"The perception of beauty is a moral test.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
I guess everyone has some sort of problemwith their appearance. I had never liked my nose. I thought it was too wide and the nostrilstoo large. It was bulbous and out of proportion with my face. If I'd had hugelips like Julia Roberts or eyes like Goldie Hawn, then maybe the nose wouldhave been okay, because other features would have balanced it all out. But Ididn't have movie star features. The nose was just too big.
I didn't spend a lot of time thinking aboutit. I spent many hours in the woods, especially in the summer, and when I wasin the woods my appearance didn't matter at all. I had taken to hitching mymare to a cart and driving her along the back roads at a blistering pace,yelling and laughing as we flew over bumps and through puddles. Fall was thebest time for these outings, as many of the bugs had died off, and it was easyto get her hitched up without having to slap them away or saturate her withspray.
I stood with Trudy, holdingher bridle while my sister Amanda climbed slowly into the cart. Amanda hadDown’s Syndrome, and among her other physical problems, she had been throughseveral knee surgeries. It was important to hold the cart as still as possible.
Once Amanda wassettled in, I took the reins and climbed in. “Okay, let’s go!”
Like most Morganhorses, Kerry Airatude – Trudy for short -- was born to trot. Her knees and hocks flew skyward as the cartwhizzed along. Her little snorts told us that she was enjoying the outing.Amanda and I laughed and sang songs. Mydogs Reva and Scorch, and half-grown pup Cajun galloped along after us. All around us, autumn leaves fluttered to theground, and the road was lined with purple asters and goldenrod.
Drummond Island was considered one of the Isles of theManitou by Native American tribes who had lived there for centuries. To others, it was known as the Gem of theHuron. It was a jewel of green suspendedin the sapphire waters between Lakes Superior and Huron, an isolated worldwithin itself. It was a land of rock andtundra, jagged cliffs and gently rolling sandy hills. It was covered with twisted ancient cedars,pointed spruce and tall white poplar with round shivering leaves that sang in ahushed whisper of home.
I had cause tocelebrate, because after four years of discomfort and dental chairs and metaltools, my braces were about to come off. I would leave Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, traveling back downstate tothe orthodontist and have the implements of torture permanently removed. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like tofinally, at age 38, have teeth that were smooth and straight, and pain-free!
Amanda and I took along drive that day, heading down to the Drummond Island fairgrounds where theannual rodeo was held; now a bare field with bits of brown leaves raspingacross the grasses. The dogs gamboledhappily, tongues flopping with joy. Wetook a break there, so my twelve-year-old German shepherd Reva could rest. Amanda and I took pictures of each other.
Finally we decidedto head back to camp. It was about twomiles back, and we were rounding the last curve when I noticed that the traceson Trudy's harness were coming loose from the cart shafts.
"Whoa," Isaid, and she stopped immediately. Butwe were close to home, and she was impatient to get back. She danced a little step or two.
"Look atthat," I said to Amanda, nodding toward the shafts. They were swinging, banging against the sidesof the mare. I thought if I could gether to stand still, I would tell Amanda to climb out of the cart, and then Icould get out afterward and fix them. HadI been by myself, I could have jumped right out. But for Amanda, climbing outof the cart was not a simple task. Itwas important for Trudy to stand quietly.
"Easy,Trudy," I said. But the more theshafts swung, the more she danced. Igave a little tug on the reins. "Whoa! Stand!"
The next thing Iknew, I was face down on the ground. Ilay flat on my stomach, listening to the rapidly diminishing hoofbeats of agalloping horse. I could feel grit andtiny stones in my mouth, and I spit them out. I lifted my head and looked back at the cart. Amanda still sat there quietly, staring atme.
"Are youokay?" I asked.
"Yes," shesaid calmly. "But I think you needstitches."
I felt no pain, butI knew I had broken my nose. I stood upand noticed the road was splashed with red, and there was a huge red stain onmy jacket. My nose was running, pouringblood. There was a salty taste in mymouth.
"Come on,"I said to Amanda. "Let's get thiscart off the road."
