One Friday after school, my mother entered my bedroom. She had a look on her face like when she had to tell me that my pet hamster died. I was twelve years old and impatiently waiting for puberty to knock on my door. She sat down on my bed and took my hand. “We have to talk about your boobs, Diane. They’re adjustable.”
If she had approached me to have another sex talk, I would have vomited up my lunch. When we had the sex talk, Mom walked into my room and told me all the anatomical names. She also used the word penetration a lot. Despite her bluntness, the only way I could tell she was nervous was because she did that rapid eye blink thing.
“My boobs?” Part of me feared that she was joking, but my mother didn’t have much of a sense of humor. She didn’t dress up her language or introduce unrelated nonsequiturs like I would have. If I had to tell my daughter about her adjustable boob power, I would have used dolls and props and possibly an analogy about a rare bird. But Mom, she just came right out and said it—I could change the size of my breasts.
“Yes. You will be able to change the size of your breasts over the next thirty years of your life.”
One of my classmates in the seventh grade, Loreen, was the first girl in class to sprout breasts. All the other girls were jealous, though none of us understood why. Loreen said that “larger breasts look best in dresses.” All I knew was that I didn’t want to be called “so flat that my chest could be a cutting board” or “One Dimensional Diane.”
I had been looking forward to being a woman. Those women who had big boobs, tiny waists and slim, delicate wrists always looked like the epitome of femininity to me. They always seemed to have tiny feet. I felt awkward and clunky with my long flipper-like feet and no waist.
Once, while we watched a movie, my parents commented on how beautiful one of the actresses was. I sat on the floor reading while my parents cuddled on the sofa.
“She is gorgeous. Her skin looks so smooth,” my mom said. She poked my dad in the side.
“Yeah, I didn’t notice her skin. Her boobs are amazing,” my dad said.
“Phil!” My mom swatted my dad’s arm and laughed. I went back to reading, but stayed on the same page for the rest of the movie.
I had so many questions about my adjustable boobs.
“How? When? How big can I get them? Are they going to sag if I go too big?” I asked.
“This ability is hereditary. Very few other women have it. There is a button that I have to show you how to use. But beware. If you use the button too much, it will break and you will be stuck at whatever size you’re at,” my mother said.
Learning about adjustable boobs was a conversation for which I would have preferred a book, or the internet, over my mother’s lecture. I was nervous to research “adjustable boobs” on my computer. Didn’t they track those searches? Would I be identified as a boob-adjuster and targeted by some pervert?
My arms wrapped around my presently nonexistent chest as I rocked back and forth. No more training bras or those awkward, preteen, multicolored, overly padded holsters.
The rest of my mother’s instructions barely registered. Mom said something about keeping a variety of bra sizes in my drawer and to always make sure I had the right support. She showed me where on my body the button was and how to control it. The button was in a hard to reach spot that required some contortions to adjust. I didn’t care. I would become more flexible.
“There is another thing that you should know,” my mother said, “you can try different sizes, but you have to choose by the time you are 40, or the choice will be made for you. The button stops working.”
Forty seemed such a long way off. I had plenty of time to find the right size for me. I would try all the different sizes I could. I wouldn’t worry about boys or their attention. I just wanted to look older. I wanted strangers to stop talking to me like I was a kid lost in the playground looking for her mother.
After my mother left my room, I jumped on my bed and stuck out my chest pretending I was busty like that actress in the movie with the robot and that guy from the boy band. I spent the rest of the afternoon learning how to use the button and playing around with different sizes in front of the mirror. Mom called in every few minutes to make sure I didn’t need help.
I dragged my best friend, Vera, to the mall the next day, letting her in on my secret. We spent that entire Saturday trying to find the perfect bras for me. I wanted them to be lacy, floral, delicate, and make me look curvy. D cups were desirable, but none of the size D bras were lacy. They were industrial looking and either black, beige, or white. I didn’t care. I wanted to be a D cup. The sales lady offered to help and I politely told her that I was fine. My first bra was labeled “nude” though it was several shades lighter than my skin tone. The band was too loose for my small frame, but I didn’t know any better. I just knew that I had a size D bra, and (in my twelve-year old mind) this meant I was a woman. I wanted to be accepted as a woman and a woman had an ample bosom.
