Florida's Daughter

Archive for September 2009

I dreamed about them again last night. I dreamed about their beginnings. I dreamed about how they’ve existed parallel to my life, serving and exposing me, reflecting my rebellion, betraying my trust. When I awoke, my breasts were sore and achy, probably due to my monthly cycle. But it doesn’t take much creative muscle to imagine that my brain has let slip the fate that awaits them in just a couple of days.

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I was an early bloomer, at least 8 years old when they made their debut on my flat chest. One of the first in my class to sprout, I was at first ashamed of them. The source of pointing and giggles from the other little girls, they were subject to be grabbed and pinched by pubescent boys. Mother noticed my frisky adolescent curves, too, and ceremoniously presented me with a girdle.

From the beginning, my breast seemed to exist parallel to my life. They grew peacefully upon my chest, and I did my best to ignore them. Then when I turned 10, they became more interesting as I noticed how interested middle school boys are in girls with perky bosoms. Suddenly, they had a purpose.

The period between 10 and 15 years old – 1969 to 1974 – my breasts became for me symbols of conjured up courage and imitated maturity. Teenage boys assumed I was much older than I actually was, while couldn’t-care-less men approached me boldly. I learned to embrace the power of my bouncy boobies, to appreciate the attention I got because they were on my chest.

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I was particularly fond of strutting up and down my working-class Chicago neighborhood outfitted in playfully sexy halter tops and rump revealing hot pants. Naturals were popular then, and my own was always perfectly coiffed. Sleeveless triangular material that tied around the back and again at the back of the neck, my favorite halter tops loosely covered my braless breasts, while my shoulders, upper back, and midriff were bare and exposed. Breasts weren’t so bad after all. I was liberated by the attention.

On television, at the movies, on the covers of Ebony magazine, all around me liberation of one sort or another was being proclaimed and claimed – in an overall rise in youth culture, a national demand by Blacks for civil rights, and second-wave feminism. James Brown recorded and released in 1971 the hit single, “Hot Pants,” which played in heavy rotation on the city’s all-Black radio stations.

Thinkin’ of loosin’ that funky feelin’ don’t!

Cause you got to use just what you got

To get just what you want

Hot pants make ya sure of yourself -good Lord

You walk like you got the only lovin’ left

I was a young teenager, a virgin barely kissed, my own liberation dormant, untested. Yet, I attracted and reveled in the rootless affection the soft roundness of my breasts attracted, and instinctively I knew the Godfather of Soul was singing about me.

Then the babies arrived, a daughter when I was 17, and a son at 19. As my belly grew, so did my breasts until they were so big and full of milk I didn’t recognize them. I remember staring at myself, thinking I looked like someone had taken me by the mouth and blown me up to resemble a human cow. Whenever it was time to feed my babies, or when they simply cried, the fullness in my chest could bring tears to my eyes. The leakage through my clothes made me turn from mirrors in disgust.

So in spite of my mother-in-law’s pestering, I reclaimed my body. Stocked up on formula and glass baby bottles, and stubbornly refused to breastfeed. I was not yet 20 years old. The health benefits of breastfeeding were not as well known. Young and hot, I was not interested in latching babies to my breasts. More than 30 years later it seems my mother-in-law, bless her soul, was right all along as studies now show that breastfeeding appears to protect against breast cancer, probably by affecting levels of estrogen in a woman’s body.

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Raising the children through their middle years, I went through an early period during the 1980s where I deliberately hid my breasts and any hint of femininity under layers of mannish styled clothing. From somewhere I got my hands on an old discarded army jacket that I wore everywhere accept to work. I was most often seen with a cap on my head. When hatless, I wore my chemically straightened hair brushed back flat against my head.

I remember now that I felt betrayed by my womanhood. At home I was wife and mother, and thus, primary manager of my young family. I look back at photographs of myself, and I am clearly depressed; although I was not yet 30, I look every bit of 40 years old. During those years there was nothing about being a woman that I wanted much to do with.

I was in my 20s, and had by then experienced a few unfortunate experiences. Incidences when my attractiveness and inexperience nearly got me raped or assaulted. Instead of welcoming the attention of men, I began looking for invisibility, corners to hide in. I spent an entire winter hidden under clothes that silenced the hecklers, and made strangers ignore me. Without raising my voice above a whisper, I silently protested the unfairness of being female in America.

The end of the ‘80s brought with it a determination to nurture myself in a way I had never done before. The children were teenagers, the marriage was over all except the walking out, and I wanted something better for myself. Four months before my 30th birthday I enrolled in college where I earned my degree in magazine journalism.

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Those three years in school were so liberating! In the company of encouraging professors my intelligence was fed, and my self-confidence bloomed. After graduation, I cut my hair and began wearing it naturally again. I revamped my wardrobe, and unearthed my sassiness. Pictures taken during this season of my life show a smiling, contented woman, her silky legs unfurled under short skirts, her plump breasts bursting out of her blouses like crocuses in springtime.

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Since discovering cancer in my left breast, and deciding a double mastectomy is the right thing for me to do, I find myself unconsciously massaging them. Holding them I try to burn in my memory how they feel to my touch, how they feel when they are touched. Last week I stood in the bathroom mirror and took snapshots of them with my cell phone camera. Goodness, are they ever droopy, ravished by pregnancy, age and gravity, racing one another to my lap. I attempt to cheer myself by reminding myself that thanks to implants, I’ll be 80 with the bouncy bosom of a 20-year-old.

