We’re on Peter’s squishy bed, high and a little giddy. He runs his eyes, then his fingers, down the sputtery scars under my breasts. He doesn’t ask, but I answer:
“Really.” I’m surprised at his surprise, what else would have drawn a circle around each nipple, a messy dotted line down the center of my boobs, a half-moon where my breasts meet my ribs.
“When I was 16.”
The first doctor said I was too young. It had been five years since I had my first period—a brownish stain that confused me. I thought my period would arrive as a crimson, dramatic gush. The little smear seemed sad, anticlimactic.
I went to an all girls’ school. Our fifth grade class hosted a period party to celebrate our forthcoming womanhood. There was red cake. I was second in the class to get my period. I told everyone. I was first; a trendsetter. The boobs came next, and fast.
By the time I was a junior in high school, I had amassed multiple years of bra shopping in the old lady lingerie store. The kind where the surly bra mistress walks in on you half naked and proceeds without permission to rearrange your breasts in her cold and wrinkly hands. I eyed my friend’s lacey, little bras with wonder and jealousy. I cursed my agonizing fate—so young, and an infinite lifetime of grandma bras before me.
My mom had a beautiful friend, brunette and thin and savvily dressed, and she showed me her post-reduction boobs in the bathroom, wiggling her sweater over her head, unhooking her bra with one hand.
“Do you want to touch them?” They were soft and slick. They sat high and proud on her chest, like two tennis balls.
That’s when I knew I wanted it. Badly.
The first doctor said, “I will see you in three years,” and sent me on my way. A few steps out the door, I yelped into sobs. Three years was eternity.
“There are so many other surgeons,” my mom told me. I cried, wetting her soft hair.
I felt enormous; a hideous monster. I dreamed of doing it myself, taking the kitchen knife to my nipples, pulling out the insides.
The second doctor was fat and white, so white he was nearly incandescent. He kept snapping his latex gloves. There were crumbs on the edges of his big lips. He swiveled around in his swivel chair until I felt dizzy.
We went with the third doctor, an ageless Asian man, impeccable in a slim, shiny suit. His office was glossy, too, all sleek furniture, tall mirrors, clean lines. We leafed through photo albums of before and after breasts. My mom and I passed back the silicone model boobs, holding them up to my chest, trying them on for size.
The third doctor was an artist, he said, and seemed to believe. He covered me first in antibacterial goo, then outlined my chest in sharpie, circling the nipples, a painter lovingly prepping his canvas.
That was the first time I comprehended the physicality of what lay ahead. There would be knives and scalpels. I would be slit and emptied like a cow at slaughter. The room faded to little dots. It spun in imperfect, bumpy circles. I felt wet and cold and excruciatingly hot. I needed to sit down.
After, there was less pain than enormous pressure, as if a truck had rolled atop my chest and stayed there. With every breath, it reasserted its presence.
Days passed, and the pressure receded into a dull throb. The incisions itched wildly. There were blood-filled drains to be emptied, bandages to be changed. I averted my eyes resolutely when my mom played nurse in the bathroom, studied the clean tiled walls.
“Don’t you want to see?” she asked. I did not. The mirror was enemy number one.
When I looked, on day number three, or four, pulling up my shirt to face down the mirror, my tummy reacted first. It felt punched, hard and quick. The devastation was acrid in my mouth. The skin was bruised and swollen, a patchwork of blood and brown and ravage.
Post recovery, spaghetti straps were the first order of business. They were the telos for the surgery, the emblem of everything I wanted and was not: thin, beautiful. With F cups, with bra straps as wide as seatbelts, they were a non option. I saw them in my future, shiny and bright—salvation. Scars and anesthesia and many thousands of dollars were nothing. I would have sold my soul for spaghetti straps.
Peter wants to know how big my boobs were before. This is a question only men ask, and ask without fail. I tell him: they removed about a third of the tissue. He cups my left breast, I can see him calculating.
We decided—my surgeon, my mom, and I—that at five foot nine and a bit, with plenty of curve in my hips and broad shoulders, I shouldn’t go too tiny. My right boob was a little bigger, but no longer. My artist surgeon worked his magic in such a way that my breasts became perkier. 16 year-old boobs should be fabulously perky, but mine were pendulous and funkily shaped.
The after picture was all wrong. I didn’t become skinny and tiny. The spaghetti straps were a pipe dream, something that took me several years and rivers of tears to concede.
Only recently have I made an uneasy peace with chest. I still need to wear nuclear strength sports bras. And once again, I frequent old-school lingerie stores. Now it’s one on the Upper West Side where the salesladies wear hijabs. I don’t mind that they push and pull my flesh into the cups, not too gently. It’s worth it for a bra that fits.
“They’re still so big,” Peter says, and I can tell he thinks it’s a good thing or else I might leave right then. “I guess you were just destined to have big boobs.” And I laugh, because it is a ridiculous thing to say. And also, it’s true.