When I walked through the dressing room’s heavy maroon curtains, Vera giggled and held her hand over her mouth. She pointed to my blouse buttons that popped open in the middle. No matter how much I slouched or sucked in, I burst out of that blouse. Vera begged me to try a different size, but asking for help meant accepting an endless childhood. I bought the bra anyway. I bought a pullover.
That Monday, I dressed for school in my new bra and my new pullover. In the kitchen, my mother fed my baby sister, and my father read the news while hunched over the breakfast counter sipping his coffee. He looked up and dribbled his coffee a little.
“Did you tell her?” my father asked in a poor attempt at whispering.
“We talked about the button, so no need for you to say anything.” My mother didn’t look up from my sister’s oatmeal-smeared face. She didn’t even look at what I wore. She must have signaled my father to be quiet. I grabbed a boiled egg and ran for the school bus.
The second I started running for the bus my new boobs hurt and my back hurt and my shoulders hurt. I could have adjusted at school in the girls’ bathroom, but my pride kept me from acknowledging those Ds were too oversized for my body and that the bra didn’t fit.
The boys in school stared at my chest. Mouths dropped. Necks craned. Eyes bulged. Before class even started, I eyed the nurse’s office to hide out.
In advisory, everyone kept passing notes and giggling. My advisor, Mr. Abbott sent me to the principal with a note. That note read, “Please talk to Diane.” The principal called the nurse to join us.
The principal sat behind his desk. The nurse leaned against the window, tapping her foot. “I understand at this age you might be encouraged to alter your size with tissue or socks or whatever, but your size is a little…how do we say…um.”
I was embarrassed by all the attention, but I didn’t understand what I had done wrong. I wanted to climb on top of that messy desk and scream out, “I have a button that gives me adjustable boobs!” How dare they think these are socks. This is Grade A, pure me—with the help of a button.
“Such a large chest area can be distracting in a school environment, dear,” the principal stammered while looking at the nurse.
“Distracting?” I asked. How distracting is it for me to be teased for not having boobs?
The principal chewed on a pen.
“The boys and the male teachers might find it distracting, dear,” the nurse said.
My cheeks flushed, and my hands shook a little. I wiped the sweat off my palms on the side of my pants. I thought about storming out of the school and never returning. I just wanted to look less gangly and awkward. I wanted to be dainty and curvy.
They gave me the option of either having my mother pick me up, or “emptying my stuffing in the ladies’ room.” I couldn’t bear to tell them that I was one of the rare girls who had a button. I called my mother. The rest of the year I kept my boobs at As and my face sullen. Instead of One Dimensional Diane, kids would ask me, “Do you have a tissue?” I wanted to slap everyone.
When I reached high school, some kids still joked about the day I showed up in school with my bra stuffed. I chose to adjust to Bs. Most of the other girls seemed to be about that same size. With Bs, my tops didn’t stretch or gap at the bust line. My Bs seemed to not be distracting. The bras weren’t too expensive or look grandmotherly like the Ds. My body still felt gangly and awkward.
The girls with larger boobs were harassed constantly. Boys would mimic them walking around by sticking their chests out. Girls would call them fat, or worse, slutty.
Junior year, my crush since freshman year, Bobby, invited me to the prom. Bobby was a lacrosse player with strong legs, long curly hair, and a broad smile. To buy my gown, my mother and I drove to Jane’s Prom and Bridal. I couldn’t bring myself to ask my seamstress mother to sew me a dress, and she didn’t offer.
While I didn’t want to look like a model, I wanted to fit in with what everyone else wore. Those days everyone wore strapless, so I chose several dresses that I had seen in magazines.
“How’s it looking in there, Diane?” my mom called in through the curtain. I adjusted my button to Ds in the dressing room and tried on a platinum grey, strapless, silk gown with satiny buttons down the back. My cleavage looked amazing. I glided out of the dressing room feeling comfortable in my body. I twirled and shook my hair like I was a model on a runway. I posed at all angles. My dress slid down a little, but I could fix that with the right bra and some double stick tape. In my mind I was nominated for an Academy Award, and every designer wrangled to style me. I remembered seventh grade Loreen’s comment about big boobs looking great in dresses.
My mother took one look at me and sighed. Her eye twitched. “You look beautiful, but I’m worried,” my mom said.
“People might get the wrong message.”
“Because it’s strapless?” I asked.
