One day, when I was in the seventh grade, I was standing at my assigned spot in gym class when the boy next to me said, "Hey Janet... why you so flat?" I looked at him confused; I remember this well. "Flat?" I thought. "Flat... feet? Flat... what?"
"You even wearing a bra? I mean, do you even need one?" And so it hit me. "Oh no," I thought. "It's begun... already? I'm 12! We're kids. We're kids, right? I want to be kids still!" I looked at him and sneered, said nothing. I was angry he'd said it, not for the reason that one should be angry in this situation (hello harassment), but because I felt like my childhood was probably beginning to shatter.
And actually, I think I might have been right about that. Once the boob commentary started (circa my twelfth year of life), well, the seal was broken and, it seemed to me, my life was pretty much over. I held onto innocence until my knuckles were white, but in doing that, of course, awareness tends to smother the simplicity of naiveté.
When boys started trying to snap bra straps in school, I sprinted away more aggressively than any other girl, not because I didn't want to be snapped, but because frankly I didn't have one to be snapped. Didn't want one.
I read "Are you there, God, it's me Margaret" at some point in early adolescence because it seemed like required reading for my age group and gender. The trademark mantra, "I must I must I must increase my bust" resonated with me not at all. In fact, I couldn't actually believe how fictional these characters seemed. Really, they would want that... to be bigger? Didn't they have dads? How would they ever look at their dads again after this... transformation? Would it ever be the same? NO!!!!
Maybe this sounds like an overdramatized memory or maybe it sounds familiar to you. I was sure at the time I was the only one.
It was never the breasts themselves that I resented. They were just doing what they had to do, with their growing and developing and shit. It was, of course, what it all meant to me, what I was heading towards, that smoggy grey zone of adolescence and then, God forbid, adulthood, where I'd be called a "woman" someday, after being dragged kicking and screaming out of childhood.
Through the years, innocence long gone, I grew to appreciate what I had more. Because at some point that's what people do. We just grow older and start to accept who we are, to fold ourselves into a life that once seemed so impossibly distant. And we're okay, things are good, we're on the other side and only seldom think about the youthful anxieties that once consumed us.
They were fine, my boobs, not fine as in fine, but fine as in I never really thought about them one way or another. I never used them to try and get what I wanted; in fact, that hardly ever occurred to me as a possibility. I never had trouble running with them, never had front or back pain because of them, and once I entered the post-adolescent zone (phew), I was never made fun of either way for what they were or were not. They were one of the few things about myself that I never complained about.
Until breastfeeding. Which is when I started to HATE them right after giving birth to Noah. Because they took over me ENTIRELY. And they became living, spewing volcano monsters on my chest. Foreign objects that only the nurses and lactation consultant knew how to handle. In one standout memory, I'm staring at four different sets of hands, none of them mine, tugging, pulling, pointing one beastly breast towards a tiny little face that I could hardly see what with all the hands in the way. Poor Noah must have been terrified of the things. I was.
At home, I grumbled about my oversupply and aggressively forceful letdown and when I didn't get the husbandly sympathy I was asking for, I took my knockers and squirted him in the face with them. I spent months waking up soaked and then pumping to relieve and then making more milk than I ever thought possible. I wanted to feed my boy, but I wanted my old hooters back. We grappled and groaned and cried and soaked each other and it was really hard, but just right. Hi Noah, I'm your mommy. Let's figure each other out together.
God, when did I finally realize, really, what I had? That all of these grievances were ordinary and that ordinary can be miraculous?
As these things tend to go, I knew it well when it started to slip away. I should have known immediately that I'd be BRCA positive like she was, with so many other characteristics so completely alike. But I was still surprised.
My focus for years, since watching mom's vibrant soul get snatched away from us after six years of the fiercest fighting I've ever seen, has undoubtedly been ovarian cancer. Even after the geneticist called with the news that I too was positive, preventative mastectomy seemed very unlikely. But I did more research and grew to dread the MRIs and for many reasons that I think are good, I decided that I will do this. And now it's two days away.
What do you do in the last few days before you lose this part of you that has at times consumed your thoughts and at other times just been, like an arm or a hip or a foot? What do I do? Do I go to a topless beach and enjoy the last few days of my pure naturalness? Pinch them and pull them and poke them since I'll never be able to actually feel them again, once the cells and nerves and tissue are hollowed out of me? Or do I just live with them in an ordinary way for a couple more days?
I've been thinking about the term "woman" lately. I've always cringed when being called one. But maybe now, I think, I am finally accepting that I am one, and, yes, it has nothing to with the contents of my chest.
And now I hear the twelve year old me watching this all play out this week and I know she's saying, "nooooo...no no no no no... that's not what I meant... this is never what I wanted... those are mine...". And to her I say, this is right, this is good, we're going to be fine. And to Noah and Grace I say, Dear ones, I will do anything to keep you from losing me. And to mom I say, oh God how I wish you could have learned then what we get to learn now.
This post dedicated to those who never got the chance to see it coming.