Trudy was nowhere insight. The dogs had gone with her. Amanda climbed out of the cart and we pulledit into the weeds. I walked up to campand went into the trailer for a washcloth. I looked at my face in the mirror. The entire lower half of it was covered in blood. There was a huge hole between my nose andmouth. My nose looked okay, but when Ilooked in my mouth, I saw that my two front teeth were pushed way backinside. The braces had kept them fromcoming out. And my nose wasbleeding. Blood was everywhere. It dripped onto the sink while I stoodthere. It ran all down the front of mycoat. I took a washcloth, soaked it, andpressed it against my upper lip. I triedto wipe the blood from the countertop, but it was falling faster than I couldwipe it up. I didn’t want to leave amess, but finally gave up. I still feltno pain.
I went back outsidewhere Amanda stood waiting.
"Well," Isaid. "We'd better go getDad."
"Reva will takecare of her. Come on."
Dad was working withsome volunteer builders, putting an addition on the Drummond Island Laundry. Itwas only a couple of miles down the road. When we pulled up, I said, "Amanda, would you please go tell Dadwhat has happened? I don't want him tobe too shocked when he sees me."
Amanda climbedout. "Dad! We've had a little accident!"
Dad walked over as Igot out of the truck. He hesitated whenhe saw me. There I stood, with thatbloodied washcloth pressed against my rapidly blackening face. "Theharness broke. She pulled me out by thereins."
"Oh,honey! Did you break your teeth?"
"I'msorry!" He pulled me against him. Ilooked up and saw all the volunteers -- seven or eight men in their fifties,gaping at me.
"I guess Ishould go to the hospital."
"Can youdrive?" Dad said. "I'll have to take my truck. I'll follow you."
"I candrive. Trudy’s still out there somewhere. Could you ask Uncle Bob to go look forher? Reva’s with her."
I drove the tenmiles to the ferry dock, rolling onto the boat somewhat self-consciously, withmy washcloth still smashed against my lip. The attendants, whom Amanda and Icalled the Ferry Boys, did not appear to notice. But when I walked into Mom’s house, she tookone look at me and burst into tears.
“Oh my God, Nancy!”she wailed.
“You should see theother guy,” I quipped through the washcloth. Behind me, I heard Dad laugh.
People reacted thatsame shocked way for the rest of the afternoon. Entering the emergency room at the hospital, I was greeted by alarmedstares. After Mom and Dad left, therewere more stares as I went in for the CAT scan. I was left alone in one examroom for a long time, after being informed that I would need surgery.
I thought of myfriend Kimmy, who had suffered a head injury during an encounter with ashoplifter. Kimmy was head of securityfor J.C. Penney in a southern Californiastore. She was about five foot four, hadearned a black belt in karate, and harbored the kind of fury that only naturalredheads comprehend. She had adopted thestore as her own. She took theft verypersonally. Once, she had caught a sixfoot three “suspect” making off with a leather jacket, chased him out into themall and after a brief scuffle, found herself flat on her back while he smashedher head repeatedly into the cement floor.
The police showed upand arrested the guy. Kim suffered aconcussion, but after a brief recovery period, she went on to collar morecriminals. During her long and verysuccessful career, she had undergone a number of surgeries to correct variousinjuries.
I would have likedto talk to her just then, but she was in California. I had never experienced anesthesia before. I had a fleeting impulse to have someone callCheryl Smith, my veterinarian. I wanted to ask her to come and sit in on mysurgery. I thought I’d feel more secure with her there. I realized it wouldtake her five hours to get there, and they wouldn’t be willing to wait thatlong, even if she would come. Besides, now it was midnight. And anyway, it might offend someone. Ipictured myself explaining my request to the nurse, and Cheryl driving the longroad to the Upper Peninsula, in the middle of the night, to come and hold myhand. I started giggling out loud, with my clogged and bloody nose, lying aloneon the gurney in the exam room.
What seemed likehours later, as I was wheeled into surgery, heads turned as I rolled past. In the operating room, the anesthesiologisteven said, “We’re not staring at you.”
“Yes you are. Go ahead. I would.”
Oddly enough, therestill was no pain, although by now I had taken pills for it. I lay flat on my back and theanesthesiologist held a mask suspended above my face. “I can’t put this on your nose because it’sbroken,” he explained. “Count backwardsfrom a hundred.”
I thought I wouldcertainly be able to count with no problem. After all, I felt completely alert and just fine, except for the oddfact that I couldn’t seem to stop my eyes from rapidly blinking.
