*This piece contains curse words.
It’s early in the New Year. Every evening, I work out on my beloved stationary bike, not because of some expected resolution or disillusioned intentions, but because it’s where I am forced to breathe, and therefore it’s become a necessary part of my existence. After each workout, I move through a ritual, so absurd, before stepping into the shower.
Confronting my naked self in the mirror, my head cocks slightly, my eyes narrow, and I admire the tone I’ve achieved in my upper abs and the muscles that grip my ribs.
Simultaneously, I grimace at the places I obsess over sculpting but that which won’t respond to calorie deficits, macro-calculating, crunches, four minute planks, cardio, endurance training, barre, yoga, weight-lifting, mindfulness, willing myself into a satisfying form.
In an exasperated sigh, I roll my shoulders back, scowling at the beefy traps I’ve acquired. The scowl accentuates the crease between my eyes, a fissure carved by contemplation.
I “draw my navel to my spine.” This is the more sensitive version I’ve learned to replace “suck it in.”
I squint at the flakey, smudged mascara under my eyes, the substance I brush on my blonde eyelashes each morning to avoid people thinking I’m sick. (A former co-worker once insisted I must be sick when I arrived at work without it. “No, really, you do not look good,” she said, recoiling as if it were painful to look at me.)
I prop my hands on my hips, smoothing out the bulge so that it’s easier to envision myself at least one pant size smaller, just out of reach of kid sizing, a disgusting delusion I recognize.
When I prop my hands this way, it also makes my arms look thinner by avoiding the offensive spread when they’re at rest.
And then I clench my fingers around my waist, squeezing enough to whiten my knuckles, wishing there were somewhere else for my organs to go, wondering if maybe they are the reason I appear so wide.
My scrutiny moves next to the sinewy dangles suspended from my chest wall. They’re pruned, though more full than the year my husband begged me to see a doctor for the weight I had (intentionally) lost.
Shiny stretch marks radiate from auburn areolas punctuated by cylindrical nipples topped with depleted pigment, like tiny little snow-capped mountains. They’re cock-eyed yet knowing and they hold my attention offering me something like: “‘Fuck the patriarchy and boob idolatry!…’”
They demand respect.
I cup my hands around them. The flesh spills into the spaces between my fingers. They’re soft, not like how my former boyfriends would express; soft, not like how they felt after my babies had fed; soft, more like the powdery skin that hung from my grandmother’s triceps.
I pull them up toward my face, and the stretch marks wrinkle into themselves. A fold forms under my thick collarbones. I lift my arms above my head and my boobs fall to gravity. The muscle near my armpits lift the edges of my breasts into a mischievous smile. The bottoms hang pendulous. Each breast morphs into an elongated structure, like the way an octopus maneuvers and slips gracefully, awe-inducingly into secret crevices and caves.
My breasts don’t respond to the tricks I experiment with on other parts of my body: the pressing, sucking, tensing, flexing, tucking.
Still needing a shower, I cup my breasts again as if hand expressing milk. On other nights, I’ve envisioned thick, golden colostrum beading at my pores or milk like that that nourished my children sprinkling onto the bathroom floor, but as biology would have it, these substances don’t come.
When I draw my fingers down toward the nipples on this night, in a festive but discreet explosion, like the poof of a dainty flatulent, confetti detonates from my nipples. Beautiful colors and sparkle blast toward the mirror in a nebulous, celebratory swirl toward my reflection which distorts into an expression of utter disbelief.
The remnants drift gracefully onto the counter, into the sink, onto the tiled floor littered with my sweaty clothing. The confetti speckles the tile where I birthed my son, catching him with my own hands in a triumphant act that propelled me into my next evolution of motherhood.
I gather some confetti into a pile and examine the sheen of some pieces, the crepey texture of others, the dusty glitter that I dread will take me forever to clean.
Then I peek out of the bathroom door into my bedroom where my husband still lay asleep, undisrupted by this commotion. His gentle snore reverberates from under the sheets.
I tend to the remaining mess of confetti and dispose of the projectiles in the trash next to our toilet.
“What the fuck,” I mutter, finally stepping into the shower.
I wash myself, dry myself and settle into bed like any other night.
The clock nears midnight. I toss and turn. I sleep some. Numbness in my extremities wakes me to moonlight, mostly snuffed out by thick winter clouds, glowing just enough though to reveal a panorama of slouching silhouettes, snow-laden willows, pines, junipers and oaks that surround me.
The next day happens, and soon I’m brined in sweat standing in front of my mirror again. On this evening, I skip the self-loathing and move straight to the breast-fondling, because if my breasts can produce confetti, the possibilities seem endless. Perhaps tonight it’ll be that beautiful new mixing bowl I’ve had my eye on… a fancy pair of boots…all of the words of the Croatian language I’ve been trying to learn… assurance that my kids will enjoy a well-adjusted life… world peace.
There’s a lurching in my stomach, the one that comes with anticipation as I attempt to express the unknown. Then, lights.
My breasts are projectors beaming stories in some sort of visual diary of my memories. The picture is dream-like, bleeding and blended around the edges. At first the shapes sway like shadows in dappled sunlight.
