Bearing my chest to the mouth of the world

The prompt was “a love letter to the body.” Folks can interpret this all sorts of ways — I often find myself offering these letters to one part of my body or another, usually some part that I feel (especially) complicated about. This time, well, I think you can pretty quickly tell which part I’m needing to send some love to.

It’s true that I have been grateful for your heft and weight ever since you had any heft and weight. I should apologize now for those months, just as you were budding, that I squeezed you (well, us) into two sizes too-small tube tops (wasn’t that one kind of a grassy green, and ribbed or ruffly or something?) in front of the full-length mirror in the basement of mom’s duplex apartment on California Street — you were all stifled, unable to breathe, but I puffed you out and paraded like a girl was supposed to, bent my arms back like not-yet-broken wings and posed for the dank and empty room while little sqares of sunlight flowed in from the small windows high up on the cement wall. I was trying to hurry you along, wanted the big, full curves of Farrah Fawcett, maybe, or HotLips Houlihan, or, yeah, Daisy Duke — who else would I/we have been inspired by back then? Maybe elementary school teachers, and a couple of classmates whose development had already, well, developed. We didn’t have anything especial to show the world for some time, though, did we? Just a flush roundness that seemed small compared to everything we noted, the girls who wore tight t-shirts, the porn underneath my parent’s bed.

When did you flesh out so nice for me? By the time I was in college, I was cupping you in fine fake lace (remember that one green bra? a grown up version of that tube top, now with something to form itself around) and offering you more readily to others’ eyes. We wore frills under leather jackets or oxford shirts and admired the contrast. I was just learning how to appreciate all the curves I’d longed for back a decade earlier, but then it became much safer to flatten you down beneath sports bras, to clothe my own self in boy garb and butch realness, though even then I just couldn’t cotton to how the guys wanted to do away with their girl bits, from their tits on down, the guys who’d been horrified at how girl developed over and onto their bodies, the bodies they’d just learned to be comfortable in as little boys — but not me, remember? This was something I kept my mouth closed about, lest I reveal myself (even further) as not a real butch: I adored my breasts. Even as I reached out toward transitioning, set my safety against the idea of walking in the world only as male, what stopped me was this: how could I give you up? I cupped my hands around you, when I was alone, and couldn’t reconcile these realities.

You put up with this hemming in and hewing out, how I lavished attention on you during sex (wither alone or with others), but otherwise kept you battened down like all the rest of my hatches. You showed me off to be a girl, I suppose, as breasts are wont to do, and I loved you then as I do now, though I was so scared of what it meant that I was, in fact, a girl (goddamnit).

It took a long time to let you back out again, and one of the first things we did as a way to lay our claim again in girlhood was put aside the smashing-down sports bras and accept ones that showed you as you truly are.

I think sometimes I’m still awful ambivalent about you, not giving you the caressing, the (yes) tongue-baths, the suckling, the snaring and snarling, the pinching and piercing, the laving, the oiling, the tenderness and sweet meanness you deserve because of the nerve memory you still store in your cells, because of the remembering I do every time you’re stroked, because of how his mouth still lives there, always the first.

You remind me now that all of our cells die and are replaced, that every seven years or so we are new — so that you are two and close to three times renewed since the last unasked-for, unwelcomed touch. When will you let me be free, you ask me, and I hold onto the question like something untethered from history, something solely possible, something like bearing my chest to the mouth of the world.

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