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My First Time
By Lisa Cron

"One last question," I say to the plastic surgeon who will do the reconstruction, "can you give me some idea what it will look like, I mean will it look like a real breast?"

"Oh yes," he says. "Absolutely. In clothes you won't be able to tell the difference."

I want to say, hey, in junior high I could do that with a pair of gym socks and a box of Kleenex. I'm talking about stark naked for the first time with a new boyfriend. How about then? None of the doctors understand about sex. I am over forty. I have two kids. What does sex have to do with anything?

They'd found the calcification cluster a month earlier during a routine mammogram. After the biopsy my doctor told me it might never become cancerous. We could monitor it. Forever. Or I could have a mastectomy. I realized that any chance it had to remain benign ended with that statement, because now, subjected to a daily stress cocktail, it was sure to turn deadly in no time. Either that or I'd have a stroke worrying about it. Besides, I was about to move from New York to Los Angeles, losing my health insurance in the process. I didn't see it as a choice.

So I have a mastectomy. Which comes with a consolation prize. Implants. My left breast, the healthy one, is a trophy -- voluptuous, pendulous, ripe, all those words that never applied to me before. My right breast is misshapen, the areola crudely colored in, the tattoo ink is already fading. A scar runs from the nearly invisible nipple deep into my armpit. The breast itself is hard, unforgiving, completely devoid of its mate's new soft pliable plumpness. It is nothing more than skin stretched over muscle stretched over a saline filled silicone sac, that I can always feel, like if you swallowed a rock and it got stuck in your throat.

In the beginning, I touch it all the time and pretend I am an amorous man. Would it destroy the mood? I feel like a scientist. I am so curious that I am tempted to walk up to strangers and ask them to fondle it and give me their opinion. Finally, I turn to an old boyfriend who I haven't seen since the operation.

At first Jeff is a little uncomfortable, but he soon warms to the topic in a way I hadn't anticipated. "You had the smallest tits I ever saw, " he says, like he is confessing something it had been hard to hold in, "I didn't know a woman who'd had two kids could be that flat-chested. I was amazed, stunned, and you know me, I've always liked small breasted women. But now, I mean it's not like you're busty or anything, but you look really good in profile, you must be happy about that part of it." He has no idea that what he is saying hurts. Not a clue.

Like the nurse, the day after the mastectomy. She tidies my hospital room, eying me with nervous pity. I can tell she just has to say something. Finally she blurts, "You know who I really feel sorry for? The women with big breasts. They have so much more to lose. It's such a shock for them. You're lucky, it's not such a big change for you." My face freezes, and I am seized with the absurd desire to keep her from realizing what she's just said. But she isn't paying attention to me anymore. She's humming as she takes away my uneaten breakfast tray. Then it hits me, she thought she was comforting me.

We are now standing in Jeff's kitchen. "Let me see them, " he says. "You want me to lift my shirt?" "Yeah" he says.

I stand up straight and quickly suck in my stomach. I pull my shirt up to my chin. He stands back, arms crossed, head cocked, and takes a good long look. That's when I realize that, in his mind, this is not personal at all. He is pretending to be any man. He is going to give me an objective opinion. I feel myself blush. I am glad he isn't looking at my face.

"Honestly," he says at last, "they're fine." His glance lingers on the gimp. "It's not so bad." Like a doctor, he reaches for it. "It's hot," he sounds surprised. What did he think it would feel like? Doesn't he know it's me? Can't he feel my heart beating like a drum, amplified by that fucking saline? He reaches for the other one, my prize, with the same detachment. Nodding he says, "this one feels real." He steps back, smiling. "They're fine, I don't think you need to worry. You meet some guy and it's just one thing, no big deal really."

For the first time I look him in the eye. "Easy for you to say."

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