Wednesday, February 28, 2007

My Breasts

In the dressing room of the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital Breast Imaging center, I look carefully at what has become of my once beautiful breasts. Standing naked in front of the mirror, my clothes in a pile on the bench behind me, a paper robe in my hand, I stare at the sad sacks of sinewy flesh sagging towards the floor on a trail of stretch marks. They were once the objects of so many people’s affection.

When they were young, when they were mere buds of soft tissue, when they had only begun to shape my Little Miss Trouble T-shirt, they were soft and pink with nipples like Hershey kisses. The tear drop shape garnered a blooming thirteen year old more attention than any other girl at Charles Wright Academy. It was there that they made their debut on the first day of junior high.

I was the new girl in one of those private schools where everyone had known each other since first grade. For the first day of school, I selected to wear a loose navy blue tank top with wooden buttons down the front and a pair of my sister’s blue jeans that I outgrew in the 5th grade.

I stepped onto the bus, looked down at my shoes, pinched my shoulders up towards my ears, and gravitated towards the comfort of the back of the bus.

“Holy Shit!” said one of the boys.

“Check out the new girl,” said another.

“Hey new girl,” a boy with perfect teeth stepped in front of me. I recognized him as Trevor Moawad, the kid from pre-school that ate the Play-Dough.

“Can you touch your elbows behind your back?” he asked.

I smiled to take the edge off my nervousness, put my arms behind my back and tried to touch my elbows together. The boys let out a gasp, followed by the contagious spread of teen age giggles.

Now perhaps a different girl would have hung her head and sulked to the back of the bus in shame. But not this one. I had been noticed. A feat not easily obtained at home amongst my seven brothers and sisters. And I suddenly realized that I had something that made me special.

From that day forward I was known for my breasts. ‘Boobies’, ‘Tits’, ‘Ta-tas’, ‘Melons’, ‘Jugs’, ‘Cans’, ‘Knockers’, ‘Rack’, ‘Bazookas’, ‘Hooters”, ‘Balloons Bombs’, ‘Milkmakers’, ‘Funbags’, ‘Torpedoes’, ‘Bee-stings’, ‘Chesticles’, the boys of Charles Wright Academy kept me abreast of their ever changing size, shape and propensity to perkiness. As in, “my, my, Miss Ingrid, your teats are especially perky today.”

Language classes were used to discover new ways to describe their rapid change.

Spanish Class: grandes melones
French Class: gros jos
Italian Class: tettone
Pig-Latin: reast-bay

And the truth is, I loved it. I loved them. While the other girls developed thighs without dimples, lanky runner legs, silky thick long hair and other things that I would never have, I had them. My two best friends.

The hottest guy in school barely spoke to any of the girls in school, but quite regularly he would conduct bra checks on me by placing an arm around my shoulder and then “accidentally” rubbing a hand down my back to feel for a strap. I would laugh and swat him away and he would run off to brag to the other boys about his discovery. The other girls would gather around to ask if we were “going together”.

A bra didn’t seem necessary for my little pointy oil wells. In seventh grade, they really weren’t that big. It was only by comparison that they obtained legendary status. I finally had to ask my Mom for a hand-me-down from one of my sisters because Krysta Bandervics wore a bra, and she was the most popular girl in school. It wasn’t long until my sisters bras were no longer sufficient.

By senior year, the talk on campus was that I had gone somewhere to get them done. A rumor likely started by my B-cup older sister. By the time I finished high school, the little volcanoes had erupted into majestic mountains the like of Mount Kilimanjaro. Unable to keep up with the growth, my breasts quadrupled over bras that didn't fit and squeezed under sweaters no longer meant for certain shaped women. Whenever I tried to wear what was fashionable, it just ended up making me look like a straight up slut. V-neck Lacoste sweaters never looked so dirty.

That was the start of the awkward years. My breasts were stealing my identity, while I idled lazily along-side them unsure of my other redeeming qualities. I couldn’t understand why grown ups widened their eyes with while staring below my line of vision. I was overwhelmed with the number of senior boys that suddenly seemed interested in taking me out on Friday night.

“Whatever you do, don’t let anyone touch them. Once you let a boy touch them, they will be coming for miles around,” Dad warned my sister Kirsten in the car one day while we waited for mother in the Safeway parking lot.

Kirsten and I exchanged glances and laughed into our hands. This was the same man that would turn the Suburban around on our way to church to get a longer glance at a morning jogger bouncing by in her pink athletic top.

“Whoo-wee. Would you look at those things?” he would ask loudly over a car full of screaming kids.

“Oh Michael,” Mom would say, stifling a laugh and playfully punching him in the side.

“Don’t worry honey, she’s got nothing on you. Your mammaries are magnificent. Yours have the power to entertain me for a lifetime.”

My late teens were a confusing struggle between the guilty pleasure of male attention and the fear that I was suffocating under a sea of squishy flesh. But by my twenties, my breasts and I had called a truce. I stopped trying to beat them into a B-cup with endless work-outs and they agreed to drop down an inch and fight their way into cute Victoria Secret bra’s. A friendship took root.

By twenty-three my girls were mightier than your average chest. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bounce, capable of reducing men to boys with a few twists of the hip, once their power was mastered they were wicked weapons. Yes, the girls served me well in my twenties. They brought me through five years as a Budweiser girl and made a decade of cocktail waitressing tremendously lucrative.

