If I had been living in New York City -- or, god knows, Los Angeles -- this would be a different story. But my kids and I made our home in a small town in New Hampshire, inhabited mostly by married types more likely to spend their extra cash, if they had any, on a cord of wood or a new belt for the tractor. To my knowledge, I had never met anyone who had visited a cosmetic surgeon. So I did what we all did in the days before the Internet: I consulted the Yellow Pages.
Three days later, I was driving two and a half hours south to Boston and sitting in the office of a doctor whose name began with A. Because I was a bit unsure about this implant business, I asked him how large my bust would be if I had the surgery, explaining that -- except for the brief period in which I'd nursed my babies -- I had never been a large-breasted person and that becoming one was not my objective now. Firmness, perkiness, and a certain reversal of gravity were what I was after.
The doctor told me that it was impossible to know in advance of the surgery exactly what size implant my case would require, but not to worry: My breasts were going to be terrific. I'd love them and no doubt others would too. He brought his nurse into the room, and she unbuttoned her shirt to show me the breasts he'd surgically provided for her. They were impressive. Three days later, I was heading down to Boston again, writing a rather large check from my modest inheritance fund and climbing onto the operating table.
When I woke up, I was heavily bandaged. It was only after I got home and unwound myself (in the company of my boyfriend) that I could look at the results. The sight was astonishing.
Perched on my 110-pound frame was a pair of size 40 breasts. I could have carried an entire tea service on them. All the old metaphors used to describe the type of breasts I'd never before possessed made perfect sense. They jutted out like the proverbial set of headlights or a pair of melons glued to my chest. For the first time, I understood the use of the term rack. These were breasts a person could hang a hat on.
You might think I was horrified, and no doubt I should have been. But the truth is, I was sort of fascinated and thrilled. In my whole life (but in particular, the twelve and a half years of my marriage), I had never been perceived as anything remotely like a sex goddess. Suddenly I saw how different life was for a woman with a body like the one I now inhabited. It was different walking down the street. It was different pumping gas. (It was different ice-skating and Rollerblading, incidentally: The old center-of-gravity problem had me falling down a lot.)
My former husband, when he came to pick up our children, looked perplexed. My sons, then 6 and 8, said the new breasts were fun to snuggle up against. But my 12-year-old daughter, Audrey, who was beginning to develop her own small, tender bosom, was mortified.
Oddly enough, my boyfriend -- the same man who had planted the surgery suggestion in the first place -- expressed ambivalence. One day we were at a Red Sox game, where, as usual, my breasts and I were getting a fair amount of attention. "I hate it," he said, "that wherever we go, I get the feeling people think I'm some kind of breast fetishist." (Which, to be honest, he sort of was.)
We broke up not long after that. But I continued to feel okay about my amazing new body, though the feeling I had, inhabiting it, was a little like that of a tourist visiting some exotic foreign country. I had to buy new clothes, of course. Whereas in the past the look I'd gone for was French gamine, with Audrey Hepburn as my inspiration, now my role model was Sophia Loren mixed with a little Dolly Parton. With this shelf in front of me, there was simply no way to look like a slim person. Or a tidy one. Food that once would have landed discreetly in my lap now landed right in my cleavage.
Fortunately, the breasts (I still spoke of them as the breasts, not mine) grew less insistently horizontal over the years. Even so, they made an impact. I remember a night when a group of my daughter's friends were sleeping over, and I overheard them comparing notes on breast development. One of them said to Audrey, "Well, at least you don't need to worry. One look at your mom and we know what's going to happen to you."