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The Return of Joe’s Nose

By Janis Mitchell
Friday December 29, 2006

My friend Joe had a nose that expanded during puberty to become the dominant feature on his face. It was long and beaklike with an unexpected wideness at the downward slope so that when you looked at him dead on you saw a diamond shape that was narrow between the eyes, wide at the midpoint and sharply narrow above the lip. 

From the side it looked like an isosceles triangle with a lump in the middle. He was extremely self-conscious about his nose and hated it so much that when he got out of college he had the thing realigned and cut down to size. 

The surgeon gave him a gentle slant with a pert little rounded tip and two perfectly balanced commas where the nostrils modestly flared. His new nose fits neatly into the original features of his face and no longer competes with their even ordinariness. It is kind of a generic nose that could be adapted to the face of man or woman and effectively withholds any declaration of ethnicity. 

Joe was so delighted with his new nose that he willingly retired from the highly competitive basketball dynasty he had played with every Saturday afternoon for years because he didn’t want to risk any damage to his nose. He developed an involuntary hand gesture that involved raising his flat palm in front of his face to deflect any potential flying object that might undo the surgeon’s perfect creation. He tolerated the teasing of his friends and former teammates with good enough grace that they lost interest in ribbing him after a while and his new nose became accepted. 

In the years following his operation, Joe thrived. He found success in his profession, fell in love and took a wife, had some children, and seemed to live a happy and satisfied life. Then one day he looked across the dinner table at his 16-year old daughter and discovered his old nose pointing down at her plate. 

His initial reaction was a mental “Oh no!” and he had to resist the impulse to slap himself on the forehead. There was the shock of seeing it again to absorb but there was also a realization that swept over him in a hot flush of recognition. Looking at her in that moment Joe remembered his long-ago hope that his little daughter would inherit the ideal best that he had to offer; that she would embody his most perfect self. 

When he saw his nose on her face he also saw the stubborn streak they share, the mutual dislike of green vegetables, and the tendency to sulk when thwarted. These were not traits that he wanted to pass on and he would like to have seen them rendered casualties of evolution. But here they were, the same characteristics that he struggles with in himself. 

She truly is his child and he understands her in a way that rocks his very soul. He can glimpse times in her life when she may cause hurt to herself and others because of her very nature. He wishes that he could warn her or protect her from the isolating aspect of these tendencies. He knows that he can help her by teaching her what he has learned from his long marriage about staying receptive despite the impulse to shut down. 

So he kept on looking at the nose; it was the first time he had ever seen it objectively. There had been a time in Joe’s life when he believed that his nose was the single barrier to his happiness. He now found it curious that the dimension and shape of a nose could take on such importance. As he looked at his precious child, he saw the nose as part of a face that he loved with absolute devotion. He would like her to know how beautiful she is in this moment. He wonders how she feels about the parts of him that live on in her and he hopes that she can forgive him. She can do whatever she wants to do about the nose.