Monday, April 6, 2015

An Open Letter To Sarah Combs's YA Self



I'm very excited to be featuring a few YA authors on the blog, writing their own Open Letters, through out this month.  Not aware of this fab feature?  Be sure to check out my introduction post HERE.  You can also read my Open Letter To My YA Self post HERE.

Please welcome my dear friend, and lovely author, Sarah Combs to the blog today, sharing her own Open Letter To YA Self.  She is the brilliant mind behind BREAKFAST SERVED ANYTIME, and in case my love for this book hasn't caused you to read it already, I hope today's letter will inspire you to.

Dear fifteen year-old Sarah,

I’ve been thinking about you, and thinking that I owe you some thanks for a decision you made on our behalf almost twenty-three years ago.

It’s spring 1992, and your freshman year is drawing to a close. Things are going relatively well: You’ve found your people, you’ve been cast in The Skin of Our Teeth, all the world Smells Like Teen Spirit (literally and figuratively—your Walkman runs on Nevermind and your deodorant, which will forever be eau de freshman year, is Romantic Rose), and, like always, you’re in love. In love with, among other things: your Humanities class, your subscription to Sassy magazine, your Birkenstocks, your devoted and stalwart best friend, and (of course; you can’t help it) a boy.

Added bonus: After four (4) years of nightmarish orthodontia (you’ve had it all: headgear; rubber bands stretched slantwise across your maw; a torturous expansion device that lived for nine months betwixt your molars and had to be adjusted nightly and excruciatingly via the turn of a key), you’re fixing to get your braces removed. You cannot wait. There’s a jumbo bag of celebratory gummi bears in your backpack. Only: Wait. Hold on. The orthodontist is looking at you quizzically. He’s checking out a sheaf of X-rays taken over the last four years. He’d like for you to return to the waiting area, and could you send your dad in for just a sec?

The sec lasts a million years, and here is the upshot: The orthodontist (who deals in teeth, not noses, you remind yourself later—it has long been your habit to seek fault in any kind of authority figure, especially those who deliver unpleasantries) thinks you might have something called a deviated septum.

A what?

A deviated septum, says the Ear Nose & Throat doctor a few days later. It is indeed what you have, and it means that the bone and cartilage separating your nasal cavities is all out of whack. It also means that your breathing passages are sort of dangerously obstructed, which means you have to have an operation. Sooner rather than later.

What? But you breathe just fine. You sleep fine, too: vivid dreams and all. You throw an anguished look at your father, who is nodding along with the doctor. Doctor Ear Nose and Throat, whose authority you are already questioning in your mind. In your mind, he is already the person conspiring with the orthodontist to make you wear braces for the rest of ever.

Okay, your dad says on the exhale. He is, after all, your father, and he wants his daughter to be able to breathe.

Your face is going hot—the first outward sign of the fear gathering in your gut. You’ve got a question for this guy, this Doctor EN&T. Is this—this surgery—going to change the way I look?

No, says Almighty Doc EN&T, super-nonchalant. However, should you desire corrective surgery, we could certainly perform rhinoplasty at the same time. Those are maybe not the doctor’s exact words. You can’t be expecting your grown-ass self to be recollecting the exact words a quarter of a century later. Anyway it doesn’t matter what he said. What matters is what you heard, which is:

1. Rhinoplasty, which might be the ugliest word ever invented, some horrible zoo-animal/Tupperware hybrid; and 2. IN MY PROFESSIONAL OPINION, YOU NEED A NOSE JOB.

Immediately, your mind zooms back to that faraway land you thought you left behind forever: middle school. You’re back in middle school, home of those horrible boys who twist the last name you’ve always privately loved and been proud of—Van Arsdale, regal and one-of-a-kind, Dutch badass at your service—into Van Long Nose. The same boys who duck when you walk down the hall—because if they stood upright they’d get lanced by your gargantuan nose of course, ha ha, super original (you could eyeroll that ha ha, super original all day long to yourself, but here is the awful truth: It hurts. They are hurting you, and you won’t ever be able to forget it, not ever).

Your best friend is the best: The unwitting object of desire of not only these particular mean boys but also every other boy in your middle school, she is also a dancer made of fierceness and speed and most of all loyalty, the kind you’ll still be counting on decades from now. She cares not a fly for the admiration of these stupid boys, and she can run faster than all of them combined. So when one of them passes you at your shared locker and whispers Big Nose before disappearing down the hall, your best friend is after that asshole at lightning speed. She is grabbing him by the arm and whirling his body around to face her and she is hollering, like she can’t believe how dumb he is: You can have a big nose, but you can’t be a big nose.

