Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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One Never Nose

As far back as I can remember, my mom has hated her nose.
"I have a pin head with a giant nose," she says.

A ponytail is out of the question.
"It accentuates my nose", she whines.

Straight hair is simply an impossibility.
"It brings out the flatness at the back of my head which makes my nose stand out."

Subsequently, she has worn her long, blonde hair big and curly. This style, circa 1985, maybe looked good the first year of the twenty she has worn it. Think David Coverdale of eighties rock band Whitesnake. The enormous coif of any member of Bon Jovi during the eighties would also give you an accurate mental picture of my mom's hairstyle of choice.

She has blathered for so long and so often about the possibility of a nose job that, over time, I have learned to tune her out. A couple months ago, she renewed the nose job discussions (I use the word "discussions" loosely - these are more like rants) with a fervor previously unheard.
"Doctor so-and-so says he could just shave a titch off the big ridge between my eyes." She talks about her nose as if it's a prominent Himalayan range. In actuality, it's no more unusual than any other average nose.
"He says he can get rid of the knob at the end of it." I generally roll my eyes at this waste of money.

Although I had recently moved from the oasis that was my own condo, into her chotchky-laden house to prepare for my impending move to New York, I was only peripherally aware of doctor consultations and whispered rhinoplasty phone conversations with her sister, my Aunt Kay.

One morning, as Serge and I lay drooling on our respective pillowcases, our eighty pound black lab Max sprawled sack-of-potato-like across our legs, I am startled into semi-consciousness by the shrill ring tones of my cell phone.
"This is Elizabeth Rogers from the Medical Center. Your mother's surgery is complete, but we're having trouble locating her designated ride home."
"Who is it?"
"This is Elizab---"
"No. Who's her ride home."
Figures. I'd been wakened around four in the morning by the unmistakable ruckus of my bother Jordan, newly released (again) from jail, staggering in the front door.
"Hold on one sec."
I struggle to sit up, which proves rather difficult with Max lolling atop me, forcing my body deep into the bed springs. I finally manage to squeeze out from underneath the dog and roll onto the floor. Max unleashes a noise which sounds oddly similar to Serge's nocturnal emissions then rolls into the vacated spot. Ankles popping like firecrackers, I stumble across the hall to the spare room in which my younger brother Jordan has set up post jail shop.

The sweaty, stale odor of alcohol assaults me the moment I push open the door. My snoring, bald-headed, tattooed brother is a stark contrast to the pink walls and white, lace-draped daybed my mother has orchestrated in a desperate stab at femininity after decades of raising three dirty, foul-mouthed, jail prone, angry boys.
"Jordan! Get. Up."
"Fire up the steamboat! Batten down the hatches!"He shouts this oddity, then lets loose a gargantuan burp that sends the unmistakable stench of beer wafting my way.
"I guess I'm on my way to pick her up," I tell the nurse waiting on the other end of the line.

I close the door on the distillery and head back to wake Serge, a tricky process at best. If I have to suffer, he does too. As usual, Serge and Max are wrapped in their passionate embrace, Max gently nuzzling his neck while Serge smiles sweetly in his sleep.
"Max want to go for walk? I whisper excitedly. I have no intention of walking Max anywhere. But the magical words float into my dog's ears, finding him deep in doggie dream world. Immediately he rears to life, untangling his long limbs from Serge. Our "adopted black son," as Serge likes to call him, accidentally swipes Serge's face with a sandpaper paw then trods heavily on his unprotected goodtimes before leaping to the floor.
"OOF. UMPF." Mission accomplished. Serge is awake and he can't blame me. I didn't wake him up. It was Max, that bad dog. I begin to dress.

"Where are you going?" He mumbles with stiff jaws.
"Oh. You awake?" I ask innocently. "My mom just got her nose job, apparently, and she needs a ride home. Wanna come with me? I'll get you some coffee."
"Okay." He yawns and scrubs at his eyeballs.

Pleased with my ingenuity, I slide my feet into my favorite flip-flops and pad downstairs to start the coffee. If I want Serge to be pleasant, or at the very least, coherent, I am obliged to begin a rigorous program of flooding his system with coffee to shock it into action immediately upon his waking.

Moments later, as we whip along the highway toward the medical clinic, I get twinges in my stomach. I'm either hungry, or anxious about the outcome of my mom's long anticipated surgery. What if she looks terrible? Do I lie and pretend the new nose is fantastic? She certainly knows me better than that. I am always the first one to tell her when her ass looks fat. We have a deal. She does the same for me.

