I have to get going early in the morning, because I have a stealth errand to run before work. An emergency errand. An errand which which will not wait. An errand of the most serious kind. You ladies will understand: I must have new bras.
Needing a bra at 55 bears no resemblance to needing a bra at 12, or whenever I finally dragged my Mother to Shainberg’s Department Store to purchase my first training bra. What a magical moment that was to open a cardboard box adorned with a slim chestnut haired girl in HER training bra, and unfold my very own stretchy white rectangle with straps and a demure satin triangle in the middle. All my hard work agitating for my cause, ceaselessly cajoling and reminding my Mother that I HAD TO HAVE A BRA had finally paid off.
IIn my opinion my Mother had been quite slow to see the wisdom of rushing me to Shainberg’s some night right after she did the dishes. I was a thin girl, and in the fashions of the day my burgeoning breasts could no longer be disguised! Never mind that they burgeoned only to me. I wasn’t going to get caught among my peer group with out this requisite garment. At school the girls actually played a little “game” with one another, wherein we came up to a female class mate and patted her on the back in greeting. With our friends looking on, we nodded the verdict – yea if we felt a bra strap. nay if we didn’t. Woe unto the poor girl whose Mother had sent her to school in a little white uniform blouse and no bra!
Anyway, at some point my Mother did give in and buy me the little trainer. There were no flowery speeches on her part, no sweet smiles to say she understood that I had celebrated a rite of passage. She wasn’t a demonstrative person in the first place, and also I think she knew what was coming.
As the years went by, I grew of course to actually need a bra. I was pleasantly if not fantastically endowed. My breasts were my friends, and bras my loyal servants. Bra options were endless: gauzy, lacy, front snapping, sexy, strapless. Later these gave way temporarily to pregnancy and nursing bras. But after a time I returned, somewhat altered, but still quite viable in the bustline department, to whatever was most comfortable and flattering: Wonder bras, running bras, push- up bras, underwire bras, cotton bras. I could rely on my trusty bras and my perky bustline to deliver just the look I wanted.
But you know where this is going. Somehow in the last decade without my noticing it, my breasts began, in miniscule movements similar to those of the tectonic plates, to drift apart, each to its closest armpit, as though they had decided to migrate right around to the back of my shoulder blades and hang there. Maybe they’re going to. At the same time some unseen mechanism began to stretch out the actual length of the breasts, so that they appear as reflected in a funhouse mirror. Or as two very sad eggplants looking away from each other.
Gone are the days of rifling through rack after rack of matching lacy confectionary lingerie sets and actually CHOOSING what I want. Now I take what fits and gives me some semblance of a shape. Now I have to go the specialty bra store in my town.
Lest I sound like a whiner, let me say I am deeply grateful for the specialty bra store, which serves the needs of many women, including those with prosthetic breasts. The ladies who work at the store are professional and kind and do much to improve the quality of life for their customers. I never have to pick through the bras there, not that it would do any good if I did.
For a while I didn’t even understand what had happened to me. I was going to the specialty store because I knew I could get waited on. About a year or so ago I left with some bras that in order to give me some shape in the vast valley between my breasts, were formed by some sort of foam into oddly shaped cups which pressed me in and widened me at the same time. I felt like a football player who also happened to be an old lady.
Undaunted, I returned to the specialty store. “These bras give me a terrible shape,” I complained to my little saleslady. “Don’t you have something a little more… attractive?” Not without some sort of molded shape, she told me, shaking her little Dutch boy bobbed head sadly. But she did look, and came back with a bra that had some shape but didn’t extend up to my neck. “I’ll take two !” I exclaimed, dreaming of how nice my sweaters were going to fit me now.
So I wore those new bras a while, and the weirdest thing happened. At a party, or at work, I would become aware of a feeling of pressure right about the midpoint of my breasts, an unusually unfettered feeling below midline, and a crowded feeling up by my collarbones. A quick look in the ladies’ room revealed that these new bras, while on the tightest setting were riding right up my breasts. All day long we would be in a tug of war. Tug down, ride up. Tug down, ride up. I work in a mental health setting, where I sit directly across from clients all day. I couldn’t be listening to clients while yanking on my bra.. Yet I couldn’t have half of my breasts uncovered either. I’d fidget, cross my arms, wear sweaters, but nothing made the situation more bearable.
So one day when I had a break in my schedule I decided I was going right over to that bra store and let them see my problem. I just let the bra ride up as far as it wanted to on the way over there; I had on a coat anyway. I marched into the store where three ladies stood behind the counter, “I have a BIG problem,” I announced, and threw open my coat for them to see this debacle. About thirty uncomfortable silent seconds passed, as the ladies surveyed me with wild looks in their eyes, “Can’t you see this bra is riding up?” I questioned. “Oh, ” they sighed. “We were afraid you’d had a terribly botched reconstruction surgery! We didn’t know what to say!”
That day several ladies crowded into the fitting room to assess the problem, cluck and make suggestions. Lots of bras were brought in for me to try, and eventually I left with yet another set of contoured bras that seemed just right. These bras came closer to approximating a natural shape and they stayed put. No longer would I be humiliated in public, with people thinking I must have lice or a neurological disorder.
All was well for awhile. I washed these bras faithfully by hand. I knew they wouldn’t last forever but they’d been so stress free that I probably didn’t go back in for new ones as soon as I should have. I knew I was overworking them. And who would have blamed me for procrastinating after having had so much trouble finding bras in the first place?
That is why yesterday I endured what must be the cruelest cut of all from a bra. I was sitting with a client, wearing one of my old standby bras which I had just rinsed out the night before. Suddenly I got this whiff of…. fermentation? Rotten cheese? In my practiced sleight of hand way I discreetly sniffed my shirt, a sweater, the blanket draped over my chair. Nothing. Weird, I thought, and returned to the matter at hand. But at the end of the hour I ran to the ladies room to discover that the smell was … Oh no, how embarrassing ! How can I say it? It was my BRA!!!! It was ROTTEN!!!!
I didn’t exactly rip my hair out but I wanted to, as I cursed the cruel perfidy of these body changes, and my many failed efforts to have bras once again serve me in the manner I saw fit. Truly, this was worse than being patted on the back by a sixth grade girl and having her shake her head nay. There is nothing for it but to return to the bra store and not leave until I find something. No pun intended, but oh, how the mighty have fallen!