You Can Live with This Nose
“My mother is giving me ten thousand dollars to get a nose job.”
It went off like a revolver in a house full of empty closets.
“What?” Marigold shot me an angry look, pressing a forefinger to her lips.
She was right. This was hardly the time or the place. “Passionate, provocative, and deeply Jewish, we champion a Judaism that denounces injustice. We are people of all sexual orientations and gender identities …” I read the pamphlet sprawled out on my lap, like a Hebrew prayer shawl.
Marigold invited me to celebrate Shabbat at her LGBTQ synagogue. She was the most powerful, courageous and wise woman I had ever met. At the age of 43, being a mother to two teenagers and a wife to a man who worked as a doorman, she decided she’d had enough of living in the closet. She divorced her husband and married a woman before it was even legal. We became fast friends when we both won a fellowship from COJECO—me to write a book of short stories in the genre of “Sholem Aleichem” meets “Sex and the City”; her to organize a gay and lesbian support group for Russian-Jewish immigrants.
I loved Marigold. I often told her if she had a penis, I would be dating her.
“But I have a few,” she protested, her hazel eyes in a mischievous, giddy squint.
Now we sat in the first row of an amphitheater in Chelsea and listened to an androgynous rabbi lead in the Friday night service. I contemplated the pros and cons of my mother’s offer.
Marigold leaned in closer and whispered, “But what do you think?”
“About my mother?” I perked up.
“No…. About your nose.”
“Well, I think if my mother is offering me that much money—and my mother never gives me money! —I must really be hideous.”
“Forget about your mother for a second. What’s wrong with your nose?” she asked, gently leading, like a school psychologist.
Marigold’s own mother loved her so much that if she could sleep with her in the same bed, she would. When Marigold got married, she had a chuppah in front of 100 guests, but she didn’t invite her mother. How do you explain to an 85-year old woman, already on dialysis, that it is possible for one woman to marry another woman? Marigold brought her mother flowers from the wedding banquet. The elderly woman stared at them for a long time. “I don’t like lilies,” was all she said. Two days later, she passed away, and Marigold had to cut her honeymoon short.
“What’s wrong with my nose, you ask? Look at this bump!” I traced a line down my nasal bridge, halting at the pronounced bone between my eyes. “Just imagine how pretty I would be if I had a cute little button nose,” I said dreamily, pushing both my nostrils up to the ceiling.
Marigold shook her head from side to side.
“Really, I am just a nose job away from being a shiksa.”
“And you want to be a shiksa now?” Marigold exclaimed a little too loudly.
The rabbi stopped the sermon and stared at us from the podium.
I sank back into the chair and buried my head in the siddur. “No I don’t want to be a shiksa,” I hissed in my defense. “I just want to look good.”
“But you are a beautiful girl,” Marigold insisted. “Your nose is not a problem.”
“You know, that’s what my boss said,” I mused after the Kaddish. “I told him I wanted to get a nose job. He asked me why. So I can be more attractive, I explained to him. Attractive to whom? He probed. To men, of course! To men? He laughed. But it’s not about your nose—it’s how you suck dick!”
“He said that?” Marigold burst out laughing.
The congregation shushed us from every corner.
The rest of the evening prayers, I continued scrunching my nose, rubbing it up and down, pressing my curved beak as if it was made out of clay and I could easily remold it like a sculptor.
Finally, I let out a long deep sigh and said, “I really don’t know how I can live with this nose.” The futility and despair of the entire Jewish people sitting on my face, like caked make-up.
Marigold, exasperated, pressed her lips together in a Buddha pout. “Do me a favor,” she said. “Look around you. Right here, right now, in this synagogue, there are people who are cutting things off, body parts—vital body parts—because they cannot live otherwise. But you … you, my dear, you can live with this nose, I assure you!”
“Come, my love, to greet the bride, let us welcome Shabbat,” the cantor cried, as everyone rose to their feet and joined in.
As if I had just woken up from a dream, I looked around and I could finally see beyond my nose. I noticed for the first time that men and women prayed together, and there was no partition. Some men had their arms around each other; they swayed to the rhythm of the makeshift chorus. There were women with yarmulkes on their heads, and young boys wearing mascara and high heels. In some cases, I couldn’t even tell if they were boys or girls. I watched them clap and sing in perfect unison, and I thought about how we all had mothers who wanted us to have beautiful noses and bountiful lives, and I smiled at Marigold and hummed along, “Rise from the dust, dress in your finest … come, my love, to greet the bride.”
Marina Rubin’s work has appeared in more than 80 magazines and anthologies, including 5AM, Pearl, Nano Fiction, and Dos Pasos. She is an editor of Mudfish, the Tribeca literary and art magazine. She is a 2013 recipient of the COJECO Blueprint Fellowship. Her fourth book, a collection of flash fiction “Stealing Cherries” was released in November 2013 to rave reviews.