My lover circles my areola like he’s an astronaut and I’m a crater on the moon. I’m half expecting him to stick an American flag in my side. He strikes a wicked grin and tells me that the sleazy college bar, Wetland, is advertising a T-shirt contest with a new twist. This wet one is for women with too small breasts. The grand prize: a boob job. College girls are lined up around the block. The media is having a field day, and debates are raging on campus. I’ve heard tell that the Women’s Studies department is hosting a “penis parade” in response. The city is against public displays of indecency, so the women have agreed to scale it down to a parade of “tall things,” inviting the gals to erect their own phallic representations. They say it’s all on the up-and-up, but I’ve heard rumor that the women riding the skyscraper float are going to be throwing out naughty shaped blow pops. The grand prize for the best float is a dildo, which nobody wants to see advertised on a poster at the Co-op. Yet, these women are demanding equal coverage to the prize-winning Boob Job flyers splattered all over town. I’m not sure the average pedestrian gets their point, which is the downfall of most women’s studies departments: they overestimate their audiences’ intellect.
I don’t know where this parade is going, some say down to the waterfront where a group of tattooed women who’ve had mastectomies are going to rally. One is rumored to have had her breasts sliced off as the result of a silicon enhancement gone sour. Wetland is responding with its own kind of come back, hosting the Budweiser Bikini Team who are to gather together near an oversized, blown-up beer can and sign posters. The La Leche League, whose new slogan is “Forget the teat, the breast is best,” is bringing a team of lactators down to the boardwalk to do a breast pumping demonstration. The Nutrition Center can’t keep Milkwort on its shelf. Organizers are busing in a New York City artist, some famed friend of Andy Warhol distinguished for dipping her breasts in paint and smacking them up against the canvas, nipples kissing the burlap. I’ve seen the previews on-line. The results are like psychedelic mountain ranges, truly beautiful. Majestic breasts.
Regarding my own little badges of courage, I have an on again, off again, relationship. On good days, when the moon is full, my breasts are twin fruits full of juice and seed, lost innocents snuggled against each other in a flowered bra. On bad days, when the moon disappears, I want to drop them from my chest, sinners, bulging orbs, rotting and obscenely oversized tomatoes. On the first days of bleeding, they speak to me, muttering curse words in a foreign tongue. Sabotage. I become a Mexican mule, schlepping sacks of rice and beans. I fear the lumpy invaders, the paramilitary carcinoma. I check myself for infiltrators. I find phantom globs, juice pockets, impostors sent to thwart and confuse me, to distract me from my mission: emancipation from the enemy.
My friend thought she could fly until she jumped from a second story building and hit the ground. One year earlier her breast was on the chopping block. It wasn’t that she couldn’t fly, she said, it was a bird caught in the propeller. Ah, Amelia. Her girlfriend found the lump. It was the size and shape of a short but stocky man’s thumb, embedded in her innocent love muscle, having dug its evil way between milk glands, from underarm to nipple.
After the biopsy, the Doctor told her that it was benign, but large and in need of extraction. This is the same Doctor who had, in a previous appointment, forgot her on the examining table, speculum holding her open. He had left the room for a moment. During that moment the building had been evacuated in response to a fire alarm on another floor. It was a fireman who found her in the examining room, contemplating the poster on the ceiling, a nature scene with a wooded trail and the words, “Find your own path.”
The extraction was an outpatient affair. He had told her, “You’ll be waiting tables the day after,” even though she was a copy editor. During surgery, they had lifted her nipple, sliced it half off, and then cut across toward her armpit. Then they sewed her up, a crooked smile, a one-eyed monster. She couldn’t lift her arm for two weeks. Her breast oozed. She soaked her bras. She lost feeling in her nipple. One year later, from her hospital bed in the psych ward, one arm broken, the other arm and feet strapped down, she whispered to me, “They slit my tit. I’m blind in one eye. The world’s gone flat.”
Yesterday my own armpit was on fire. Infiltrators, hot fire ants in my veins matching a hot spot in my breast. An American without health insurance, no assets, no home, living like an illegal immigrant. Today it’s gone away. My mother says I’m far too susceptible to suggestion. I say, the proof is in the pudding, Mom.
During freshman year in high school, we broke from our normal girls’ gym class, choreographing dance routines to “Everyone Knows It’s Windy” to have, instead, “Women’s Health Day.” Ms. Mann carried in a special guest, a latex breast, just one, detached from its imagined host. Our instructions were to touch it. Repelled, most of us sat on our hands. I did not, to the best of my knowledge, have breasts. Instead, I had what my loving brothers referred to as “mosquito bites”—the humble beginnings of breasts, which, after some progress, were deemed “fried eggs.” Seeing that latex breast, passed from one girl to the next, drove the point home. Sadly, it wasn’t particularly clean, but stained with greasy handprints as if a once popular breast, the buried treasure at second base. The objective was to not only touch the breast, but feel it. For lumps. We were in training, boob exam boot camp, determined to correctly use the fatty part of our finger tips, moving in calculated circles, starting at the outside of the breast, heading toward its rosy center. The lump that felt like a B.B. and the one that felt like a pea, we learned, were particularly dangerous. We weren’t to concern ourselves with the parts that felt like clusters of Jell-O. Mostly we snickered and called each other “queer,” but one girl, whose mother was dead, drew back her hand and cried when it came her turn to cop a feel.
It was neither a B.B. nor a pea when my sister got diagnosed. It was a tumor that showed up as a solid white speck, a tiny dot, on the mammogram. Only a month earlier, her delinquent daughter, a high school drop out, had a baby. She and her wannabe rock star boyfriend moved into my sister’s mobile home. At least Sis has a job with medical insurance and sick leave. Now she spends most of her day sucking on ice cubes, then puking out what little that trickles in. She’s lost her hair, so my mother bought her a wig that makes her look like one of Bob Barker’s beauties. She’ll live, they say, as long as she follows the treatment plan, getting zapped twice a week. She lies on a table in a robe with her breast exposed, a pillow under her shoulder blades, a double mound offering to the God of radioactivity.
At home she can’t hold her granddaughter, my niece. She has to pee in a separate toilet. Her daughter inhabits the living room, periodically poking at the baby, obsessed with Play Station and determined to waste the grocery money on KFC. My niece, unhappy to have had a baby at her breast, has given up and turned her child over to Similac despite my lectures on bonding and the importance of nostrum, what little I’ve gleaned from reading lefty women’s magazines.
I suggest we unite under the orb, all four generations. Mom’s already packing the picnic and Sis is unfolding the stroller for our pilgrimage to the park. Soon we’ll be off to observe the festivities, which some wiseacre D.J. has dubbed Boob Fest . “Just imagine,” begins my niece, the new mother who blames her breasts for getting her in her current mess, “We’ll be known as Topless Town , we’ll be crawling with perverts and peeping Toms.” I tell her not to worry, majestic breasts will rise over horizon, bigger than life, warding off invasions.
I imagine the weekend’s main event: a subversive debutante’s ball where we’ll release our loved ones, allowing them this one outing within a world where breasts, once hidden from view under sheaths of cotton, strips of polyester, nylon, elastic straps, and wire cups, are at last unveiled. The scarred and unscarred, the fallen and the firm, no longer street side obscenities, or barroom beauties held under the hose, but upstanding citizens.
After such talk, mine are stirring. I whisper to them, Let me undo these bra straps, take off this blinding sweater. Your coming out party is nearly here. My bobbles, my crown jewels, my Venus DeMilos, my hypnotizers, my Betty Boops.