Thursday, July 29, 2010
To say my breasts are lumpy like saying the Empire State Building is tall or the South is hot in the summer. In fact, if not for lumps, I’m fairly certain I’d still be wearing the same cup size as the batteries in my digital camera. I wouldn’t mind these knotty boobs of mine if not for the fact that once a year someone in the medical profession tries to scare me with them.
“We found a lump,” a technician will tell me after my mammogram.
“I bet you did,” I’ll reply nonchalantly. She’ll stare at me as if I’m a sarcastic teenager who just rolled her eyes and muttered “Whatever.” Not that I haven’t been tempted.
I was the firstborn and my dad wanted a boy. So the fact that I didn’t “develop” until I was almost seventeen (even then, the “development” wasn’t any more noticeable than a mosquito bite) makes sense. Boys don’t have breasts. Well, they didn’t back then. These days with so many kids so overweight you’re just as likely to see boys in need of Victoria ’s secret as girls. I didn’t even know what a fully developed female breast was supposed to look like, not having a mother in the picture when my curiosity peaked. I assumed Barbie represented real womanhood. Can you imagine how shocked I was when I discovered that real women’s nipples do not fall off somewhere along the line.
When I was in high school, I bore the brunt of jokes about not having breasts. “If you didn’t have hands, would you wear gloves?” I was teased. After shaking my head, no, the bully of the moment would continue, “Then why do you wear a bra?” These days, I’d answer with “Since you don’t have a brain, why do you have a head?” I’m snarkier now. Like my boobs, snarkiness took a while to come in.
I lived in fear of getting undressed to shower after gym class. Or worse, having a boy remove my bra and find nothing. Fortunately when you are both the debate team and the slide rule squad, the latter wasn’t likely to happen. When a boy finally did remove my bra, he later became my future first-ex-husband. A physics major in college, I remember walking into our bedroom in a nightgown and him quipping, “Your right breast oscillates more than your left.” Ah, always the romantic.
Bra companies want me to celebrate my breasts. My most recent ex-husband wanted me to get a breast lift. I told him I would if he’d get a ball lift. See, that snarkiness comes in handy. It’s hard to know what to feel about these icons of femininity on my chest when someone’s always trying to cut a little piece of them away. I was surprised that following my last lumpectomy – during which the surgeon removed a cyst the size of a Silly Putty egg – that I wasn’t left with a divot. Apparently, fat senses a void and rushes in. Like so many other things in life.
Leigh Anne Jasheway
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
My parents moved a lot and fought a lot, and I got new brothers and sisters a lot, but our kitchens became one kitchen through the magic of making the same recipes in them. My mother baked her own bread, cookies, cakes, and pies. She scoffed at children who had to eat cookies store-bought. Why would anyone even bother? They taste like old shoes. I had to admit that she had a point. Her soft, melting, wafting cookies were technically in the same category as mass-market boxes of dry wafers studded with preservatives. But.
They were not made with me at my mother’s elbow, my little sister up on a stool beside me, all of us sporting matching corny calico aprons. They were not made on top of floury counters, vanilla next to the yellow bowl, containing the endless conundrum of heavenly smell and godawful taste. They were not rolled out while my mother’s bosom rose and fell, her arms strong but also soft and fragrant. I didn’t get to eat them before they made it to the oven. They didn’t come from the easily granted request: “Let’s make cookies!” or from a whim on mom’s end.
My mother’s cookies were varying sizes and shapes. They baked on homely, old and scratched cookie sheets. They alchemized in different ovens. They never lasted more than a day because we ate them all until they were gone—for dessert, breakfast, furtively, for snack, when it was cookie o’clock, when bells rang and I opened my lunch box.
“My mother never made me cookies from scratch,” said mom. “My Greek grandmother made me koulouriakis, though. Butter cookies rolled and shaped into S’s and C’s. Brushed with egg, pressed into plates of sesame seeds.”
I think it skips a generation. I love to bake but I do it relatively rarely. Given that I grew up in a house where cookie batches were either in the oven, in the cookie jar, or forming into a ball of dough in the yellow bowl. I currently won’t bake with my kids, because they will not keep their hands out of the bowl, and yet will not keep their fingers out of their noses. Repeat.
I am by nature a solitary baker, although I grew up with the most nurturing and inclusive baker mother. I know it is a betrayal of all that is wholly maternal, but there you have it. I read recently that it was okay to accept that about myself, to not start out with the bowl and the ingredients and then slowly lose my patience as small beautiful children swipe and spill and elbow. I am a mother who does not like to bake with my kids. I am a mother who would like to enjoy it. Somewhere in between those two canyon walls is a pathway. Maybe it will come with age. They might get better at hygiene, self-control, stealth. I might chill about boogers, impenetrably dirty fingernails, raucous limbs. I might be able to mail-order an extension for my short fuse. In the meantime, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from Trader Joe’s are not half bad.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
ON THE STREETS WHERE I LIVED
Downtown Milwaukee was a “ghost town” at night, my mother would say. Not like the downtown she had known as a teen, where she went to the “movie show” or to the drugstore for malts. Met sailors with her girlfriends, shopped.