"Really though," I blabber to Serge. "What if it's awful?"

He appears to be sleeping against the window, his mug of steaming coffee slowly sliding from his tired hands. I remove the potential disaster from his grasp and place it in the cup holder. My rumination on the upcoming reunion with my new and improved (I hope) mom continues. I've never known anyone that had a nose job. Sure, I've seen it thousands of times on The Learning Channel. Along with 'A Baby Story', 'A Wedding Story' and my favorite squirmingly awkward pleasure 'A Dating Story.' But that's different. I'd known this particular nose for twenty-eight years and it never bothered me. My mom had vigorously and repeatedly instructed the doctor not to "Michael Jackson" her. I was about to find out exactly what kind of job they did.

We arrive at the clinic and I tell Serge to wait outside. He nods dutifully and lights up a cigarette. Serge is a smoker. His lungs must surely be gone by now. Or well on their way to complete and total disintegration. He's been at it since he was a boy of eleventeen. But there is no time for lungs now, I've got noses to worry about. I summon my trusty false confidence that's seen me through most of my life, and stride into the building.

"I'm here to pick up my mom. She just had a nose job. Her name is Elaine." I tend to give out more information than I should when I'm nervous with strangers. I like to fill the silences. I HAVE to fill the silences.
"Down the hall, turn left, then go straight ahead." The young girl gestures without looking up.
I start down the sterile looking hall. I'm in what appears to be a clinic of sorts. A cross between a doctor's office and a high school. Some rooms look hospital-ish, others are offices and some appear to be classrooms. Quite odd and a tad frightening, actually. If someone is slicing into my flesh I'm hoping they're done with school. What could they possibly need to be teaching folks?

My flip-flops slap the tiled floor, causing those in the various rooms I pass to glance up as I walk past. The hallway spills into a large waiting room with a few couches scattered haphazardly around, ancient magazines tossed here and there. At the other end of the room, a large doorway opens into what looks to be a recovery room. You know the kind. They make guest appearances in all hospital related television programming. One room with several hospital beds divided by partitions that look like shower curtains to give occupants a false notion of privacy.

I hover uncertainly in the doorway, not really wanting to see any more than I absolutely have to. From the looks of things, my mom isn't the only woman who ventured under the knife this morning.
"Can I help you?" A nurse startles me from behind.
"I'm here to pick up my mom, Elaine."
"Oh yes, she's in the restroom right now." She nods brightly, indicating a door just a few feet away.
"Okay." I wander around the waiting room, stomach churning. I pick up old magazines, put them down, watch bits and pieces of a rather odd program on the television. These pink clad, ballet dancing couples appear to be engaged in some sort of competition. My eyes are continually drawn to the bulge in the man's leotards. Not because it's sexy, but because it's there, displayed so prominently, for all the worlds' perusal. The same way you'd stare at a man in a ridiculously small speedo; you don't want to, but you can't help but look.

A middle-aged woman with greasy hair clad in a flimsy hospital gown toddles by. She pauses to watch the ballet program and I immediately look away, feigning interest in a Time magazine, apparently from three years ago. I don't want to view the man's bulge with a stranger; like watching porn with someone you don't know that well. Or stumbling onto a steamy sex scene mid-movie on a first date. Thankfully, she moves on.

Finally I hear it. The whoosh of the toilet heralds the beginning of this particular nightmare. I turn toward the bathroom, watching as the doorknob slowly turns, horror movie-style, and my mom shuffles out. I half rise to greet her then stop. I am stunned. Glued to my spot on the floor. A white turbin- inspired bandage swaddles my mom's face from forehead to chin. It covers nearly everything except her mouth and the tip of her nose. Good God almighty. She's wearing a baggy hospital gown that extends to her blue hospital issue slippers. Before I have time to react, the nurse darts in from nowhere and rushes to her aid. Together the two of them slowly make their way toward the recovery room.

In retrospect, you could say I should have realized right then and there. It's my own mother, for godsakes! But I was nervous, and the nurse immediately rushed in to help, simultaneously absolving me of offering assistance and obscuring my view of the nose job. I strain to see if the doctor had indeed Michael Jacksoned her, but the nurse's massive girth completely blocks my view of my mother who is slightly in front of her.

"She can't talk." The nurse warns me as she situates my mother in a chair. "She had a breathing tube in her throat during surgery."
“A breathing tube?” Sounds reasonable, I guess. She can't use her nose to breathe during the operation so they give her a tube? Rhinoplasty is apparently a more serious surgery than I had originally thought it to be.
"Just give me a minute while I go rustle up a wheelchair." The nurse disappears through the door, leaving me alone with my mummied mommy.

