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Des complexes

before my climbing accident

before my climbing accident

When I was toddler in Ecuador, I tried to climb a wall shelving unit full of my dolls—and fell. The entire unit then fell on top of me. My mom tells me my face swelled up for days. I have no memory of the event, but it affected me for much of my life. And it wasn’t just the small scar on my nose that was left behind once the swelling went down.

I can’t remember when I first noticed my nose. I don’t know how old I was or what my initial thoughts about it were. What I do remember is that a few years later, my plastic surgeon uncle, during a short visit to the States for a medical conference, told me that once I was of age, he would fix it. Naturally, this caused me to pay an unusual amount of attention to my nose. I’d stare at it in the mirror from different angles. I’d pinch it and push it up, imagining what it would look if it were thinner, longer, less sloped and without the scar or the bump on the bridge. I became convinced  my childhood accident had ruined my nose, and that it was only a matter of time before my uncle would give me a new one.


one of the other 20%

At 18, I took a family trip back to the mother country, and as promised, my uncle was ready and willing to perform the long anticipated rhinoplasty for an insanely discounted price (about $120). I must be the only person who has turned down an almost-free nose job. And it’s not because I grew out of being  so self-conscious. Nope. I still think my nose looks awful in about 80% of photographs. I definitely considered the surgery, but in the end, I deemed it unnecessary. In my entire life, no one had ever cared about my nose as much as I’d had. In fact, most are unaware of the scar until I bring it to their attention, including boys I dated. Plus, the thought of waking up with a different face really freaked me out. And there was no guarantee that I’d not obsess over the new nose or find something else to obsess over. Thanks, but no thanks.

Recently, I suffered a bad fall that left me with a very swollen nose which I feared might be broken. It was probably the first time in my life that I longed to have my nose back to normal. Thankfully, it’s going to be just fine.

Do you have any facial features or body parts that you don’t love? How about scars or birthmarks? Would love to hear about your experiences dealing with them, and your journey toward acceptance.

F.Y.I.: “Des complexes” is a phrase I learned in my very first French class in college. It translates to “hangups” or, for those familiar with psychology, “complexes.”


Fun Fact: My Big Fat Family

My office puts out a monthly “Fun Facts” on the department website. Given that I work for a home health care agency, and that we deal with the  evaluation and analysis of patient data, these posts can be interesting, but I would hardly call them fun. So, I decided to put together fun facts about myself. Hopefully, they’re entertaining, and it can turn into a series of fun facts in the weeks to come. This is all in the spirit of keeping me writing, despite my suddenly very busy life.


When I tell people that I have five younger siblings, their eyes usually pop out of their heads. I suppose it’s impressive, but for me it’s just a fact of my life. The age differences between us is what I find more shocking. The youngest of my siblings, my little sister, is 19 years younger than I am. She just turned 13 a couple months ago, and a couple weeks after that, I turned 32. Needless to say, there was always a battle for my mom’s attention at home, one that I usually lost to my younger and more demanding siblings.

But, there were some benefits to being the eldest sibling, and I would say the most significant was being able to watch my younger siblings grow up. I have a ton of great memories of them doing and saying hilarious things. Like the time the youngest of my brothers got a battery stuck up his nose, and then expelled it by using what he called “the force.” Or the time the middle brother became so upset after getting a haircut which he felt made him “look ugly.” He must have been 3 or so years old, but even then he had a sense of style. And then there’s my little sister, who hasn’t stopped chatting since the moment she learned to talk, and somehow always manages to be hysterical.

One interesting fact is that they see me as an adult, and not just a big sister. When we were younger, this meant that they were fascinated by everything I did and were especially intrigued by my belongings. I once asked them in a rage why they insisted on sneaking into my room all the time and touching my stuff, and they told me: “It’s because you’re so cool!” and really meant it. It made me laugh, because I realized that I had never placed myself in their shoes and imagined what it would be like to have a much older sibling. It was a very strange setup indeed.

I lived at home until I was about 27. The lack of privacy and the incessant sound of children playing drove me bananas. Nowadays, I miss my siblings seeing me as a “super-sister,” (like a super-senior in high school) before they became teenagers way cooler than I am. Thankfully, I have a bunch of memories (and pictures) of their less cool days to deflate their big heads. Above is my youngest sister during her Hannah Montana phase, which she is now so over. The picture was taken on her 8th birthday.