As the girls grew in size, I grew in confidence. Like my sister Katryn and her romance novel long hair, my breasts were the key to my burgeoning femininity.

Staring at them today in the mirror, it is clear they have seen their glory days. Nipples decidedly larger than in their youth, girth gone like a balloon on its fourth day, and length. Well, should breasts really ever be discussed by their length?

“According to Cosmo, length can determine the need for a bra,” my Mom told my little sister Maiken one day while we stood in front of the mirror trying on our Christmas sweaters.”

“Just stick a pencil under your breast and if in one hop it doesn't fall, you need to start wearing a bra.”

Well back then you didn't want it to fall. Now six hops and I'm wondering if I'm going to need see a doctor to go in and extricate the pencil from the cavernous underside of my magnanimous mammary glands.

They seem to have the sag. I'm not quite sure when it happened. But they no longer stick up under my chin like the old days. They fall against my skin and into my armpits when I lie on my back. And recently, I noticed a strange ripple in the underside of my right breast. And a lump.

I started doing self exams after my mother called me last year to tell me she had Stage IV breast cancer and had elected to have a double mastectomy. I flew home to help my Dad clear out her bra drawers before she got home from the hospital.

“You know, I bought her most of those,” he told me, transfixed by the beautiful lace, the delicate embroidery, the satin and the tiny details in the fabric of my mothers now useless bras.

“They are just things Dad. They are not Mom.”

They call my name in the lobby. I decide it's time to stop analyzing the sag and start preparing to say goodbye to all the adventures ‘the girls’ have afforded me. I look one last time and decide that if they discover something wrong with my tests today, it will be a brilliant excuse to get a lift.

As I pass through the waiting room in my paper wrap gown, I think about how cute they will look when I have them reconstructed into cute little ski jump B's with dime size nipples.

Inside the pink room with the vanilla scented air spray, I let the nice woman with ice cold fingers put stickers with metal pin tips over my nipples and over the lump. I stand up and raise my right hand in the air while she adjusts a glass shelf so that my right breast comes to rest on it. She brings another glass plate down on top that flattens it out like a Sunday brunch flapjack. Once she has it situated, she steps behind a wall to take a picture. Thanks to advancements in digital technology, I can see the inside of my right breast immediately. It looks like little round air pockets.

She does the other breast and then she goes in for the lump. We do a few special angles of the lump area. I have to hold my arms over my head and this time she spreads me out over the glass with a smaller piece of top glass. We look at this picture and she points to something nearly indistinguishable to my untrained eye.

“Right there. I can see something.”

I breathe in and hold it.

“Probably just dense tissue, but that must be your lump. Let's see what the doctor says.”

I try to breathe out. I sit in the waiting room and wait for the lady who does the ultrasound.

She calls my name, and within moments they have me lying on my side with my arm up over my head, cold jelly smeared across my breast and a roller going over my skin in small movements.

“Just a second,” the technician says. She leaves me there in the dark, cold room. I lay in silence. A silent gap that widens with every minute it takes her to return.

But she doesn’t. Instead, another woman in a white lab coat enters and takes her place at the machine.

“I'm Dr. Chow, I'm going to just do a few more swipes here. Yes. Just as I thought.”

I swallow hard, suddenly deciding that breast cancer is not worth the reconstructive surgery. A montage of precious breast moments passes before my eyes like love story snippets woven together in a movie.

First bra, first boy, first tight sweater, first suck, first nibble, first turtleneck, first boyfriend, first silhouette, first balcony bra, first strapless gown, first time I saw a photo of my shape, first weight loss when everything but their size shrunk, first bikini, first tank top, first-and-last halfsie top.

First sag, first push-up bra, first realization that no matter the outfit I wore I could never really hide them, first wish they were smaller, first Wacoal old lady bra, first time I wore a one piece with support to the beach, first time I looked in the mirror and wanted them to look different, first consideration of a reduction.

All these moments blend together over the murmur of the machine and the pauses between Dr. Chow’s sentences.

“Yes, I want you to see this. Can you turn? See that?” she points at a mound of light yellow flesh on the screen.

“This is just dense breast tissue. It's nothing. Nothing to worry about now. Studies show that breast cancer risk is higher in women with dense breast tissue. But for today, you’re fine.”

“Nothing?” I say, leaping up from the table, feeling giddy and a little light.


“That's great.”

“Well of course, you want to keep on top of these things, you will want to come in every year and make it a routine. Likely, blah, blah, blah. Blah. Appointment. Blah, blah. Front desk. Blah,blah, next time.”

But I can't hear her anymore.

My breasts and I dress quickly, in case the doctor changes her mind and calls us back into the room with the discovery of something new. I escape the lobby quickly, careful to avoid the glances of the other women. Those women and their breasts still don’t know how much more time they will have together and I don’t want to interrupt the possibility of their last words.

Once outside, I wrap my arms around my chest and hug my beautiful, wonderful, delightful breasts. Like old friends, they may have lost the charm of newness, but they bring the comfort and warmth of a history of friendship. They are my cultured and experienced breasts, and I'm so very pleased that, for now, we have a lifetime left together. We stand up tall and sashay out into the sunshine.


SFSciolist said...

The first time I read your essay, after about half way through, I had to skip to the bottom to read the good news. I love your writing but couldn't take the suspense any longer.


(Unfortunately, now I may not be able to look at my old photographs of Mount Kilimanjaro in the same way anymore.)

ryand-google said...
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