I stand awkwardly next to my bandage-covered mom, eyes carefully averted. We have never been a particularly demonstrative family. A hearty "Fuck you! I'm outta here!" generally suffices for goodbye at most gatherings. I hover, not knowing my role in this horror movie scenario.

I risk a glance at her schnoz and my heart plummets to my flip-flips. To combat the wave of nausea raging through my system I slump into the chair next to my mom. They Michael Jacksoned her! Her nose is all but gone. A tiny, butchered looking thing peeked out from under the mass of bandages. What am I going to say? She appears to be quite woozy. I'm hoping she's so stoned on meds that she forgets to ask me what she looks like. Let her discover the Michael Jacksoning on her own. I avert my eyes, then feel so badly that I try to live up to my daughterly duty by holding her hand and awkwardly stroking her arm. Somehow, I find my voice.
"Are you in much pain?"
My mom rolls her cornflower blue eyes toward me, issues a sort of croaking sigh and pats my hand. For the first time, I notice faint liver spots on the backs of her hands. Wow, I think. She really is getting old. It's strange, the aging process. I'm only 28 and already my boobs are losing the gravity battle. Beginning their slow but steady sag toward hell. Before I know it, I'll be going bra-less, tucking my skin bags into the elastic waisted jean capris that I've recently noticed my grandma sporting around in. Maybe I'm in need of a little doctor action myself.

My mom and I sit in companionable silence for ten minutes or so, holding hands as we wait for the nurse to return, both of us lost in our respective pre and post plastic surgery fantasies. Then she catches my eye and smiles. I recoil in horror as I watch her dry, cracked lips, nearly obscured by bandages, peel back from her teeth. What the hell? A take on Little Red Riding Hood pops into my head. My, my what big teeth you have... The better to eat you with, my dear!

My mother's teeth are huge squares. They look like giant chiclets, stuck on her regular old small teeth. This isn't my mother! Yes it is. But those teeth! She seems to recognize me, though. Doesn't she? But she didn't actually SAY anything. But we've been holding hands for ten minutes! The nurse said...

My confused mind springs away from my ability to rationalize. Adrenaline rockets through my body, and I'm more awake than I've ever been at this time of the morning. Confusion reigns supreme. The same kind of distorted feeling you get when you're walking through a crowd, talking with a loved one and you're in the middle of saying something but not looking at them because you're navigating the crowd. At a crucial point of a particularly private conversation you turn toward them for confirmation, only to find you've been yapping at a stranger who is looking back at you, equally bewildered. Embarrassingly, you spot your companion stuck behind a clog of people further behind you. Multiply this feeling by one thousand and you may come close to understanding my current discomfort.

Nothing is certain anymore. This is easily the most disconcerting, twilight zone-like I have ever felt in my life. How can I not know my own mother? Is this my mother? All the requirements match. Dirty blonde hair, blue eyes. The nurse even called her by name. But those giant teeth! I don't know. I can't very well ask, can I? I stand up and make for the door.
"I've gotta go get blah blah blah. Be right back!" I toss over my shoulder as I bolt from the room.

I tear through the waiting room at top speed, nearly knocking over the nurse on her way in with the wheelchair.
"Where are you going?" she asks in a startled tone.
"Be right back, left my headlights on!" Anything to escape this horrific moment. I burst out of the front door, see Serge leaning against my car and begin to sob.

"What's going on?" He immediately rushes over and puts his big guitar strumming paws squarely on my shoulders.
"Is your mom okay?"
"I don't know!" I gulp air and begin to sob with renewed vigor.
"My mom...” I snort and snuffle. Nonsense spits from my lips. “Not my mom, not sure. Big teeth... MICHAEL JACKSON!"
'What's this about big teeth?" He asks. "And don't call me Michael Jackson!" I smile, hiccup and start to cry again.
"Take a deep breath and start over. What happened? Is your mom all right?"
"They really screwed up! I can't go back in there! It doesn't look like her at all. Well, it did look like her then she smiled and I'm not sure. She's got bandages all over her head. I just can't go in there!"
"It can't be that bad. What does her nose look like?"
"You can't really see it under the bandages, but the tip of it is tiny! Really small! They Michael Jacksoned her! But I don't know if it's her."
"What'dya mean you don't know it it's her?" Serge tilts his head questioningly, unable to comprehend how I don't know if someone is my mother or not.

