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My Breast

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I also realize I am concerned about a scar. I’ve never considered myself particularly vain; I have always thought of scars as a badge of honor, a sign of an enemy vanquished, but those, I now realize, were scars on other people. Luke says he can reach the lump from any number of spots—just show him where to make the cut. He books the surgery for five days later, at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, one of the hospitals where he has privileges. I have one last problem.

“I’ve got this deadline on this book,” I say. “This isn’t going to hang me up time-wise, is it?”

“Listen,” Luke says, “this comes first. This is your life.”

A few friends by now know i have a lump in my breast and am a bit worried about it, but it is Herb I ask to come to the hospital. He is not simply my best friend but a free lance, while Nick is on staff. Also, after the initial enthusiasm that accompanies all our reconciliations, Nick is preoccupied with his own problems: an apartment he cannot sell; his unrequited romance. He also hates doctors. Who goes to doctors? asks Nick. Women. Something is wrong, the best thing you can do is leave it alone, and it will fix itself. In my case, we don’t even know that anything is wrong, so let’s just quit thinking about it. I think I know what the real story is: his first wife, the mother of his 22-year-old-son, who developed schizophrenia in her late twenties. She was a nurse, she had some idea what was going on, and when a doctor confirmed it, she killed herself. I give up trying to talk to Nick and take a stroll by myself to Barnes & Noble, to the section where they have the medical textbooks. The most comprehensive seems to be Breast Cancer, Conservative and Reconstructive Surgery, by Bohmert, Leis, and Jackson, a surgical atlas. It’s $129, too much to spend if I don’t even know I have a problem, but I skim it, looking at the pictures. There are a lot of women squooshing a breast like they are squeezing the Charmin. I figure it’s to show how lifelike reconstructions are, but it strikes me as a man’s notion of what is important to a woman. I have never squeezed my breast that hard, and if a man did it I would holler. I flip through the studies. Every one seems to include a five-year survival rate. I put the book back.

I spend the night before surgery alone. Nick calls three times, asking when I am leaving for the hospital so he can call and wish me good luck. I remember I have to make my decision about the scar. I put on a bandeau bra that is the skimpiest I own and a skinny little Nicole Miller dress, deep purple, with spaghetti straps, that I wore when Nick took me dancing at the Rainbow Room. I loved that night. I had a thirties evening bag that I had got for 40 francs at a flea market in Paris and a Deco rhinestone bracelet from an estate sale in New York, and as I get dressed I wonder about the women who had owned the bag and the bracelet, and where they had worn them, and if they had been as happy as I. Then I take off the dress and turn down the top of the bra a little bit and trace the edge with a ballpoint pen. As I do, I start to cry. I don’t have a perfect body by model standards, my breasts are different from what they were in my twenties, but they are my breasts, it is my body, and I like it very much. Now I am making a mark that says, “Cut me.”

Next morning, I talk to Nick. “Call me with the good news as soon as you get out of surgery,” he says. Then I go to the hospital with Herb. In the taxi, I remember all our strange trips: Kenya, where we eyed the lions from an open Land Rover and were scared they were seeing two New York Jews and getting an urge for delicatessen; Paris, where we went looking for Jim Morrison’s grave at Père-Lachaise Cemetery and had no idea where to find it until we spotted a girl with pink hair. I tell Herb what we should do is regard this as just another weird adventure.

“You sure you don’t want to ask to watch the surgery, because it could be kind of interesting,” I say.

“Pass,” says Herb.


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