Which cracks you up, and makes you weep with gratitude, and which you particularly appreciate because—even in middle school, that hellhole—you have a vested interest in words and semantics. You think you might like to be a writer someday.

But: Even though your best friend tells you daily that your nose is beautiful, that it looks a little like the one that belongs to her hero Wendy Whelan of the New York City Ballet, you sometimes—in your darker moments—look in the mirror and wonder if what those boys said was true. If you really can be a big nose, and nothing else.

It’s what you’re thinking now, in the office of Doctor EN&T, who is giving you a benign smile.

Once again, you look over at your dad, who is the reason you have your nose in the first place. It’s something you inherited from him—along with your badass Dutch last name, your freckles, and your tendency to question authority. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent, he’s been telling you for years, quoting Eleanor Roosevelt. Hold your head high. How many times did your broken-record of a dad also point out to middle-school you—middle-school us—that some of the most unforgettable women in the world have aquiline (he loves that word) noses? Princess Diana, who is even smarter than she is lovely. In fact, her mind is what makes her lovely, because, daughter, listen: that’s exactly how it works, and it’s the part of this conversation that you need to remember. Think of John Singer Sargent’s elusive Madame X—she would be nothing without her nose. Think of Botticelli. Think of Waterhouse.

You are a work of art, is what your—our—father was trying to tell you.

You don’t have to decide right now, says the doctor. Give it some thought.

And you give it some thought. You do. In the space of a moment you think of all the times you have felt and believed that you are a big nose and nothing more. And then you think of all the times—the huge number of times—when you have proven yourself more than that: a daughter, a sister, a friend. An actress whose talent and aquiline profile land her the juicy roles, the bold ones, the ones the ingĂ©nues don’t get. The girl finally now in high school, where not once has anybody ever said anything about her nose—except of course the boy, who has given her picture postcards of Sargent’s Madame X and Dicksee’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Who has said: They remind me of you. Who has used the word classic. He’s the kind of boy who has actually seen The Lion in Winter and likes to call you Eleanor of Aquitaine. The kind of boy who deserves your very first sans-braces kiss.

Strangely, although the doctor has confirmed that you have an actual physical defect that is hazardous to your health and requires surgery, it is not until he utters the word rhinoplasty that you find yourself unable to breathe. You have never loved your nose. And aside from the miraculous gift of breathing it provides, will never really love it, just as you will never love mirrors or cameras or photographs with you in them. But you make your decision right then and there, and you are absolutely sure that it is the right one.

Your best friend is there with you at the hospital, holding your hand and making you laugh as you fall under the fog of the anesthesia (she’ll be in the exact same spot when you get your wisdom teeth removed years later and when—years even later than that—you give birth to a child, a second boy, who will have your freckles and your strong will). When you wake up, your deviated septum will be fixed. Although there will be pain, and bandages, and lots of gross swelling for a while, you will eventually look in the mirror and see once again the same person you were before you went under the knife.

The change will be this: Now you can breathe. You can breathe. You can breathe. You will marvel at breathing, what a wonder it is, what a gift. You will ask yourself: How was I even living before? You will tell yourself: Don’t take this breath for granted, ever again.

So thank you for keeping our nose, fifteen year-old Sarah. You are wise beyond your years, and you are as brave as your Eleanors Roosevelt and Aquitaine, and although you’re far from perfect, I’m so, so glad you’re me.

See you on the other side.

Love,
Sarah

P.S. I know you have your ever-loyal Weetzie Bat and Franny Glass to keep you company, but in the interest of messing with the space/time continuum (one of our shared obsessions!), here are some other kindred spirits you'll want in your coterie: Frankie Landau-Banks (the eponymous heroine of The Disreputable History of, by e. lockhart); Taylor Markham (from Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta); and Priscilla "Petey" Willis (of Laura Ruby's exquisite Bone Gap). Oh, honey: These girls have got your number...and your back.
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2 comments:

  1. Something I would tell my younger self is to not worry too much about what others think, to always follow your heart. A book I would recommend to my younger self would be Anna and the French Kiss!

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a beautiful letter, Sarah! I loved reading about your experience and I even felt a bit of pride on your behalf that you chose to make such an important and momentous decision that still feels right even years later.

    ReplyDelete

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