a crooked nose. Someone loves me in spite of this flaw. I can stop saving for surgery.
Through my adult eyes, I see things more clearly
Gary and I were romantic for a couple of years and then I left North Dakota and moved to California. I’m not one to stay friends with past boyfriends. Several years ago when he started sending me friend requests on Facebook, I ignored them.
One day an online greeting card came into my email inbox. It was from Gary. My heart fluttered. I opened it. It had hearts on it. Flower, too. He wanted me to know that he’d followed my career and was so proud of me and especially the books I wrote about fashion. He said, “I remember walking past a store window with you in Fargo and seeing a scarf on a mannequin. You liked it so much. I wish I had bought it for you.” He wished me continued success and that was it.
I accepted his friend request.
What Gary doesn’t realize (and maybe I should tell him) is that he gave me a gift much bigger than a pretty scarf, although it was awfully sweet to hear that story.
He showed me how to bring love to something I’d disliked for so long. He helped me find beauty in imperfection…in my imperfection.
It’s a gift that’s kept giving my whole career. I love when I can bring another view to someone who is disliking, even hating, a part of their body.
Caitlin’s got a championship softball game to get to tonight. She’s in a co-ed league in San Francisco. If her team wins tonight, it’ll be their sixth championship win in a row!
I think we’d all be champions if we found ways to love the parts of ourselves that we’ve been harsh with. Have you had hard feelings about yourself? I think it’s time we get those stories out in the open and bring love and light to what needs healing. It’s never too late!
Have you had transformative experiences that led to self-acceptance? We could all benefit from hearing your story. Please share!