My mother never stopped being blunt and direct. When she had to tell me about using deodorant, she took me to the aisle and said, “Choose one.” When I pulled my unruly hair into a messy pony tail, she gave me lessons on natural hair care, and the LOC method, (apply in leave-in conditioner, oil, then styling cream.) When I failed algebra because I wasn’t doing the homework, she told me to work harder. When I told her that I wanted to be an actress, she told me the statistics that less than ten percent make it, but she would stand behind me if I wanted to try.
But as I stood in that dressing room, my mom paused before she spoke. “No, honey. I mean with all that cleavage. People might think that you’re easy.” My mom stammered and wouldn’t make eye contact. She sighed and kept lightly trying to pull the top of the dress up. My mother, the woman who stared down angry bridezillas every day, who would have taken on a bull to protect her children, couldn’t look me in the eye.
“What people?” I asked. I remembered my middle school principal and his messy desk. I remembered the nurse calling me dear. I remembered all the snickering in school. Was I choosing my breast size to avoid the teasing or to look like everyone else? All those actresses and models, when they wore dresses with cleavage showing, did people think they were easy? How much cleavage makes one look easy? What about all the women with Ds that didn’t come from a button? Were they forced to forever wear turtlenecks? Of course I didn’t ask my mother any of these questions. I chose a dress with long sleeves and a high neckline and adjusted my boobs to Bs.
When I was a freshman in college, I felt less gangly and my breast size was more a matter of convenience. I chose As for exercising and Cs for walking around. With my mother’s voice in my head, I was still afraid to try Ds again.
One night after some late night studying, a guy walked me home. Several times before, we had met to study for a chemistry class. We didn’t really study, more like talked about the class, Bob Marley, and Young and the Restless. We chatted so easily. He would listen without interrupting me. I always felt like the only person in the world. He would maintain eye contact in a way that I had never seen before—a gaze so intense I would have to look away. When we parted he would brush my cheek with a soft kiss and held my elbow for a second after.
“Here we are, Adams Hall,” I said. My dorm, stuck in ancient times, was all girls. The groundskeepers pulled the ivy off the sides so boys wouldn’t climb the walls and sneak in through the windows. The building was surrounded by a ditch that everyone called The Moat.
“Let me see your room. You told me it was awesome,” he said. I had never invited him to my room. My father’s voice, admonishing me about having a boy in my room, kept repeating in my head. Dad’s voice would deepen whenever he was giving me safety advice. I checked the boy into my dorm. The normally bustling hallways were empty. I opened my door, which I always kept unlocked. My neighbors would help themselves to my fridge and watch television in my room. My walls had string lights and posters of Klimt’s “The Kiss” and Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golighlty. I poured us each a glass of orange juice and sat on the bed. The pulp stuck in my throat. I wished it had been beer or wine. He remained standing, leaning against the wall that jutted into the room.
I talked about a soap opera plot line, and he just stood there. He broke eye contact, and I stopped talking.
“Your breasts are amazing,” he said. As he turned back to me, I was in the room with a stranger. His eyes shadowed and his shoulders squared. The smell of his cologne, like citrus wrapped in leather, filled my nose.
“Well, it is getting late,” I said.
He lunged at me with the strength of a silverback gorilla, attacking me in a frenzy. Hands wrapped around my neck and squeezed. There was no screaming “No,” only “Please, stop.” I begged for my life. My ears clogged as if I had a cold.
He released my neck and ripped my blouse off and pulled down my pants in one swift moment as I choked and coughed, hoping to breathe. I was crushed by his weight on top of me, smothered as he penetrated me. My mind left my body.
My eyes locked on my Klimt poster. The man is clutching the woman in an embrace. I used to think it was romantic, that she is swept away by his touch. But on that day, she pushed him away, turning her head. He was faceless and formless, enveloping her.
He forced me over onto my stomach, shoving my face into my bed, and pulled my hips to him. My button remained hidden as he groped and held me. What if he found the button? Was he searching for it? Would I be frozen in that moment like that woman in The Kiss?
He backed away from me, and sticky wetness glopped onto my leg. He pulled me up. His eyes calmed as if his soul returned. He smiled and walked out of my room, closing the door behind him.
The leathery, orange smell from his cologne consumed the room. Curled up in a ball on the floor, I wrapped my arms around chest. My throat was raw. When the sun came up, I went to the bathroom and showered. I pulled the sheets off my bed and laid down on the bare mattress.