My voice begins to escalate to a shriek. "I went to get her and the nurse told me she was in the bathroom. When she came out, we sat down to wait for the nurse to bring a wheel chair! Her head is totally bandaged up! So I'm sitting there holding her hand and then she smiled at me!"
"A smile's good."
"No, no, no!" I'm rattling faster than an auctioneer now. "She has these giant teeth. My mom has little teeth, Little teeth! Little teeth!"
An elderly couple stares at me in alarm as I frantically scream 'little teeth' and hurries through the front door.
"Didn't she say anything to you?" Serge calmly lights another cigarette and takes a deep drag. I am momentarily distracted. Although I'm not a smoker, and am aware of what a disgusting habit it is, Serge always looks so sexy when he smokes. All James Dean-like.
"The nurse said she had a breathing tube during the surgery so she can't talk yet. Listen, you've gotta go get her. I just can't do it. What if she asks me how her nose looks?"
"She won't. You said she can't talk."
"Very funny. Seriously. You go get her. Oh my god this is terrible. I don't know what to do."
Just then Serge's cell phone rings. He answers it, listens, nods, then holds the phone toward me.
"It's your mom."
"Ha ha. Such a comedian today, aren't we?"
"No. Seriously. It's her."
I look at him, then at the phone he's holding toward me. I tentatively take the cell and gingerly place it next to my ear.
"Hello?" I whisper.
"WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?" My mom's voice explodes into my head.
"Who do you think it is?"
"Mom. Tell me this, was I just sitting next to you, holding your hand?"
"What in god's name are you talking about? Get in here! I've been waiting for two fucking hours!" The phone clicks off.
Stunned, I hand Serge his phone.
"I have no idea what is going on, but we need to go get her.

When we get to the waiting room, I shove Serge ahead of me and peek out from behind. A different nurse is wheeling my mom toward us. My mom. No head bandages, just a small splint across her bruised, but very normal looking nose. She's already talking to me even though I'm still too far away to hear what she's saying.
"I'm going to kill Jordan." I hear as they wheel closer. "I should have known better than to expect that bastard to get up at seven in the morning. That's his bed time for chrissakes!" As the group troops down the hall I risk a peek into the recovery room. There sits my other "mom," bandages and all, watching a television suspended on the wall.

The first nurse strides around the corner. Seeing Serge and my mom wheeling down the hall together, she says "Oh honey. Sorry about earlier. Obviously you figured out that's Ilene." She indicates the stranger whose hand I held, for a good, long while just a few moments earlier.
"She had a facelift. Her name is awfully close to your mom’s, Elaine. We also have an Alaine here this morning if you can believe it. Sorry I mixed them up!" With that, she chuckles and pats me on the back as she passes by. I smile weakly and follow my family down the corridor.

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Reader Comments (9)

OH. MY. GOD. That was the best chapter yet. I can't stop laughing.
September 23, 2005 | Registered CommenterTabatha
Swear to god, it went down just that way.. I didn't embelish a word!
September 24, 2005 | Registered CommenterMonica
HYS-TERI-CAL!!! Dude, you have to publish this stuff!! Me and almost any other woman I know would totally buy your book and recommend it to everybody we knew!! It's just too fucking funny..LMAO.."small teeth"..heehee. You are awesome!
September 26, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJulia
This is the first of your stories I have read. You are an amazing writer. I really felt your embarrassment or should I say confusion! I have always wondered if I wouldn’t be able to identify someone close to me. Ya no like yer dead dog in a pile of other dead dogs. Morbid but I always say without a doubt. You bring me doubt.
September 27, 2005 | Registered CommenterHolly
"Fire up my steamboat" was what I yelled out while sleeping on the couch one day. Mom was sitting across from me in the living room reading the paper at the time. If Jordan yelled that out then that is one hell of a coincidence.
August 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBrandon
Nah.. You're right.. I took a few liberties..
August 13, 2006 | Registered CommenterMonica
word. It was Brandon.
August 23, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermama
great storu but the bit that really got me was the 80lbs of farting dog in bed, 200lbs of farting man, sandpaper paws on pink bits, the mandatory direct injection of caffeine......have you been spying on our morning ritual?
September 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commentersfh

In my early, early twenties I worked in the same small home decoratingretail store for four years and at one point the staff roster read as follows- Chris, Christina, Tina, Bina, Karen and Karin. It was almost ridiculous.

June 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

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