by Nancy Dohn
One by one she undid her buttons, fingers trembling.
Shrugging off her blouse, Clare unhooked her bra, let both items fall to the floor and looked at her naked image in the bathroom mirror. There they were. Her breasts, small, round and firm.
Tentatively, her hands cupped each one, aware of their warmth. They had been with her all her life, growing from small pink discs on a flat chest into what she was now holding. Not big. Not small. Not perfect. But hers.
A tear slipped down her cheek. Tomorrow at this time they would be gone.
They were going to kill her, the physician said, if she didn’t have them removed. How could simple body parts have such deadly power?
Naked, they appeared as two innocent orbs. Put them in a sundress, they looked alluring. Have a baby, they produced precious milk. She just didn’t get it.
She sighed deeply, picked up her clothes and walked into the bedroom. Scuzzy purred against her legs, jumped up on the bed and curled up next to her cell phone, which showed numerous calls from Allen.
Allen. He said he would still find her beautiful. He didn’t love her for her breasts, but for who she was inside and blah, blah, blah. Whatever. She couldn’t deal with that right now.
The question is: when they were gone would she be able to love herself?
She picked the glass of wine from the nightstand. In her best official voice, she proclaimed: “Here’s to the last night with my breasts, who have served me well for 28 years.”
She touched each nipple with the glass and saluted. “May they rest in peace.”
Then, not knowing what else to do, she sat on the edge of the bed and cried.
“How are you doing?” A voice pulled her through a fog of unconsciousness. Was it over already? She was aware of a burning sensation on her chest.
A face came into focus. Kind eyes. “The operation went fine.” Knowledgeable hands checking an IV bag. “We’ll get you to a room shortly. You are going to be back to normal in no time.”
Normal? Never. Clare drifted off.
She awoke with a start in a patient room. A touch on her hand and Allen’s face came into view. He kissed her softly on the forehead. Again, the burning sensation on her chest.
“You okay?” He picked up her hand. “I was worried when I couldn’t get in touch with you last night. But I understand.”
He always did. But now, Clare wished he would scream the unfairness of it all. How horribly her chest was going to look with an ugly, red, angry scar where her breasts had been. How she was going to look like a prepubescent girl instead of a woman.
How he would never be able to touch her again.
The door opened. “Sorry to interrupt, “a nurse said. “Gotta get you down to physical therapy to begin exercises so scar tissue doesn’t form.”
Scar. Clare’s throat tightened as she envisioned her chest looking like a scorched battlefield.
She swung her legs over the side of the bed. The movement made the burning sensation worsen until her chest felt on fire.
Hands helped her stand. Her eyes met Allen’s, inches away. When would the deep concern she saw be replaced by repulsion?
“I . . .I can’t,” and then all went dark.
Clare sat nervously at the end of the exam table, feet swinging. It had been three months since surgery. Today the bandages were coming off permanently.
Somehow she had moved through the time. Initially, she had required a lot of help and her sister had been able to come. Allen had offered but it was just that, an offer. A platitude. After all, he had to make that gesture or everyone would think he was a real jerk if, after three years, he left her now. But he would leave in time. She knew.
She wasn’t sure she wanted him. Not how she was now. So she remained aloof, even when there was hurt in his eyes.
The exam room door opened. “Hello, Clare, how are we doing?” Clare wondered why doctors spoke in “we” when they were not going through the “doing”? It made her angry but then anger had become part of her. Literally at times she saw red.
A few snips and the bandages were gone. Clare realized they had been the only thing between the scar where her breasts had once lived and her. A blinder. A protective shield. A way to pretend. Now gone. Shit.
One by one she undid her buttons, fingers trembling. Eyes closed tight. She shrugged off her blouse. There was no bra.
She hid her eyes behind her hands, like she used to do as a kid when something scary was about to happen. Then she took a deep breath and looked.
A shriek filled the bathroom. Did that come from her? Then every ounce of suppressed rage exploded out. “This isn’t fair! I hate you! Look what you have done to me. Why me? I’ll never feel the hands of a lover again. I’ll never look good in a dress.” She sobbed deeply. “I’ll never breast feed a baby.”
She collapsed into fetal position on the floor, sobbing until she could sob no more. Then something happened. A feeling of lightness welled up inside and the fire on her chest fizzled out.
Tentatively, she felt where her breasts had been; the roughness of the incisions and the softness of new skin forming. It was a battlefield and the scar was a medal of honor from her private war.
A battle victoriously won and no one could take that honor from her.
She stood with growing confidence, went into the bedroom, picked up her cell phone.
“Allen, can we talk?”