Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Waiting for spring

There isn’t much that ruffles my little sister Mary’s calm demeanor.

On Thursday, the day after tomorrow, she will be the last of us to undergo an operation to remove her breasts.

"Mom," her 20-year-old daughter Jessica tearfully confided, "I’m so worried about your surgery. What if something goes wrong?"

Mary stared at her in amazement. "What could go wrong?"

If Mary doesn’t ever think to worry about herself - and she doesn’t - the rest of us do. I’ve had to reach out frequently in the past week to hug my slightly built, fine-boned little sister. She is precious to me. I wish for the day after tomorrow to be only a distant memory for her.

My sisters and I are in a holding pattern right now. Mary waits for her double mastecomy, Terri waits for the final operation to exchange her plastic expanders for soft, comfortable implants. Deb is waiting to finish her expander fills while I’m hoping just to start mine.

"I’m feeling like a sixth grader today!" Deb crows. That’s her joke as her chest slowly fills out with the expanders. After the next fill, she hopes to have developed into a nicely rounded ninth grader.

I’m just trying to hit puberty.

A few weeks ago, when I was feeling particularly ravishing in my husband’s over-sized flannel shirt and a pair of sweat pants blown out in the crotch, I inspected for the first time the pair of falsies the hospital sent home with me.

"Just slide these in the provided camisole," a kind nurse instructed me in the hospital, "and you can get dolled up for Christmas!" she said brightly.

I haven’t "dolled up" for any thing in six weeks. But the thought of returning to school motivated me to pull the falsies out of their box. Sliding them underneath my shirt, I discovered in the mirror that I was instantly transformed into a flannel-covered Dolly Parton.

John was just coming through the front door stamping the snow from his feet, and I sauntered into the living room to greet him.

"Well, hellooo, Handsome," I crooned, arching my back seductively against the door jam.

He laughed. "Didn’t the hospital know what you looked like before?"

I abandoned the falsies.

Terri and Deb have warned me for weeks that it’s difficult at first to venture out into the public fray without breasts.

"Some people stare right at your chest," Terri informed me.

"And some of your friends won’t know exactly what to say," Deb said.

They’ve been right on both counts. But going out into public again is one of those hurdles every woman who’s endured a mastectomy has to overcome. Tomorrow I return to school for the first time, and I’m nervous. One hundred sixty-five students will stream in and out of my classroom. Truthfully, they wouldn’t be human if they didn’t try to sneak a glance or two at my boobless chest.

I understand.

But what I fear is the TotallyCluelessKid. Like my little eighth grade nemesis Bueller.

"Mrs. Howard, what kind of surgery did you have?" Bueller will surely ask in oblivious innocence.

I could tell him it was a transgender operation.  And that wouldn't be far from the truth. "I was living a lie, Bueller," I’ll say. "And please. Call me Mr. Howard."

He’ll stare at me, bewildered. "But your husband is Mr. Howard!"

I’ll shrug. "So now you have two. I’ll be the slightly more effeminate one."

Except that Bueller won’t know what "effeminate" means, and then it just isn’t funny anymore.

I’ll worry about Bueller tomorrow. Today we’re snowed in, and I’ve been given a reprieve from Bueller for one more day. Two thirds of the country is gripped by paralyzing wind, snow and sub-zero temps. I’ve been gazing out the window all day longing for blue skies, porch swings, singing birds and whistling mailmen.

What a long winter it’s been. And there’s more to come. My little sister Mary is having her breasts removed Thursday. Tomorrow, my boobless chest has to withstand the scrutiny of a hundred sixty-five pairs of adolescent eyes.

Will it really only be the second day of February?

I need it to be spring.

If he dares to see his shadow, I swear I’ll torture and kill that freaking groundhog.