Weeks. Years. I was numb to time. I lost myself in darkness—disconnected from the world, sleepwalking through life. In retrospect, I don’t know how I managed to finish college. After graduation, I worked waiting on tables while I pursued an acting career. I got auditions and even some minor roles. I assumed casting agents rejected me because I was damaged. I kept my boobs set at As for years after that, barely looking or touching my body, except to bathe. I didn’t discuss what happened to me. I didn’t even admit it to myself. I didn’t know what I felt. I was numb.
There was a period when I was twenty-five, I stopped bathing. I stopped going to auditions. I spent most of the time watching nothing but home improvement shows about remodeling and house flipping. Getting out of bed felt like dragging an elephant across the highway. Every night, I relived my assault in my sleep. His face loomed over me. His hands grabbed my throat. I cried and wrapped my arms around my chest. Snot poured down my face. After I didn’t answer the phone or the door for two weeks, Vera, my oldest and dearest friend, dragged me to a therapist. She didn’t ask what was wrong with me, and I couldn’t tell her. After I spent months in therapy saying I was just depressed, I finally admitted what I never told anyone. I felt as if I relived that night.
A week later, my therapist managed to convince me to seek rape counseling. I sat alone in the waiting room of the rape crisis center. It had Pepto Bismol pink wallpaper, muted floral upholstered armchairs, and no waiting room music. One fluorescent bulb flickered, casting a shadow and a slight smoke trail that smelled of ozone around the room. I walked into the counselor’s office dragging my feet across the carpet, my hair standing on end.
I sat across from my counselor with my feet planted flat on the floor, back straight against the saggy leather chair.
“Start from the beginning,” she said.
“I let a boy up to my room in college and grabbed me and forced himself on me.” I reported what happened. I couldn’t use the word “rape.”
“How could I trust him? Why didn’t I know that he was a monster? Why did I let him in my room?”
“It wasn’t your fault,” My counselor said, but I didn’t believe her.
After I started getting counseling for my rape, I was able to return to acting. I auditioned for a deodorant commercial. The casting agent commented that I would look perfect for the role if I had bigger boobs. He whispered loudly and pointed at my chest. I laughed.
At home, after my shower, I stood before the bathroom mirror instead of running from it. Why had I thought that my femininity was stored in my boobs? The water evaporated off my skin, and I slathered on coconut oil. My legs pushed against the earth, my back held my body upright.
I tried to adjust the button. What size did I try? I don’t remember. The button was frozen into place, and I smiled. It was one month before my twenty-sixth birthday.
One day as I walked to get to a foot powder audition, I watched a woman. She wore one of those body contour dresses in blood red with gold stilettos. She was not the tiniest woman, and her make-up was a little too thick, but her shoulders were straight and her ankles dainty. She tossed her curly black hair down her back as she strutted passed everyone. My hair goes to my ears. Her boobs bounced rhythmically as she walked. This woman had skin that begged to be touched. I walked behind her, my huge feet clopping along the sidewalk. My idea of femininity had been wrapped up in body image, but watching this woman reminded me that femininity had nothing to do with the actual body but with the way that a woman carried it. I was mesmerized, not by her body, but by her confidence.
I gave birth to my daughter on a rainy Friday. Everything happened so quickly. She was almost delivered on the highway. My husband drove faster than a NASCAR driver in the final lap. When we got to the emergency room, the doctor sent us to the delivery room right away.
My contractions rushed in. Every six minutes, every two minutes, every thirty seconds. It’s not like on TV with all the screaming and swearing. I didn’t have the energy. My body just took over on instinct, bearing down with each contraction as the baby inched out. That big head burned as it slid out. I held my daughter to my chest and then we both became still. I worried that my milk wouldn’t let down. All the pain in my body turned off. She snuggled up against me and began to nurse as if she would never eat again; the sound of her feeding was like a waitress smacking gum. Her baby skin was so soft, and she smelled like heaven. The rain stopped, and the sun came out. I kept touching her, afraid that she might disappear. I worried about my daughter being in this world.
Raised in Philadelphia, Trish Rodriguez now resides in Media, PA. She graduated from Rosemont College MFA in Creative Writing Program. Fiction writing is her dream.