Not a Morning Person

As a kid, my mom would wake me and my younger siblings up for school by cranking up some Spanish-language AM radio station. We were forced to sit through breakfast with the news and weather blasting at us. In addition to this torture tactic, my mom would cheerily remind us every day that it was time for school, as if she were describing a trip to Disneyworld. I think it took everything in us kids to contain our displeasure. We just sat there in silence seething, not even making eye contact.

The only positive association I have with mornings is sleeping in on Saturdays and watching cartoons. My favorite was Garfield and Friends. Garfield was my kind of cat. He was cynical, hated Mondays, loved to eat, and sleep was his favorite hobby. Needless to say, I’m not a morning person. I never wake up bursting with energy, and I consider it a good morning when I manage to leave the house without snapping at David. Nowadays, I wake up to his alarm, which happens to be set to National Public Radio. Clearly, he doesn’t believe I’ve suffered enough….

Despite the morning crabbiness and my generally cynical nature (which I truly believe I was born with), I consider myself a happy, positive person. I’ve learned to laugh at myself and accept these traits as part of who I am–only human. Life is so much easier this way. Some days (usually when David’s alarm is turned off), I even wake up in a good mood–thankful and full of love. That actually happened yesterday, but I later needed all the joy I could muster, because I had the commute from hell and was late for work. I still get kudos for managing to get through a good three quarters of it without rolling my eyes.

The Mind’s Eye

Daily Prompt: Whoa! What’s the most surreal experience you’ve ever had?

I have a fantastic dream life. I’ve experienced things in deep sleep that are supposedly uncommon, or so I’ve been told. I have traveled to alternate universes, I have flown above town several times, and on one occasion, I actually experienced death (words cannot describe). But the most impressive dream I’ve had involved no sci-fi/fantasy themes. In fact, the dream itself was unmemorable. What stood out was that my cousin Xavier, who I  hadn’t seen in several years, appeared in it.

Xavier was actually my mother’s first cousin. When I was a kid, I thought of him as a cool young uncle. Having grown up in New York City, he knew all the fun places to take my siblings and me, whether it was ice cream at the Haagen Daz in Brooklyn Heights, or catching a movie in the East Village. I wanted to be just like him when I got older: smart, independent, and just plain cool.

I use the past tense when I speak of Xavier because he and his wife disappeared one day, seemingly out of nowhere. Not even his own mother knew what had happened. Years went by, and there was no trace of either of them. He was slowly becoming a distant memory to me, until that night when he appeared in my dream. The next morning, I found myself thinking a lot about him–about the adventures we had, the songs we would sing together, his signature knock on the door. Later that day, I casually mentioned my dream to my mother, and much to my surprise, she divulged that she had dreamed of him as well. But what still blows my mind until this day is the fact that my great aunt had called her that morning to let her know that Xavier had contacted her the previous day, while I was asleep. He told her that he was okay, and that she shouldn’t worry or try to search for him. It seems that somehow, on a level I cannot comprehend, I felt his presence, even if it was just over the phone.

I never saw Xavier again. By now, a good 25 years have passed since I last saw him. I wonder if he is alive, and if so, where he is and what he is doing. I wish he’d been around to see me grow up, and to offer me the guidance that my parents could not. I wish I’d had him around to talk to when I was going through difficult times in my life. He would have given me one of his awesome hugs that I remember so well. I wish I could tell him how important he was to me, and what a lasting impression he’d made. Most of all, I hope that I’ve become someone he would be proud of today.

Music: My Life Partner

Daily Prompt: Musical What role does music play in your life?

I’m not a musician. I can’t read sheet music to save my soul. I don’t have a huge record or CD collection, and my iTunes collection is rather pitiful. Still, I think music has always played an important role in my life.

As a child, music was solely a way to celebrate. There wasn’t a single family gathering where salsa and merengue were absent, along with plenty of dancing. Sad music was unacceptable to me. I couldn’t even watch the Muppets because of their inevitable mopey songs, usually sung by the sensitive Kermit. Even then, music affected me, but I did not always understand or enjoy its effects.

I grew up and grew out of that, of course, once I got to know the world and myself a little better. I came to appreciate and eventually love the way that music stirs me emotionally, whether it amplifies the positive feelings of love and joy, or offers me solace in times of sadness and grief; whether I’m singing my heart out at a karaoke bar, dancing my butt off at a party, or simply tuning out the world during my morning commute. Like a faithful friend, music is always present.