I held on to my secret plan the whole day, while I laughed with friends, took a math quiz, and ate lunch in the senior lounge at my Upper East Side private school. At the end of the day, instead of my usual routine of taking the M86 bus with Dana to the Upper West Side, where both our families lived, I left school without staying bye to anyone, made a left on Park, and walked south as quickly as I could without drawing attention.
My mother was constantly whining to my father, “Why can’t we move to the Upper East Side? It’s so much better than here.” It didn’t really matter to me, though, I hated them both, but I knew that the Upper East Side was its own strange universe. As I walked, I passed kids getting out of school — some in uniforms from the all-girls school nearby, some in Juicy Couture jumpsuits, or Seven jeans — a lot of not-white nannies taking care of white kids, and moms in expensive yoga clothes or business suits running errands. There were no men around; the fathers were at work. I made a right on 82nd and searched for number forty three.
“Yes, miss?” the doorman asked.
“Ummm,” I couldn’t bring myself to say it. The plastic surgery Chicago clinic was on my mind. “I think I’m going to Suite 1-C?”
“Yes, of course, right ahead,” he said, unfazed.
The office, softly lit, all beige and pink, with black-and-white photos of flowers on the walls, looked more like a hotel lobby than a doctor’s waiting room. I felt calmer than I’d been in a long time. Like my life was finally getting started. I was taking control. I’d expected the receptionist to be all swollen lips, perfect ski-slope nose, tight skin, blond hair…but instead she looked normal, medium pretty.
“I have an appointment for a consultation,” I said, blushing.
“Of course,” she said.
Sitting on a comfortable chair, I alternated between filling out forms and looking at myself in the mirrored wall. Like every day, I had on jeans and a sweatshirt, my frizzy hair pulled back in a bun. A pamphlet on the side table described the Mommy Special — “a collection of surgeries designed to restore your pre-pregnancy physique” — and the Bridal Package — “not just for brides, but for the entire bridal party.”
I could see my future: the boyfriend who’d be handsome, but in a low-key way. He’d love reading, but also be good at sports. I pictured us making out against a brick wall. You’re the love of my life, you know that? he’d ask. You’re the fire of my loins, I’d purr, smiling seductively. We’d get married, our whole wedding party getting surgery on different body parts beforehand.
I fingered the slope of my nose self-consciously, thinking back to tennis practice when Jessie, Pam and Katie had been gossiping about Rachel, who wasn’t there. I wasn’t really friends with them, but we were on the team together.
“She really needs to get her nose fixed,” Pam had said. “She’d look a lot better.”
I waited for all of them to turn to me, for Pam to put her hand over her mouth in worry that she’d offended me. I felt hot, my eyes stung. But they continued on. They hadn’t noticed me, or hadn’t thought I needed to get mine fixed, too. How did one know if one needed to get a nose fixed?
I knew what fixed meant, of course. My mom had explained it to me years ago. She’d found me sobbing in my room one day, and when she asked what was wrong, I told her I couldn’t stand how ugly I was.
“I just can’t bear it anymore,” I cried.
I was too young now, only 13, my mom explained, but in a few years I could get a nose job.
I hadn’t known what to say. In a way, it was a relief to know I was right, that there was something wrong with me. But it also ached, because deep deep down, I’d always hoped that I was imagining it. My mom touched her own nose and said, “Look, we have the same bump. I’m sorry I gave it to you.”
She told me she’d always regretted not getting a nose job herself, and she didn’t want that for me. My mom plucked her eyebrows into mean, thin arcs and woke up at 5:30 a.m. to meet with Peter, her personal trainer. She made recipes from cookbooks called Hungry Girl to the Max and Skinny Bitch in the Kitch.
“It’s too late for me now,” she said sadly, “but not for you.”
For years after that I hated trying on clothes in stores. Dressing rooms had angled mirrors, so you had to see yourself in profile. I tried to position myself in conversations so that as few people as possible could see the side view of my face. Head on, I looked okay.
I’m just having a free consultation,” I told myself as I waited. Nothing has to come of it. I secretly hoped they’d say, “You’re crazy, you’re a beautiful young girl, perfectly normal, and plastic surgery is for people who are in dire medical need.” Then I could go on with my life. But another part of me hoped, masochistically, that they’d go to the other extreme.
“Whoaahhh, boy, we got a red alert here, get out the knife, this is an emergency. How could you have waited so long, young lady?”