They showed up overnight, when she was 13, in the 7th grade. She and Dikla stood in the girls’ restroom in the New Building, which by then was actually 20 years old but blossomed in youth compared to the school’s main building, which was over 50.The New Building was where the 7th and 8th graders studied – the biggest kids in school – and it radiated with maturity.
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Dikla asked Naama to come with her to the bathroom, saying she had something to tell her. She made sure all the stalls were empty, then turned to Naama and said: “You need a bra!” and ran out. Naama later learned that her friends had held an emergency meeting where they decided "we have to tell her," and Dikla had drawn the short straw, which meant she was the one who had to deliver the dramatic news. Left alone, Naama peered down the blouse of her blue school-uniform, and thought, They do kind of bounce during gym class. The girls are probably right. And as she left the restroom her shoulders drooped slightly, because suddenly she felt every tiny shift under her shirt, and with it the need to hide this uncontrollable motion, to tame these tiny beasts.
One rainy afternoon she took the bus to Shoshy’s store. As she was trying on different styles, Shoshy burst into the dressing room, announcing, "It's nothing I haven’t seen before, sweetheart!" And Naama thought, There is something you haven’t seen – mine. You’ve never seen mine. Still she bought three bras – one black, one white, and one with a delicate pattern of tiny cherries, definitely her favorite.
Her first year of having breasts she liked them a lot. Their shape was fabulous, especially in the off-the-shoulder tops that were big that summer, and required an additional trip to Shoshy’s to buy a strapless bra – another impressive notch up the ladder of maturity. Her first boyfriend wanted to admire them, too, and that winter he kissed her and gently tugged the zipper of her big, soft coat, but she refused. She wanted them all to herself for a little longer, to admire them alone in the oval mirror in her pink-and-white bedroom.
But then they wouldn’t stop. Her girl-bras no longer contained her, and she found herself needing women’s sizes – C cup, then D. That first Purim in high school she wore a pretty peasant’s dress, and a teacher who passed by her squeezed one of her breasts, then went all white and mumbled, “I didn’t think they were real,” and fled for his life.
Everywhere she went men ogled her with hungry stares. And instead of getting angry at them, she became angry with her breasts. So she packed them into ugly "minimizer" bras that flattened them and prohibited any kind of movement, and over these mobile detention centers she wore oversized sweaters. How jealous she was of girls with thin bra straps that casually peeked out from under little t-shirts; their breasts small and firm, elegant little mounts mischievously adorned with equally tiny nipples.
Only when she got to college did she make friends with a girl who was big-breasted and proud, and took her shopping for gorgeous bras and the right kind of shirts. They went to a bar and Naama watched, mesmerized, as her friend turned predatory energy into power, commanding the entire bar. Then later that year, she had her first real orgasm, delivered by a man who loved her and adored her breasts, and while her reservations were hardly put to rest, a new, cautious appreciation was born.
During her first pregnancy they swelled spectacularly, and even Naama couldn't help but admire these incredible porn-star boobs in the mirror. But by the time she entered the second trimester they became heavy and burdensome, and she resented them more than ever. And then the marvel of breastfeeding arrived. Her breasts knew how to manufacture the exact formula needed by this tiny, miraculous creature in her arms; they dripped exactly when he was hungry. Within four months her baby doubled in size, and all of it – all of it! – came from her, from her breasts. For the first time in her life, she respected them.
And when breastfeeding was over – astonishingly – small boobs! “And things are still looking up, thank god!” she told a friend. They didn’t sag and empty out as many of her friends warned would happen – they just shrank. Suddenly her bras were half-empty, and she rediscovered the dimensions of her youth – B cups, thin straps. This repeated for every pregnancy – swelling to factory size, then back to teenage proportions. And finally, true reconciliation: cooperation, fondness, trust.
Eight weeks ago she was home alone, two full hours of rare peace, just her and Peter Gabriel. And she sang with him, turning up the volume so she could hear him as she stepped into the shower to soothe the annoying mosquito bite that had been bothering her under her left armpit. And in the shower she suddenly knew, overwhelmingly. This was no mosquito bite.
So now she’s here, staring at the white ceiling. Her husband said goodbye at the entrance to the corridor leading to the OR. This morning, before they left, they stood in their underwear and he held her tight. “Say goodbye,” she asked, “say goodbye to them.” “They don’t matter,” he replied. “You matter.” “Of course they matter! They’ve mattered for 25 years!” she said, angry. “You don’t get it,” she shook off his embrace. He apologized, pulled her in again, and then stood behind her and cupped her breasts in his hands, and they both looked in the mirror. Then he kneeled in front of her and kissed them, weaving a delicate web of kisses round and round, and Naama could feel her nipples harden, and realized that this was probably the last time she’d ever experience this sensation, just like she’d never breastfeed again, and everything came washing over her – the tears she didn’t shed in the doctor’s office; the weeping that never came, even when they told the kids; and everything hurt. Everything hurt so bad.
Later, when the radiation’s done, she can have reconstructive surgery. She can pick out boobs that don’t require a bra, like the ones she had wanted in high school – generic, history-free. How could she possibly have known how dear that history would become, having been accumulated; how precious it would be, having been lived.
She never felt the needle go into her arm. “Now,” the nurse says, “we’re going to start the anesthesia intravenously, while giving you a little something to relax through this mask, okay?” The nurse gently strokes her hair, and Naama can feel her youngest daughter’s hand, the one who had breastfed the longest. She stuck with it until she was almost two, refusing to give up the indulgence of this ultimate intimacy. After her bath, wrapped in her soft towel, she’d dig into Naama’s shirt, pulling out her breast, announcing, “Booby!!”Then she’d close her eyes sensuously, smiling, caressing, “My booby…”
“I need you to count backwards for me, sweetheart,” the nurse says. “We’ll start from ten, okay?”
Ten, Naama says, taking a deep breath. Nine. On one of the websites she'd seen a t-shirt that read, “Nope, my boobs aren’t real. The real ones tried to kill me,” and took offense on behalf of her breasts. “Tried to kill me”? They were attacked, too. After a lifetime of being on the frontlines, they were once again the first line of defense. And sacrifice. Eight. The Giving Tree suddenly appears before her, shiny and green. Take what you need, child – my fruit, my leaves, my trunk. How lovingly he offered himself up to the saw. Seven. And the tree was happy. Six. You two will save me. Five. And I’ll see the kids grow up. Four. And I’ll sit with my love on the beach when we’re eighty, old and wrinkled, but with perky fake boobs… She laughs into the mask and the nurse responds with a puzzled smile. Three. Thank you, my darlings. It’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? Two. But I’m carrying on without you now. I’m hardly done.
Mika Almog is an Israeli writer, screenwriter and satirist. Her personal column, "Mika Almog," and satire column, "Bona Bona," appear weekly in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz Magazine. Almog writes in Hebrew and English.