I was sitting in an ENT Doctor’s Office recently and he asked me a very unexpected question: “When did you break your nose?” I looked at him confused, thinking at first he was joking. I told him, “I’ve never broken my nose”. He replied, “Well, something happened and the results look like you broke your nose. It took me almost a week to figure out, but it turns out he’s right: I think my nose was broken.
I was in the ENT’s office because I’d been having increasing trouble breathing normally through my nose this last year or so, but it goes back further than that. As long as I can recall, I’ve had an irrational fear of getting kidnapped and being gagged and being 100% certain that I would then die because I couldn’t breathe through my nose. This was a plot point in a Larry Niven book I read as a kid, called “Dream Park”. In it, the protagonist did jail time because of a botched robbery. They tied up a guard and gagged him, not knowing he had a cold, and the guard died from asphyxiation. Obviously, this stuck with me. But, it hadn’t been enough of a problem for me to do anything about or even consult an ENT because I guess I thought it was too much trouble.
This led to a visit to one ENT who tested me for allergies and then said, “You have a pretty deviated septum”. That’s the cartilaginous wall that separates the two passages of your nasal cavity. Something like this:
That ENT referred me to another ENT who fixes this kind of issue so that’s what led to me sitting in an office being asked by a doctor when I had broken a nose that I had no recollection of ever breaking. I told him, No, I had no idea what had happened, but I was pretty sure I’d never broken my nose.
With that, we set a date to go in and fix the problem.
As I was being wheeled into the operating room, I was telling the nurse this story about the doctor asking about me breaking my nose and we shared stories of getting bonked in the head by our kids or other things which might have resulted in some trauma and, while I’ll be the first to blame my kids for this, I was pretty certain that that wasn’t what did it.
Just a few minutes before they started to put me under, I began to recall an incident that occurred when I was a new driver, so probably just a few months after getting my driver’s license. I’d have been a Junior in High School.
I told Christina this story because I’d just worked it out, but I haven’t told anyone else. Not a friend, not family, not my parents, or any authorities. Mostly out of teenaged shame (at the time), but then it seems I buried this deep enough that I hadn’t really thought of it in 40 years.
The parking lot for students had two halves. One half was for the car guys. The ones that tuned their loud engines, worked on their cars and met up there to look at each other’s cars and smoke. The other half was just the normal parking for everyone else. Which included me.
On this day, I started to pull out to the right to get to the light where I would then turn left to go to my after-school job. I didn’t realize that just as I pulled out, one of the car guys was getting ready to peel out and race through the light that had just changed. So, I, in my little banana yellow Pinto pulled out in front of this muscle car. The driver had to immediately step on his brakes and I could immediately tell that he was pissed! Might have been the honking, screeching brakes and yelling. This was very outside my experience, so I just stepped on the accelerator with the goal of getting through the light and getting out of this guy’s way. Instead, he pulled right up behind me and was honking and clearly following me.
I panicked and tried to pull in to a nearby neighborhood and made several turns, but he was still clearly pissed and still following me aggressively. I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to get back to the main arterial with the goal of driving to my job, which was at a mall with an Albertson’s grocery store, figuring that there would be too many witnesses for this guy to do anything too stupid.
I pulled up to the stop sign to make the right on the arterial. I looked to the left, but unfortunately for me, there was oncoming traffic keeping me from making the right turn.
In the amount of time it took me to pull to a stop and make my assessment, the driver of the other car had pulled up behind me, gotten out and was approaching my car.
My recollection is a bit fuzzy after all these years, but I do recall him wrenching my door open (why didn’t I lock my door? I’ve no idea.) He pulled his fist back and just clocked me square in the face as I sat there in my car, not even getting out.
He called me some names and turned around and went back to his car, went around me and pulled away.
I sat there, in my car still, bleeding from my nose. My ears were ringing and I was just trying to process what had happened.
Eventually, I had enough presence of mind to get moving toward my job again. I was still bleeding from my hose, so I used my shirt to try and staunch the bleeding. The only other clothes I had were my work clothes and I didn’t want to get them bloody because, in my head, it was still a priority to get to work on time and do my job. Despite having just been assaulted.
I sat in the parking lot of the mall, away from everyone else, while I tried to process what had happened and what I was going to do.
Eventually, my plan became to simply bleed into my current clothes till that stopped and then change in to my work clothes and try to go to work and hope no one noticed or asked me what had happened. Because, again, shame. I didn’t want to talk about it or admit what had happened because I was ashamed that I had done nothing.
In the end, I did get through that shift. I did get home and either threw away those clothes or washed them and didn’t get found out. I didn’t tell my parents because I didn’t feel like there was anything my mom could do and I was afraid of my dad’s reaction because he would have absolutely gotten into a street fight with that kid at my age. My reaction was not on the spectrum of understandable responses for my dad.
I didn’t go to any authorities. Not the school or the cops. Because I was sure that if I did, even if the kid did get in trouble, he’d just hunt me down and kick the shit out of me again. So, I did nothing. But feel shame.
It eventually healed and I went nearly 40 years without any real consequences from getting my nose splattered. But the reality is I got assaulted. I got the shit kicked out of me. And I had done nothing and I was ashamed of that. To the point where I buried that memory deep and didn’t tell anyone for 40 years.
But, I’m telling it now because I’m done hiding it and I’m done feeling shame for what happened to me. I’m not going to give that person any kind of power over me.
I don’t recall the name of the kid. I think there’s a chance it might have been something like Lonnie. That sounds like the name of a kid who would smack the shit out of another kid in 1981. I don’t recall anything about him. But, I know that the name of the doctor who helped fix the damage that kid did back in 1981 is Dr. Philomen L. Anderson. Thanks, Doc!
I’m only a few days post-operation. My hose is filled with splints on either side and I am not enjoying the constant post-operative drip of mucus and blood, but I suspect the result of this will be me being to more actively enjoy breathing from my nose, which would be awesome!
Plus, I had the added benefit of getting this story and the associated shame out of me and into the ether because I am done with this bit of juvenile nonsense. It sucks to have been the victim of this kind of activity. It sucks that I didn’t feel comfortable leaning on anyone in my life for fear that I would be judged harshly. But, that was then. Now, I don’t care. It happened and is part of the breadth of my experiences. Some of those experiences were bad, many were good. And this is the me who resulted from all of that.
Featured Image as well as car image generated by MidJourney