Tough Titties by Audrey Jennifer Smith

close up of beige D bra

You have a picture of your mother nursing you, days after you were born—her face placid, your eyes pressed closed with hunger. Years later, she tells you that in high school the others called her Pancake, that she never had a chest to speak of until you were born.

At thirteen, you learn to escape, Houdini-like, from a strapless dress. Once, at Dillard’s, you push the white call button, and the attendant arrives expecting to fetch another size. Instead, she extracts you from the suffocating embrace of a cotton bodice. You become familiar with the one-two pull, the sound of ripping seams.

At fourteen, you wonder what kind of sadist plans an eighth grade pool party. The day before, you have attempted to find a swimsuit that balances cute with modest. You settle on a blue paisley one-piece—low-cut, but at least it covers your middle. The other girls arrive wearing band-aid bikinis. Doug Parker, known for eating his own erasers, wears a speedo. You walk past your Pre-Algebra teacher, and she orders you to cover with a shirt. “It’s tough to be an early bloomer,” she says. The other girls, midriffs bare and neon white, splash water into the faces of the boys.

As a teenaged triple-D, there is nothing worse than bra-shopping. Cute bras never come in your size—no polka dots, stripes, leopard-print, or lace. Big-chested girls get beige minimizer bras with names like “The Olga.” One night, you run your finger over the handle of a kitchen knife and imagine cutting them off. You are too big, too unruly, round in all the wrong places; you are weary of crying behind dressing room doors and of the way your body has become something public, a spectacle to be gawked at and commented upon. You recognize that making yourself bleed in this way is dramatic; you imagine the relative ugliness of scars. You slip the knife back into its drawer.

Your mother, the surgeon, is fond of saying “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” You explain that flaunting it is strictly against the school dress code but, undaunted, she encourages you to wear a V-neck to the school dance. When she tells you about her diagnosis, you slip the pink, rubber bracelet off your wrist and onto hers. After the lumpectomy she comes home, skin tinged blue, a ragged scar on her chest. You tell her you love her. She tells you you are her rock. You kiss her cheek and wash the dishes and wonder whether she will pass the disease on to you someday.

Her hair falls out first, but the eyelashes are hardest. She shows you the curled tendrils in her open palm and tells you how, when she was your age, her mother made her say one thing she liked about herself before complaining about what she hated. She always told your grandmother that she loved her eyelashes before complaining about her pancake chest. When one makes her lose the other, she draws on her eyebrows and dons her wig, but nothing replaces the black rim around her eyelids, the only part she once found beautiful.

The first boy to touch your breasts squeezes and suckles with a passion you thought was reserved for newborns. The first woman, your English TA, wonders aloud how you could ever consider surgery. When you complain, your best friend interrupts: “At least you can always work at Hooters.” The first boy to touch without permission marks you with his teeth, leaves bruises above the nipple. At the movie theater, the cashier selling you popcorn ogles and asks if you would like some butter. You bend to meet his gaze and tell him: “They don’t eat.”

Once, you saw your father flush the portacath that suckled your mother’s breast. You watched them both wince, the blood seeping through the tubes like Kool-Aid in a straw. In the years to come, she will apply Mary Kay foundation to the jagged pink scar below her clavicle. She will avoid scoop neck shirts; she will wear her sweaters buttoned.

The only time you perform in drag, it takes one underwire bra, a compression shirt, two ace bandages, and three sports bras to disguise the rise of your chest. You don your spirit gum and soul patch; you look in the mirror, and though it is hard for you to breathe you experience a freedom unbeknownst to your previous self, the one who imagined holding a knife to her clavicle and wondered what weightlessness was.

The doctor scribbles on his notepad that they are bulbous. Elephantine. He touches your breasts with two fingers, with passionless precision. Your mother sits in the waiting room while he makes them smaller. When the doctor returns, your mother asks how many pounds he has removed. She balks at the number two, before he adds “each.”

When you wake up, after vomiting the anesthesia from your veins, you hug your palms to your breasts. You are grateful they at last fit in your hands. The scars are pink and purple, circling your areolas and stretching out under your arms and creating a line from your midsection to your nipple. You do not mind them. Three days later, you stand in front of a dressing room mirror and cry into the new shirt you are wearing. The scars dip in and out of the fabric and glow under the fluorescent lights, but for once you do not hear the sound of ripping seams.

Audrey-SmithAudrey Jennifer Smith is a writer and recovering preacher’s kid based in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa and is currently pursuing a master’s of education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She works in a bookstore, where she helps customers discover great new authors. Audrey’s creative nonfiction has previously appeared in DASH Literary Journal.

 

 

 

STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/David Kracht

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  • Juli Umetsu

    Love this raw, personal and poignant short. Thank you Audrey Jennifer Smith for sharing your Tough Titties!

  • TJB

    <3 completely beautiful.

  • Donna

    Outstanding. Loved it.