By the time I was 21 the White Flight and race riots of the the late 60’s which had gutted the city and made the division between north and south, east and west so blatant, had left a no man’s land in the center. Certainly the banks and businesses remained struggling against the boom of the suburban malls. But nightlife died except for the sailors, whores and drug dealers. And then us punks.
We walked into this zone one summer night to see Die Kreuzen in a sequestered basement club. Denise and I were as pale as moonlight refusing to tan, a juvenile reaction to the “natural” decade we were leaving behind. We wore black like burglars. Smoked and drank.
It was 1980, late summer was gently becoming fall, when we stepped out of the club at 3 a.m. to catch the last bus to the east side. I ‘m not sure if we were still lovers at that time or not yet lovers. If we were in one of the safe zones of “just friends” that sandwiched our short bristling affair. We were better as friends and we knew it.
We were the only ones at the bus stop. Wisconsin avenue was dead silent except for an occasional vehicle, a group of blind drunk sailors, 2 black teenagers on bikes.
Then one tall black man who wandered the wide sidewalk in great arching zig-zags. More gracious than a drunk , but obviously altered. He wandered to the curb. Was he looking for a cab? For the bus we were waiting for? He wandered to the shop windows, muttered at things beyond his reach behind the glass and the accordion-pleated caging that doubly closed the store. He seemed to be looking for something.
Then he found me.
Denise and I had not felt unsafe like most Milwaukeans would have at 3 a.m. on a Saturday night in downtown Milwaukee. We were waiting for the last bus, if there was a last bus, as if we were waiting for the first bus of the morning to go to work. We leaned against the brick store front. We laughed at the drunk sailors nearly our age but boyishly cute and floundering and kidded about taking them home. We marveled at the speed with which the black kids road through the red lights. But we took little notice of the solitary man in his casual zigzagging search for something.
Until he got close. Daringly close. Sociopathically close.
“ You’re too white.” I could feel the droplets of alcoholic saliva hit my face.
Then he lifted his arm and the knife he held.
He flipped open the switch blade before my face.
“You’re too white.”
I was too white. I sunburn easily, that was probably more the reason why I didn’t tan, than any punkish reactionary fashion statement.
“ I can’t help it, I born that way, “ was my stupid response.
“ You’re too white,” the repetition began to make him seem more psychopathic than sociopathic. This was not only the liquor talking, there was something jacked up behind his dulled decision making.
Denise and I had had our own calculated mix of uppers and downers. We were in a delighted, trustful and vulnerable state. We were having fun and it was suddenly being stripped away by one angry black man and the fact that I was too white.
“ You’re too white.” I don’t know if it was the idiocy of his repetition, my drug altered mind or fear, but I smirked. It held back a laugh.
“ Are you laughing at me?” He raised the knife to my throat.
I knew even at that moment that the knife was not held against my throat. Not Danny Mount’s throat. Not my 21 year old throat still smooth as pre-pubescence. It was the throats of all the white teachers that sent him to the principal’s office, all the bus drivers that would let him board, all the white cops who hand cuffed him. I knew also I was not personally responsible “ Black Problem” in America. But I also knew that I was not helping the situation either. I knew I could easily be the innocent victim of a hate crime.
But I didn’t want to be.
I had grown up safely in a white-faced, blue-collared neighborhood where the only point against me was effeminacy. But it was the 70s and androgyny was in, even on the west side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had coasted through high school lathered with a cool.
Here I was lathered again, but in the sweat of fear this time. Cool had dripped off me and puddled somewhere below where I could not look. I could not look at Denise either whose silence left me feeling very alone. I knew I didn’t deserve to be a sacrifice for all the innocent blacks that died over the last century. But I also knew it would be justified. Eye for an eye. Tit for tat. The way of the world.
Maybe the drugs helped.
Maybe they didn’t.
But I tried a new angle as he pressed the blade against my thumping jugular vein.
Maybe the pack of Pall Malls I smoked that day had helped, lending a husky Tallulah Bankheadishness to my voice. I tried seduction.
Giving in I said, “You’re right, I am too white.”
He was having none of this wishy-washy reverse psychology crap. My agreement with his mantra made him suspicious. He could focus his stare but the blade pressed tighter against my suddenly precious and very white skin.
“ The bus!” Denise finally spoke up.
She was still there I wasn’t alone with this strange man on this god-forsaken street at 3 a.m.
He swirled, maybe he was actually waiting for the bus, his arm and the knife fell to his side.
But not without leaving a zinging dent in my too white skin that lingered even after we got on the bus.