A Re-Movable Feast: Part One (As seen in More magazine)

February 17, 2010

Originally published in More Magazine

My left breast remembers a hand, fingers clothed in latex, impersonal, professional and corpse-cold. A very competent young man removes his probing fingers from my frozen flesh and gives me his diagnosis in a no-nonsense monotone. It is not too good. I have a multitude of lumpy masses invading my tissue. No, they don’t know if there is any cancer but, he informs me breezily, they’ll soon find out. As soon as they perform the recommended sub-cutaneous mastectomy and get the results. Of course, if cancer is present they will then remove the skin as well. He recommends reconstructive surgery. At the time I am not aware that he is a recent graduate of cosmetic surgery and very keen on accumulating experience.

Sitting in the bathtub back in my apartment I am still cold. The water is so hot that my flesh is bright pink and wrinkled, and tears of condensation roll slowly down the tiles, misting the mirrors. I am not sure if I can ever look into a mirror again. I am reluctant to confront my emotions, my situation or myself. I am estranged from my family, my children, and most of my friends are all in other countries. I am virtually penniless and will have to apply for some sort of welfare to pay for the surgery. I attempt to cheer myself up by telling my threatened vanity that implants will provide a cosmetic improvement, and where more appropriate than Hollywood?

Now I am about to become a music hall dancer with no boobs. I think about strutting across the stage to that old French chauvinistic chestnut, “Paris, Reine de Mode” (“Paris, queen of fashion”), the opening number at the Boule Blanche. It is two AM of a Monparnasse morning. With feathers trailing in the wake of my arrogant backside, sequins sparkling “see-me” messages from my barely covered breasts, I strut onstage, night after night, to that same refrain.

But it is a long journey before I come full circle. Here I am still, bathwater cooling, fears about the future spinning endlessly as I contemplate deformity and solitude. Death is no longer peering over my left shoulder—it is right in my face. I think about all the investment I have lavished on allure. I think about my mother’s warning about outspoken girls and their lack of appeal to the opposite sex. I remember my tireless efforts to appear provocative and outrageous—anything to mask the real me.

I have no inkling that my body will reject the silicone implants over and over, forming implacable sheets of fibrous tissue, refusing to submit to foreign invasion, feeling bruised and sore and vulnerable. Twice the tissue has to be manually broken, without anesthesia, by this doctor who is high on efficiency and low on compassion. I leave his office, reeling, and find a tree in the parking lot, just to press my chest against its healing life.

I have no idea that I will subject myself to three more bouts of punitive surgery (one four-hours long, in an office setting and under only local anesthetic), piling violence upon violence upon a heart center that seems to seek annihilation by demolition. Piled onto the breaking of the scars is the breakage of one breast that gets laid open after a partner collides with me during a dance performance. With pads of cotton wool stuffed into my costume, I finish the show and drive myself to Emergency.

The final surgery occurs when I come to my senses and persuade my outraged surgeon, now well established in a lucrative practice in Beverley Hills to remove the implants once and for all. It has been seventeen years, two sets of implants, and constant discomfort.
The doctor takes this as a personal affront and insists I write a letter stating this is all my idea (and I am of sound mind). “You are aware that your “breasts” are going to fall down to your stomach!”

BOOM. The freedom! My flat chest feels about ten years old. Only days after the removal of the implants my shoulders start opening, my bruised pectoral muscles soften and expand. I take one enhanced breath after another, misting my entire torso with myriad minute droplets of oxygenated light. I feel so filled with light and so lightly, softly oiled in all the movements of breath and expression, and my arms open—open painlessly for the first time in years—straining ever wider to embrace space, life, sensation. How many women get to reclaim a prepubescent torso with all its reckless, wild, undefended innocence? I feel like an ambidextrous Amazon, a warrior prepared to wield a bow in either hand. The loss of my breasts finally gives me my wings.

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