Tuesday, July 10, 2007

My mother is beautiful

I don't remember what my mother looked like before her mastectomy. I do remember what the swimsuit that she wore to Destin the summer before her surgery looked like. It was green and blue. A floral print. It had white trim. I thought it was beautiful. I thought she was beautiful.

Our neighborhood had a pool. There was a big red barn that had been converted into a clubhouse, and they had added a pool and tennis courts. The pool had a bridge over it that you could hide under, hang on, and if no grownups were watching, you could jump off of it. We loved to go to that pool in the summer, and Momma would take us whenever she could.

When I was 8, I wanted to go swimming. I wanted to go to the pool and jump off the diving board, hide under the bridge, and pretend like I was having an umbrella drink at one of the two cement tables anchored underwater in odd little cubbies off to the side of the shallow end. I wanted my mom to take me swimming.

She did at first. Momma didn't have reconstructive surgery. She took the scar where her breast used to be, thanked God for her life, and moved on. She was only 40. She had a very good prosthesis that was the same size, shape, and weight as her remaining breast. Her bras had pockets that this fake boob would slide into, helping her to feel like a complete woman when fully clothed.

It didn't take long though for Momma to not like going to the pool. Rather for Momma to not like putting on a swimsuit. Her prosthesis was water proof; that wasn't the problem. The problem was that when she looked down, she saw one breast, and then the indentation of where the other one should be.

The prosthetic breast was tucked safely into the pocket of the swimsuit where it never touched her flesh directly. And this view she had, of her one breast and one scar, was not one that she enjoyed seeing.

After another afternoon of begging to go to the pool, she finally told me that she didn't like wearing a swimsuit. I innocently asked why. And she told me that she didn't like having only one breast. She told me about how she felt about how she looked in the swimsuit.

My momma didn't feel like a woman. She didn't feel pretty anymore. She felt incomplete.


You have always been beautiful. I don't remember you with two breasts. I know they were there. I know I leaned on them in church to take a nap. I know I cried into them when I decided I hated school in the first grade. I know you fed me with them. I know they made you feel more like a woman. But these are things I know now, not things I understood then.

What I knew then, when I was little, was that you had one breast and one scar. That is how I knew you, and I thought you were beautiful. I thought your fake boob was cool, and sometimes I would sneak into your closet and pick up the one you weren't wearing. I would turn it over and feel how cool the fake skin felt on my own skin. I was fascinated by this thing that was part of your femininity.

And it is. It is like makeup. Hair color. Shaving your legs. It is only something extra that makes you more feminine on the outside. It enhances your beauty, it doesn't define it.

I always saw you as a beautiful woman. The woman I wanted to be like when I grew up. And I know that I told you I thought you were pretty. But I'm not sure you believed me.

I will have to tell you again. And again. Until you know that I am telling the truth.

I hope that when my child looks at me and tells me that I'm beautiful, I will remember the way I looked at my mother, and know that they are telling the truth.