I was the youngest of four, and though I was clearly adorable, I found myself the victim of unprovoked attacks. It could happen any time, without warning: an older hand flashing towards my face, out of nowhere. And the hand would rip the nose right off my face.
“I’ve got your nose!” they’d say, and I could see it was true – the tip of my nose poking through the knuckles between their first and middle fingers, which is a really weird way to hold a nose, when you think about it. Perhaps it was the only way to keep the blood of my savagely torn nose-flesh from dripping down their barbaric hand. Perhaps it went back to some arcane Celtic tradition of nose-grabbing: clutchn in the knukkle wid yer naese.
Nonetheless, there it protruded, as plain as the nose no longer on my face, looking surprisingly like a thumb. But they said they had my nose, so clearly it must be my nose. What choice did I have, then, but to scream: “GIVE ME BACK MY NOSE!”
Every time. The tears, the wailing, the pitiful pleading to get my nose back. And the laughter. The heartless laughter of my siblings. My parents! Cousins maybe? No, I never really knew my cousins. DON’T GET ME STARTED ON THE LACK OF COUSINS.
No, this is about my nose, my purloined nose, the violation of my personal face by people I loved and trusted and occasionally bathed with, which sounds a lot like college life, but that’s a session for another time.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t simply put up my hand and feel the bump on my angelic, tear-stained face to determine that my shnozzle had not, in fact, been nicked. You’re asking a pre-schooler who wondered how the bands got inside the radio to gather empirical sensory-based evidence? Besides, I could see it right there in their hand. They said they had it. They were older. I deferred to authority.
I remember it all so clearly, the outrage, the injustice, the indignity of having to beg for my wee, thumb-like sniffer, pleading to have it returned to its rightful position between my eyes – which, by the way, turned out not to be cross-eyed but merely quite large, as determined by a battery of tests, an ordeal that serves as my earliest memory, part of a whole package of eye-ear-nose-and-throat trauma, it seems.
Eventually, the nose thief would put the nose back in its place, with minimal complications or scar tissue, a miracle really. I would calm down, go back to my mashed potatoes. And then they would do it again! MY NOSE! Come on! I just got that back!
That’s what happened. On countless occasions at least three times. And when they weren’t poaching my proboscis, there were other cruelties, like encouraging me to shuffle my feet across my grandparents’ carpet and touch the TV, which was apparently made of the finest static-conducting alloys. Or teasing me about getting my hair done when I had to accompany Mom to the hairdresser. Yeah? Well, you know what the hairdresser never did? STEAL MY NOSE!
I’m sure the nose-grabbing seemed like good clean fun at the time. This was, after all, before cable television, so I’m sure the family was starved for entertainment. It would be years still before we became the Von Trapp Family Murrays, singing Negro spirituals in the local music festival, culturally expropriating before cultural expropriation was cool. Let my people go? How about LET MY NOSE GO!
As you can see, these incidents, like my nose, have stuck with me through the years, and it occurs to me that I can trace everything back to my family burgling my beak: trust issues, my sense of victimization, fear of fast-moving objects in my periphery, my questioning of authority, a distrust of thumbs in general, my loathing of magicians, the constant face-touching, the hoarding, the not calling my siblings on their birthdays, the snoring, my oversensitivity to criticism, my failure to master rollerblading, all those times I got picked last for softball, my unwillingness to read YA fiction, my history of passive-aggressive haircuts, my turtleneck phase, my constantly fretting about my clothes carrying food-cooking smells, the unsolicited bathing with roommates – all of my life’s disappointments, really.
Because, you see, if I have to choose between being responsible for my own failings or blaming it on the childhood theft of my nose, I pick my nose.