It was to be an art project, an adventure in healing, unlike any other; one that she chose, with unflappable conviction, to undertake a few weeks ago. I was co-opted on this mission, I joined because she asked – but I dreaded the actual doing because of its ulterior meaning.
After the kids left to camp and her husband to errands, OJ and I set up shop in the playroom with the requisite tools: bucket of hot water, towel, plastic wrap from the dry cleaner’s, a tube of petroleum jelly, and a roll of plaster that I proceeded to cut up into strips and patches.
In only her undies, with a sheet of plastic wrapped around her midsection and draped down to her knees, and jelly smeared on her breasts, OJ sat on the waterproof mat we’d placed on the carpet, and lay back against the soft leather couch. We got started immediately, not knowing how long the procedure would take to complete.
With near-surgical precision, I set to work, dunking one strip at a time into hot water, placing it carefully and strategically on her slippery chest. It took less than one hour to plaster her breasts, partway below them and slightly above; a further fifteen minutes for the white stuff to harden to the point where it glided easily off her skin. Like a piece of armor about to be removed, or a snake shedding its skin, there was a transient otherness to that which was momentarily still attached so snugly to her body.
She lifted the mold gently, as if it were a fragile piece of bone china. The blinds were only partly drawn. Holding the plaster shell up to the window, OJ gasped slightly, struck by the effect of daylight filtering through. Look at that!, she exclaimed, as we both stared in stunned silence. Without a doubt, it looked like a fuzzy x-ray of her breasts… so much like the details of mammogram images we’d become accustomed to viewing.
She held it up to the light for further inspection, turned it this way and that, as if it were a foreign specimen, an object extricated from an archeological dig, to be observed, studied and analyzed. We sat in awe looking at the empty spaces created by the mold, recalling the shape of her breasts. OJ brought it close, with the light’s rays still shining through, and pointed to a small area. What does that look like, she asked with a knowing tone. I looked closely. They look like microcalcifications, don’t they?
I couldn’t help but echo OJ’s wonderment, so profoundly sobered by the magic and irony that unfolded before our eyes; as we sat and stared, mesmerized, saddened, speechless.
You are not your body – nor your breasts.