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!
AnnFebruary 15, 2018 at 12:38 am
OK, you want to hear a postscript to this story?
I have never noticed your crooked nose. I still don’t see it Your nose is crooked? Seriously?
BrendaFebruary 19, 2018 at 10:27 am
Yup! Seriously! Maybe the bold glasses, asymmetrical haircut and facial wrinkles distract it. And it’s not a right-hand corner type of crooked either. Believe me, to a nine-year-old with no glasses, no asymmetrical haircut, and no wrinkles, it was noticeable! I rarely think of it at all (since I was 18) anymore but in my profession, I do come across many women who feel bad about something about themselves. To them, I hope that sharing this story can help release some of those bad feelings.
spagsFebruary 15, 2018 at 12:48 am
I wasn’t a pretty child; I was “the clever one” or the “one with the spectacles”. One day I asked my husband which bit of me he liked best, fishing for a compliment about my boobs or my booty. He said “I like your head.” I looked at him quizzically and he explained ” I like your head, because it has your beautiful smile on the outside, and your amazing brain on the inside.”
Now I try not to worry about what I look like – I’m lucky to have a brilliant husband, a brain that still works, and the time to have fun with clothes.
BrendaFebruary 19, 2018 at 10:29 am
What a fabulous story, Spags. It’s wonderful to have someone share how you look through their eyes. I often say that to my clients: Can I tell you how it looks through my eyes? And when I do, there are often tears! It’s wonderful to be seen and your husband really sees you! Love, love, love this!
Rebekah JauntyFebruary 15, 2018 at 4:37 am
This was such a lovely story! Like Ann, I have never ever noticed that your nose is crooked, and can’t tell even when I’m staring hard at your photos.
BrendaFebruary 19, 2018 at 10:33 am
I guess with age, I just grew into it. And besides, it’s been decades since I thought of it. But I thought my experience could be a good teaching story for someone who has issues with some part of their body. In my long career, I’ve met ONE woman who had no issues with how she looked! Also, one of the great things about my job is that I create an outfit that has it’s own rhythm and story and mood. And I’m imagining that’s what you’re focusing on, not one body part. That’s what I aim for!
Sandi McDougallFebruary 15, 2018 at 5:54 am
Another great one, Brenda. And the title totally got to me as I, too, have always hated my nose. I have always thought it was too long. When I was in junior high, my friend Larry Stern, nicknamed me Pinocchio. It took me years to realize that he liked liked me ;). It has been Paul that has made me get over the nose thing as he continues to tell me how great my nose is. And, I, like the readers above, have never noticed your nose was crooked. You have put a smile on my face this morning. Thank you.
BrendaFebruary 19, 2018 at 10:35 am
So fun to have been in the company of your lovely nose! And hurray to you to find a distance from that nickname when you did. I’m sure at the time it was most unpleasant! And to someone in junior high? Uffda! Love you and your nose and your lovely Paul!
Cindy LFebruary 15, 2018 at 6:10 am
I never noticed your crooked nose, either! You look beautiful! And I love this story. What’s Gary up to now? So do you still keep in touch? Such a lovely post today.
BrendaFebruary 19, 2018 at 10:36 am
Thanks, Cindy. I almost got in touch with him. I know the town he lives in and last year I flew into that town and then rented a car and went on to my final destination. I still feel funny about visiting old boyfriends but in this case, I may gain more courage as the years go by!
JoDiFebruary 15, 2018 at 9:24 am
“What Gary doesn’t realize (and maybe I should tell him)”
I think you just did! What a sweet story.
BrendaFebruary 19, 2018 at 10:37 am
Thanks, JoDi! Oh gosh, maybe he did!
Cathy D.February 15, 2018 at 10:29 am
Like several others, I never noticed your crooked nose. I’ve looked at your photos carefully many times. Are you sure it’s crooked?
Brenda, one of the things I like best about your blog is the quality of your writing. Please keep it up because it brings so much pleasure to all of your many fans.
BrendaFebruary 19, 2018 at 10:44 am
That’s so funny! You had me wondering, Gee, did I make this all up? But I had lunch with two besties, one of them is a nurse, and asked them. It took less than a nano-second for them to say yes, I had a crooked nose. So confirmation has been received. And thank you so much for your kind words about my writing. I must say I have the best audience ever. I LOVE this community! Thanks again, Cathy!
Elaine @ Following AugustineFebruary 15, 2018 at 11:15 am
Such a beautiful story! Like so many others, I never noticed your nose. It still doesn’t look crooked to me, but how true it is that we can be handicapped by our own vision of ourselves. And what a difference a sincere compliment can make! Perhaps we should all be a bit more like Gary and look for opportunities to give encouraging words of affirmation to those we encounter.
