I finished my lunch and emptied my tray in the cafeteria. I was no longer just a weak 6th grader, but had moved up in the world to 7th grade and was experimenting with eyeliner, so things were looking up. I walked outside to the gravel lot behind the cafeteria where everyone would goof off until the bell rang for the next class. Some kids would sneak a smoke between the buildings, and I always thought it was gross how they all shared one cigarette, just passing it around from mouth to mouth. My bright yellow t-shirt was new, and I felt pretty wearing it, as it set off my dark hair. I watched my friends flirting with their boyfriends of the week, and as I moseyed around the lot, a boy came up behind me. I heard his voice before I saw him, sniggering with his friends, and I felt his skinny, pale hand grab the back of my bra strap, where the clasps met under my shoulder blades. He pulled it back to snap it against my skin, but pulled so hard that I fell backwards onto the graveled ground, knocking the wind out of me.
My laugh was too loud as I shook the gravel out of my hair.
After graduating college, I was asked to be in three different weddings in the same summer. The freshman fifteen had found its way to my body, plus thirty more, and my breasts seemed to keep growing. I knew I’d have trouble shopping for bridesmaid dresses, and dreaded the process of finding something that would work.
In the cramped dressing room, none of the samples would fit. I pulled and tugged, but nothing would fasten. The girl at the dress shop finally sized me with her tattered tape measure, and informed me the size I would need would cost more.
“Since it’ll use more fabric than normal,” she said.
That summer, I spent $600 on dresses I’d never wear again, and $50 on a copay for a consultation with a plastic surgeon.
He was young, brown-skinned, and in addition to specializing in breast surgeries, he was also a hand surgeon. I figured if he could fix a hand, one of the most intricate parts of the body, he could surely fix my breasts. Make them “normal.” He examined my breasts, lifting them with his hands as if weighing a piece of fruit. He instructed me to stand in front of the blank wall and took photos to send off to the insurance company, to show that I desperately needed this procedure, even though it was technically elective. He captured the heavy weight of my breasts, the flaming red marks on my shoulders where my bra straps struggled to do their job.
During a breast reduction surgery, the nipples and areolas are removed and replaced higher up on the breast to match their new perkier design, and skin and fat is cut away to reshape the breasts, creating an anchor-shaped scar. The surgery would take three or four hours, and my plastic surgeon made that sound like a leisurely lunch break. Opening someone’s flesh and piecing it back together in under four hours seemed pretty impressive.
A week or so after the surgery, I shopped for new bras at Target with my sister, even though my scars had not yet totally healed. I was excited to wear normal bras that were actually pretty, that actually made me feel like a young twenty-something. I tried on an ivory lace bra in a size 36C, the smallest I’d been since the 7th grade. I gently clasped it around my still-sore ribcage, grimacing a little as the lace scraped the tender skin, and while the purplish scar tissue showed through the lace, I felt elated. Confident. I remember when I’d healed and had the staples removed, the surgeon asked during a follow-up visit if he could bring in another patient who was considering the surgery to show her how great it could be, to use my breasts as an example of success. A gold star.
Today, when I arrive home from work, removing my bra is one of the first things I do. I reach back with my hands and grab the pronged clasp at my shoulder blades and unhook it with absentminded ease, sighing with relief. I quickly slip on the button-down sleep shirt that my husband bought me for Christmas, and as I catch my reflection in the mirror, I can see the light, puckered skin around the bottom of my breasts: two round U’s underneath each one. I nearly forget they are there.
Kayla Queen Dyer is a graduate student at Marshall University completing her Master’s degree in secondary education, and also plans to earn her PhD in Creative Writing. Her blog, “Mountain Gypsy,” began in 2012 as a place to write about and celebrate her Appalachian heritage, and has since evolved into a small thriving business. Recently, her piece A Field of Queens placed first in the Creative Nonfiction category at this year’s Sigma Tau Delta International Convention, and she has work forthcoming in the anthology Unity! (Mountain State Press), edited by Cat Pleska. Kayla lives and writes with her husband, Kyle, in Huntington, West Virginia.