Then there’s focus. I watch my seven-year-old self walking around my childhood home in soccer shorts, otherwise topless. I ask my mom if I look like a boy, and she tells me no. I ask her again and she confirms that no, she does not think I look like a boy.
I watch my fifth grade self sporting my new three quarter-length, hot pink top. It has glitter embedded in its purely synthetic fabric, and I absolutely love it. Walking to my desk, a boy shouts, “Put a bra on!” My cheeks ignite into a shade that’s between red and purple. I relive the combustion of embarrassment, shame and anger. I try to keep this potion from seeping out, but I hate this boy for a good portion of my life. It’s when I realize that he is someone’s misguided son that hatred dissipates, and then I pity him.
The clips keep playing.
I watch myself in ballet class. I’m “sucking it in” and constantly adjusting my leotard so that what little fabric is there will cover up as much of my growing breasts as possible. I see myself wishing that they were detachable, so that I’d be flat-chested in ballet class, but have the option to use them to my benefit outside of the studio.
The next clip shows my dear friend and I during our study abroad on a long train ride in Morocco. My eyes scan, hardly keeping up with the passing landscape, tumbling plastic bags, dusty cracked soil, and as we slow to a stop I notice a woman draped in textiles but her face and her breast. An older baby is positioned to feed, his lower body dangles on a diagonal. She holds his weight in one cradled arm. She’s striking. I’m saddened when the train’s speed picks up again, pulling me away from her captivating strength.
In another flicker, I’m approaching my grandma’s house. She greets me with her beautiful, comforting face. She embraces me and kisses me many, many times like she’s going to devour me, and then attempts to wipe off the lipstick she’s smudged on my skin. She holds my shoulders, looks directly at me, and tells me, “I just love you!” and while I was once perplexed by her unending-enthusiasm to see me, I now understand since becoming a mother. Now I kiss my children, devouring them, the way she used to kiss me. The clip continues to the part where my grandma tells me that she’s going to get breast implants. She says she wants others to feel what she feels when she hugs me. She’s felt insecure about her breasts for as long as she knows, I learn, and so at 70-something, she does something about it.
The reel transitions to depict me discovering colostrum leaking from my breasts while pregnant with my first daughter. My mind is absolutely blown. I call to my then fiance to share my fascination, but he’s seemingly less entertained by my body’s ability.
The reel reveals me riding this wave of fascination. My areolas have darkened and expanded after the birth of my first child, a target intended to guide her to survival outside of my body, and I show them to my friends, because seriously, how crazy is this?! My breasts have ballooned to a size much bigger than my baby’s head. Tingly let downs spray milk in spectacular fountains soaking my infant and all of our surroundings.
The projection pans to my toes curled. Like clenching fists, they channel discomfort as I breastfeed through a pregnancy, and then the overwhelm of breastfeeding a toddler and a newborn and ultimately the fatigue of having breastfed for a combined nine and a half years.
There’s a clip that shows the blossoming of one of my most treasured friendships. I am watching her breastfeed her young infant in the middle of a mom-and-me music class, and my face brightens for I feel instant connection and admiration.
Another clip of the woman who flashes me a smile and a thumbs up while I breastfeed my baby in a restaurant. I smile back and it’s a beautiful, unspoken exchange of understanding and pride.
The projections remind me of each of my children’s darling little bodies weighted across my lap feeding from my left breast, where my heart beat is most detectable. My rhythm and nourishment pulsing into them; their energy surges back into me.
In a final clip, I watch my husband administer a syringe of Lupron into my lower abdomen, the artificial hormone that will propel me into a menopausal state. The drug is part of the protocol that will attempt to trick my body into welcoming a frozen embryo, so that I can gestate and birth another couple’s baby. I look forward to lactating again and I visualize abundance, enough to express for their baby, enough to donate to others. The clip starts to fade, but of course I already know what happens. I do not birth their baby, and I do not make milk anymore.
There is a part of this story where I am supposed to be a gestational carrier that feels unresolved. A section of my heart withers into little bits of confetti, just like the other stuff, and drifts to the floor like snowflakes tumbling through the slow-moving molecules of a bitterly cold night.
The projections dim with a final flicker.
So I step into the shower again. I sleep again. I wake again. I sweat again. And this happens over and over.
And every night, there’s something oozing, spewing, dribbling, emitting from my breasts.
One night, a substance I can best describe as lava. Another it’s spider silk, then soil, the wafting scent of cedar.
“Each week on our program, we choose a theme….” It’s Ira Glass broadcasting not from WBEZ Chicago, but from my breasts.
Throughout this inconceivable sorcery, I question my sanity, but I’ve been worried about being crazy long before my breasts started blasting party paraphernalia and sound and other things.
Mostly, I am amused by the unpredictability.
There is no purpose to these substances I’m producing. It’s completely unlike the milk I made for my children. And it’s not like the perceived uselessness of say, foreskin, which holds a cultural misconception of being futile.
My breasts now truly perform no other function than amusement, dynamic works of art, in all their expressions, like eroding sea glass tumbled by the elements.