BrendaFebruary 19, 2018 at 10:45 am
Elaine, wouldn’t it be a marvelous world if we all practiced Gary type appreciation and acknowledgment? Yes, yes, yes to that!
HeidiFebruary 15, 2018 at 12:46 pm
I enjoyed this story! You shared a tender side of yourself and a “ flaw “ that I, and the rest of your readers, never knew was there, and still can’t see! You have a very pretty face and a warm and genuine smile!
I was always told that I have a perfect nose! So I focused on my chin instead, which I felt was a little weak! There is always something to mess with our confidence and make us, (girls especially, I think) feel less-than. I eventually grew to accept my face and even to feel pretty. And honestly I’ve never been told anything negative about my chin by anyone, ever! It was self-inflicted criticism, the worst kind, which I think I’ve finally been able to shove in a box! (About my chin, anyway!) You were fortunate to have such a kind friend, who saw your beauty and wasn’t afraid to kindly let you know how he felt about it.
BrendaFebruary 19, 2018 at 10:48 am
Heidi, thanks for your story about your nose and your chin! It’s so very true. It’s one thing I think about with young girls and especially with social media. It breaks my heart when I hear some of the things that go on that are less than kind…far less than kind. I wonder how we could help with that. Does anybody have any ideas?
Laurice GilbertFebruary 15, 2018 at 1:27 pm
When I first looked at the photo of you and Caitlin together, before I read the text, I thought, Oh, their noses are mirror images of each other – how gorgeous and lucky they are, to be both so alike and still very individual. That’s all. Carry on.
BrendaFebruary 19, 2018 at 10:50 am
Cute, Laurice! Yes, carry on we will. I love that picture of me and Caitlin. She’s such a sweetheart! And remember, I’m not at all complaining about my nose. I’m so fine with it. But at nine-years-old through the end of my teens, it was a far different story!
KathyFebruary 15, 2018 at 2:18 pm
Oh Brenda! You and your daughter look so much alike…you are both beautiful…including your noses. I am always looking at your dazzling smile and your pose….I enjoy the ones where you are exhuberant and seeming to embrace the joy of being you and where you are at in the moment. I always think that some delightful mischief occurred immediately after the picture is snapped! Or perhaps that’s wishful thinking! I have a great pal who complained excessively one day about how awful he looked. I listened and tried to to be supportive but he kept at it…finally I told him that in 20 years from now he will back at a picture of himself and see a handsome younger man…the same man sitting before me who he was not appreciating! He told me thank you and stopped the self criticism. I try to refocus myself when I start being critical on the same thought.
BrendaFebruary 19, 2018 at 10:56 am
Yes, I agree with your story. I haven’t had a charge on my nose since I was 18 but I will tell you what I see with my clients and that’s the mourning over how they used to look and how they look now in terms of aging. (Maybe like your friend.) I do not see aging as a negative thing. I am very very fond of it myself but that seems to be the big thing now. All that self-criticism that was lurking about in the 20-40-year-old range meets up with what is seen in the mirror now a couple of decades or more later. Women have ways to hurt themselves that isn’t obvious on the surface. Because my work is so intimate, I do get to see some of that up close. I hope to always be a champion of aging!! And you are right, Kathy, there usually is some mischief going on as soon as the picture’s been taken. At least a half dozen jokes!
MelissaFebruary 16, 2018 at 7:38 am
What a gift you are! How you honor the gift Gary gave you by passing it on to others! We all have to find our own beauty, and I’m glad there are people like Gary and you and Spags’ wonderful husband to help us along the way.
BrendaFebruary 19, 2018 at 10:58 am
Indeed, Melissa. I think these stories can do a lot to ease the criticism some people still carry about things they cannot change.
Trinnie qFebruary 16, 2018 at 2:26 pm
Oh such honesty and grace . I love your face, your twinkling kind eyes, and beautiful soul. I love the look of your sweet, sporty clever daughter, with I am sure, the same kind heart. Growing up , one of three daughters, and two boys, I always felt like the ugly duckling! I was sporty and tomboyish, and certainly not noticed as pretty! It may have been my temper and wariness, as I was always told I said to boys who tried to get close to me ‘ what are you looking at? I was so not impressed by girly gameplay, and just wanted to be treated equally!! Only now many years later Can I am my own type of beautiful! Oh, the wisdom that comes with age . I look back and see , quite a gorgeous , funny young confused thing, who on my eyes now, looked fine ! Thanks Brenda for your sweet story. Sending much love from Oz xx
BrendaFebruary 19, 2018 at 11:01 am
Oh gosh, isn’t this great! Yes, I love that about getting older–the wisdom! I grew up with three brothers and was a tomboy as well. I was in my mid-40s the first time, unexpectedly, that my father told me I was pretty. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I never aimed for pretty but I must admit that when he said those words out loud, it softened me a bit. In fact, I’m still curious about all that was captured in that moment. I’ve tried writing about it but still haven’t gotten to the bottom of it! Thanks, Trinnie! Love to you from Sonoma!