On Tuesday, September 15, 2009, I will lie down and when I raise up again my body will be absent the breasts that have reflected so much of my life back to me. We’ve been through a lot together, me and my breasts, and while I didn’t ask for them, we’ve grown attached. Never knew how much until I had to contemplate losing them. But if nothing else, my breasts have taught me a lot about how society defines me as a woman. And they’ve helped me to grow into my womanhood as they became a reflection of both my strength and my vulnerability.

not real

It was a wild ride, but soon we will part company. And even though no one looking from the outside in will be able to tell the difference, I will know they’re gone, and I will miss them.

Florida’s Daughter

190509072732fear

Many Christians are under the mistaken notion, to paraphrase Kirk Franklin, that storms are God’s way of punishing us. But I too submit that this is not true theology, that rather it is a form of Christian thinking that more reflects how we treat one another, rather than how God treats his/her beloved children.

Just as plants require sunlight and warm weather to grow, we too require rain and darkness over the course of a day, of a season in order to become the flowers we were meant to be.

So no, I don’t believe God did not give us the spirit of fear. She not only gave us the spirit of fear, but the spirit of love, and determination, and courage as well. Even Jesus, who we esteem above all, acknowledged the spirit of fear possessing him when he asked God to remove the challenge that was before him. 

Often we are afraid to admit our fear, to embrace it and acknowledge it because we don’t want to appear weak, vulnerable. But sometimes that’s where we are, and fear is just what we feel.

Florida’s Daughter

This is perfect imagery to explain how I feel most mornings ...

This is perfect imagery to explain how I feel most mornings ...

I don’t fear the surgery so much, although I am not looking forward to the pain it will leave behind, or the realization that I no longer have breasts of my own. Or that chemotherapy will make me sick, or that paying for other meds, treatments, and doctor visits will strain our finances, and most likely, our marriage.
 
Eventually, my body will heal from the surgery and left behind will only be memories of what was once upon a time. I will move on and pick my life back up and we will try and move on, forgetting perhaps the memory of this experience, if not the lessons.
 
No, I’m logical-minded enough not to fear the surgery so much. I am afraid that next Tuesday will signal the beginning of my end and that cancer will eventually kill me. If not now, then at some other time.
 
I am afraid that the sacrifice of both my breasts and my ovaries will not be enough of a price to pay for a cancer-free life.
 
I have a lot of Christian family members, friends and acquaintances, and I’m positive that each would counsel me to pray to God for healing, for peace of mind, for comfort. But I am of the belief that God is not sitting around stubbornly waiting for me to pray before he heals me, bestows peace upon me, and graces me with comfort.
 
There is a reason why I am going through this, and I don’t believe it is entirely for my sake. But understanding that my tribulation may be in the end for the benefit of someone else does not make the thought of it any less painful to bear.
 
I know I will die someday. I’ve known since I was a 15-year-old witnessing the death and burial of her 35-year-old mother. But I guess I thought I had more time to write, to travel, to watch my grandchildren grow up, to watch my children realize their dreams and my dreams for them.
 
Now I know that I have less time before than behind me and the realization is forcing me to re-think my priorities, to determine what I want to accomplish before I die, knowing that my life no longer represents the great expanse of time and opportunity I once thought it was.
 
Cancer makes one understand in a way that cannot be read about, or told about that time is precious. That each day is not promised … what a cliche … but cliches are repeated so often because the truth of them is never lost no matter how often the truism is repeated.
 
Already I am tired of thinking about cancer, tired of wondering what ultimate effect it will have on the rest of my life. I feel guilty about talking and thinking about cancer all the time while everyone else around me seems only to have good news to share about new adventures, unchartered discoveries, and renewed relationships.
 
I am boring to my own ears, but there is nothing else on my mind right now … there is nothing else to focus on until I have scaled this mountain, until I have found my way out of this maze.
 
Florida’s Daughter

While I’ve always known that just one serious illness can bankrupt a family’s finances, it was not until my own recent cancer diagnosis that the truth of that statement became a reality to me. One imagines that private insurance is a blessing, and in many ways it is, but paying $30 every time you visit the doctor, and you’ve got at least 3 doctors to visit several times in one month is stressful on even a middle-class family’s budget.

With private insurance, a co-pay of as much as $30 is due each time a cancer patient goes in for radiation treatments sometimes as often as five times a week for as long as six weeks. A co-pay of $30 is due each time that patient goes in for chemotherapy, and each time she visits any one of several doctors for follow-up appointments.

Then there are the co-pays ranging from $10 – $30 for monthly prescriptions, and funds needed for surgical dressings. Add to all of the above the high cost of eating nutritionally balanced meals. Feeding a family inexpensively is possible, but keeping a family fed on a steady diet of hot dogs, lunch meat, and other cheap foods is also nutritionally unsound.

President Barack Obama was overwhelmingly elected because this nation’s electorate … Democrats, Republicans, and Independents … wanted change. Those of us that voted for change must continue to push for change across the board, including comprehensive healthcare reform. We must pick up where the late Sen. Teddy Kennedy’s fight for access to universal health care for all Americans ended. We must continue to make the demand that healthcare is a right of citizenship in this the most powerful country on Earth, rather than a privilege of the rich and well-connected.

Florida’s Daughter


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