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It’s a modern-day puberty fable: I had some boobs, and then I had surgery to send them away. But they came back again, bigger and meaner than before, because I was born to look like a short brown-haired version of Pam Anderson and plastic surgery is no match for destiny.
I’ve carted these things around since I was nine years old.
One day I woke up, and there they were. Not cute little rosebud ones, either -- not the stuff of girlish giggles and trips with mom for a training bra. Oh no, these were huge, fibrous, bulbous, drooping, full-on mammaries that swung low like elephant’s trunks while I loped around the playground and embarrassed myself at basketball practice.
In junior high, my Mom and Nana finally took me to Lady Grace, the Bra Shoppe for Gentle Ladies, and had me “fitted” for a couple of brassieres -- “bras” seems too cutesy a word for such shackles. They were stiffer than Brillo pads and looked like Hillary Swank’s wardrobe rejects from Boys Don’t Cry.
I’d stand in front of my full-length mirror each morning before school and heave my flesh into each cup, then fasten the hooks one by one by one by one by one. At night, I’d unburden myself, revealing deep red indents on my flesh where the wires struggled in vain to keep me from toppling over, nipples kissing the middle-school linoleum floor.
By high school, my breasts were basically an annoying fact of life, like PMS and Republicans. I was far too awkward to actually use them to my advantage in a sexual sense, so I decided a sense of humor was the best approach: Sometimes I’d pull a turtleneck over my head and swing ‘em in concentric circles while my friends howled with glee; other times I’d draw faces on them with Sharpies and make them talk in voices.
The last straw came after college, when I was at Cosi ordering a cup of coffee. The barista looked me up and down with a giddy grin. I thought he was going to flirt with me, but instead he drawled, “Heyyyy, when are you due? My wife’s pregnant, too!” You see, my breasts made each shirt hang from me like a shapeless toga, as though I were hiding a litter of kittens within my Loehmann’s tunic. I ran crying from the store, heaving boobs akimbo.
I decided to have reduction surgery. My mother located a reputable surgeon and escorted me in for a consultation. Even the doctor seemed shocked by my proportions, assuring me that insurance would “definitely” cover the procedure since, at the rate I was growing, I’d likely become a hunchback by age 30.
Then he drew on my boobs with Sharpies (clearly I was ahead of my time) to mark the possible incisions, declared that I’d make a terrific size B-C, and told me he’d see me soon. I went home with several glossy pamphlets splashed with smiling women gazing at their remodeled breasts like dewy newborns, cradling them with pride. Soon, I thought. Soon.
I showed up for surgery in a foul mood because the anesthesiologist was approximately 14 years old. Worse, I was at a teaching hospital, which meant that a parade of wide-eyed residents trooped into my little waiting area to gawk as I stood topless, my breasts sagging like pendulous fruit. Photos were taken for future medical textbooks, since mine was an “extreme” case.
I turned to the left. Flash. Turned to the right. Flash. Work, granny-supermodel, work! Then I signed a waiver in case I died on the operating table and was wheeled away in a drugged haze.
I awoke giddy, hungry for eggplant parm and accolades, wrapped in a surgical bra designed to absorb my “leakage.” My boyfriend and mother carted me home, where they had strict instructions to change my bra regularly and ply me with a steady stream of Vicodin. And thank God for that; only in such a state could I endure the sight of my fifty-something mother and my twenty-something boyfriend peeling a sopping wet surgical bra from my skin, both of them coated in a mystery amber fluid that the surgeon assured me was “typical.” I watched a lot of good TV.
The months following my surgery were heady days of bliss, days of tank tops and cute bras and spaghetti strap dresses. Over time, as the surgeon assured me they would, the breasts “settled” into a normal shape, even if my re-attached nipples resembled pepperonis abandoned in the sun. For a few shining years, I was free.
But then I did something silly -- I had a kid. I already had zero plans to breast feed, since most of my milk ducts had been removed and my ‘roni nips freaked me out, but that didn’t stop my boobs from swelling up and filling with milk right before my son was born. I was told to stick packages of frozen peas down my sports bra and wait for things to dry up.
Surely, I figured, frozen foods would restore my breasts to their previous dimensions.
Not so. Instead, my breasts began to grow back like something from a low-budget horror movie. At first I noticed little things -- my cup size B Victoria’s Secret bra looked a bit obscene, my button-down shirts kept popping open at the chest. Then my nipples stretched and expanded until they looked like enormous pink flying saucers.
I was wearing a slightly low-cut shirt one day when a friend looked at me in horror. “Um, is that a shadow or do you have something stuck in your shirt?” she asked. I looked down. Oh, nope, it was just my nipple, which was so large that it had crept halfway up my chest. I could’ve licked it if I wanted to.
So, now I’m a size quadruple D once more, or maybe a DDD on a wan day. Yesterday I had a massage at my favorite reflexology place. When it was time to flip over, the mortified masseuse gasped as my sheet fell a bit below my chest and my breasts splayed like floppy fried eggs in either direction. He leapt across the room, fumbled for a towel, and stammered, “Does it hurt? You OK?”
Yes and no.
No, I am not OK. Why? Because worse than these snafus is the sartorial time warp. I’m back to my teenage bra selection and wardrobe choices. Good thing I never threw out Nana’s five-rung battering ram bra; it’s gone from mating with my Spanx in the back of my underwear drawer into heavy rotation once more. I can even smell the Jean Nate Afterbath Splash in its fibers.
As for clothes? Adieu, spaghetti straps! Ta ta, tanks! I’m 18 all over again, selecting ambulatory tents designed to minimize and disguise. I feel like I’ve taken a time machine back to 1994.
“When I get my boobs cut off, it will beeee for-ever,” I crooned into my full-length mirror all those many years ago. But now here they are again, my two oldest friends, bouncing up and down and reminding me that I’m never meant to wear J. Crew boy shirts or button-downs or strapless anything.
There’s something inside me, a regenerating flesh that persists like the plague. It’s a physical pain but a psychological one, too. A regressive kind of D-D-D-Despair.