PamelaFebruary 17, 2018 at 8:40 am
You nose is perfectly lovely – and I know a thing or two about noses! From being a confident young woman I lived with a man for nearly 30 years who told me I had a big nose and should have my legs stretched – why did I do that?? Eventually after my family had grown I re-gained my original self confidence and brought it to an end. Now I’ve been married for 10 years to a husband who thinks my nose is pretty and loves me just as I am.
BrendaFebruary 19, 2018 at 11:03 am
Wow, wow, wow, Pamela. I’m so glad you got out of that toxic union and found someone who appreciates you! Hugs to you and your husband!
LA CONTESSAFebruary 17, 2018 at 3:53 pm
WHO CAN BEAT THAT STORY!
What I do not like about my body is the VARICOSE VEINS…………They came in the 1990’s and have STAYED and have been SO PAINFUL.I have had them injected a few times I think it just makes it worse it did bring the little RED VEINS TOO!Which I had ZERO!!!!!
You will never see my legs EXPOSED……..EVER!
GREAT STORY and SHE IS ADORABLE and SO ARE YOU!
BrendaFebruary 19, 2018 at 11:07 am
Thanks, Elizabeth! I didn’t realize varicose veins were painful. I’m so sorry to hear that! Aren’t clothes wonderful? We get to use them in so many ways! And you do that all so creatively!
If the rest of you haven’t seen Elizabeth in pics, please find her on Instagram. She’s @antiquegoddess
Thank you, dear for your sharing! XX
AngieFebruary 20, 2018 at 10:08 am
You are a great storyteller!
BrendaFebruary 20, 2018 at 6:42 pm
Thanks so much, Angie. These stories just need to be told. I loved thinking about Donell again and all his gifts.
MaryFebruary 20, 2018 at 4:43 pm
The fact that you dressed like your daughter in college and your description of the coffee house (spool tables!) at NDSU took me right back to my own college days in Iowa City. Ah, what wonderful memories. You have a lovely sense of style and you are a gifted writer. I’m so glad I found your blog!
BrendaFebruary 20, 2018 at 6:40 pm
Mary, I’m glad you’re here! Yes, those spool tables. Gosh, I wish you were here when I was writing that blog post. I couldn’t remember the name of them! Stick around. You’ll like the rest of this community too. Great people!
Cheryl TaylorFebruary 24, 2018 at 8:13 am
Thank you for this blog post! I feel so much better to see I am not alone. I broke my nose last September. I was backpacking with 3 friends and we were almost to where we were going to tent for the night. I was tired and a bit dehydrated. I stumbled and did a complete face plant with a 25 lb pack on my back. I couldn’t even get up till someone helped me! In the emergency room in this small ER in the middle of nowhere (WV) I was told my nose was fine even though I had a gigantic scrape on it and not to mention it had bled for a while. 2 days later with my swollen black eyes and nose I was almost unrecognizable. About a week and a half after the black eyes went from black to purple, to orange, and then to yellow and the swelling was down a bit, it was obvious my nose was not in the same place it used to be.It was crooked to the left! A month later I finally had x rays to confirm my worst fear. My nose WAS broken. I hated my nose before but this was even worse! It’s been 5 months since I broke it and I did see an ENT in Nov who said she could fix it but there was no guarantee it would stay that way because cartilage is involved. I am supposed to go back next month for a follow up to see her and decide if I want surgery. Now it doesn’t look as bad as it did when I first broke it (maybe I am used to it now?) and my husband says it is hardly noticeable as well as friends who say if I didn’t tell them it was broke they wouldn’t notice (maybe they are lying a little bit?). Anyway, I’m thinking it isn’t that bad and is it worth the trouble of going through surgery/recovery at my age for a new nose I might not even like? I’m kind of use to this one now, and besides I have a great story to talk about. I’m 63 years old, active and enjoy being out on the woods. I have an interesting story to tell now to go along with my broken nose!
BrendaFebruary 25, 2018 at 11:00 am
I’m so glad you caught this blog post, Cheryl! I am your number one fan for not doing anything about it. First of all, kudos to you for your backpacking trip and your 25-pound backpack. I was in awe right away. I say believe your husband and friends. Mine sways to the right. Would love a pic of the two of us together! After several readers asked me if I was really sure that I had a crooked nose I asked my nurse friend about it. She confirmed. I asked if she thought I should have it “fixed” and she said no. She warned of infections and such and right away I knew I was super happy with my leaning nose. You’ve got a terrific story to tell and lots of activities ahead of you. That’s just my two cents worth. Big hug to you!