The rest of theexperience was surreal. The first thingI remember was a nurse telling me, “Trudy is fine.”
My intelligentresponse was, “Huh?”
“You were askingabout her.”
I knew she was fine. Reva, the matriarchal German shepherd, wastaking care of her. I drifted off againand watched red dots drifting over rocks underwater.
Later, I was toldthat it had taken three and a half hours of surgery to irrigate the gravel frommy mouth, stitch the cuts inside my mouth and nose, and prevent my crushed nosefrom collapsing into itself. My twofront teeth had been knocked out, but were still attached to the orthodontiawhich I had been wearing. The surgeonhad bent my braces and forced my teeth back into position, but I was going toneed a lot of dental work. He was amazedthat I hadn’t broken my jaw. I did,however, suffer a concussion. I had beenlaughing hysterically and making jokes when I was coming out of the anesthesia,but I didn’t remember that.
The nurse came intomy room in the wee hours that morning, saying happily, “Look who’s here to seeyou!”
Right behind her wasmy husband, Bruce. I was surprised. He had been working long hours, carvinggenerous portions into the abyss that widened between us.
“What are you doinghere?”
“I canceled my meeting.”
When he said that, Irealized that my injuries must be fairly serious. He had driven the five hours north and thensat with me in the hospital all night. He drove me back to Mom and Dad’s andtook care of the dogs while I languished on the couch.
That was when thepain started roaring and hammering through my head, neck and face. I had to eat through a straw. I was sick to my stomach constantly, anddropped weight immediately. My neckcrackled and crunched like a bowl of Rice Krispies every time I turned myhead. One of the worst parts of it was,due to the nerve damage in my nose and upper lip, I couldn’t tell when my nosewas running!
But I just knew thatI was going to get a new nose out of the deal, and it would all be worth it.
“Rhinoplasty may bein my future!” I chirped excitedly to anyone who asked how I was doing. “Do you want to help me pick my nose?”
I was so anxious tosee the horses again, but was told I absolutely could not ride. On the first day home, I asked to be taken toDrummond to see Trudy and her half-brother, Clifford. They were in the corral when we pulled up. They neighed a greeting and came to thegate. Trudy looked none the worse forwear. I went up to them, but Clifford’shead swinging around my face made me nervous. I wish I could say it was a happy reunion, but I was too ill to spendany time with them. I went and sat on thegrass in the sun while chickadees dive-bombed me, looking for seeds.
“This is just likein the cartoons,” I thought as the birds chirped and fluttered around myhead. “Now someone just needs to draw abig X over each of my eyes.”
I was sick forweeks. When I finally was able to travel again, and the horses were hauled downto my farm for the winter, I was told that I’d need to spend another six monthsin braces, plus have two root canals and crowns on my four front teeth. Iwasn’t happy about it, but I realized that I was lucky. I could easily havebroken my neck.
The whole experienceleft me wishing that I had checked and oiled the ancient harness, which hadgiven way and caused the shafts to swing. The cart was put away and I didn’ttry to drive again. I waited weeksbefore riding again, but before getting the go-ahead, I saddled up Cliffordand, swollen face and all, swung aboard. Despite his propensity for practicaljokes, I knew that I could trust him. He walked in circles slowly, like an oldnag, as if he was carrying eggs. Thatwas fine with me.
I looked in themirror every day, examining my nose, turning my head this way and that. I was hoping as the swelling went down, thatthe nose would be crooked or mangled or at least pocked beyondrecognition. Alas, it was becoming moreand more like my own old bulbous nose. Iwas, however, comforted by the fact that I had a year to wait before healingwas considered complete. Maybe somethingwould be a little off. Scars threaded,red and angry, above my upper lip. I was secretly nervous about those.
But the healing progressed, and even though it seemed I was spending half my life in a dentalchair, the headaches dissipated. And then the jokes began. My friend Ray Benter wrote the following to an email list:
“I think Nancy was being a little nosy, don't you? Er, ahem, just a little humorthere. Don't want to upset Nancy,like the American expression, we don't want her to get her ‘nose out of joint!’ You know, I think she'll be all well by the time we run out of these nose jokes ....... but who nose!?!”
I replied, “It snot unlike Ray to sinus up for such awful puns. Ah well, it's really no skin off my nose.”
But I was wrong. The trouble was only beginning.