I choose my most revealing top for a spontaneous drive to sea, not because I want to reveal, but because–skin, air, a September return of summer and something else–something feminine–not soft or attracting–but essential–FULL–surrendered–MINE.
At 53, I can expose my cleavage, and not because it’s in fashion, though that helps, but because: What does it matter?
My softening, descending breasts no longer belong to a man’s gaze or a babe’s mouth.
And still, as I load my car, passing in and out of my mudroom, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and mutter out loud, something I’ve never heard said (or thought?) by me before:
I’m struck by this assault.
“Wait, what did you say?” I ask. “Don’t say that.”
But I’m equally intrigued.
Where has this thought been hiding?
How long has it held me back?
(And yes, I realize that not only am I talking to myself, but arbitratrating between selves, as if there are 3 of me. So what. I am large. I contain multitudes.)
It was an early August wedding (just before the respiratory virus from hell) when I photographed my nieces’ cleavage. I asked first.
“Why?” they said.
“Because of beauty and light and flesh.”
Budding. Ripening. Surrendering.
Maiden. Mother. Crone.
Defining. Life-giving. Fulfilling.
I consider changing my top.
Breasts are brilliantly placed.
Over the lungs.
And the heart.
My heart has been broken this year.
By this Nation.
By the election of a man who defiles my gender.
Grabs body parts like my junior high classmates at West Point Elementary in the dark halls circling the USMA Academy Football Stadium.
As if we belong. To them.
As if the whole point of us, was their. Pleasure.
As if men can’t bear for women to be both beautiful and sovereign.
I photograph my nieces’ breasts because it is clear–their breasts belong to them.
That’s why I go to the Sea.
That’s why I expose my Cleavage.
That’s why I take the remaining seat on the bench at the top of the beach.
A man on the other end. Decades younger.
A handful of his companions on the next bench–loud, and taking up space, in the way men are always free to do.
I take out a book and read.
A chapter later, the men rise to leave, and I look up to see them pile into a large van.
Were they dressed the same?
My mind re-imagines the bench scene:
“You don’t want to sit here,” he says. “I’m a criminal.”
“Are you?” I respond. “I’m 53, on the brink of menopause. I could be a criminal at any moment.”
I’m struck by how often I say or think “53” to myself, as if it is a thing, this random number, defining nothing in its ambiguity, but somehow something, a year in which I have been radically reshaped from the inside–blood being held instead of released–while polite society dismisses the transformation as nothing, as loss, as problematic.
“Anger,” a male friend said to me. “Is a problem.”
I think anger is appropriate, I say, Useful, instructive. (I’ve only just begun to befriend anger.)
“We don’t have control when we give into anger,” he says.
“Ah,” I say. And then I launch into all the ways that women have to live without control. In the home or the office or the White House. In anticipation of menses, never knowing when we’ll bleed or how inconvenienced we’ll be. The possibility of pregnancy, the radical transformation of body and self, labor and delivery, not to mention–nursing, mothering and letting go–all capped by Menopause. A journey, not of control, but of surrender, again and again.
I remember sitting with my sister at her long wooden kitchen table, our views at opposite ends. Abortion was the topic. Evangelical her lens. Autonomy mine. Both of us loved our babies, those lost or given up, those hanging by our sides. Without changing our minds, without trying to change each other, we hold hands, across the divide, of what it is to be a woman, to be a mother. We weep. Together.
“It is this tender heart that has the power to transform the world,” writes Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a man who must know surrender.
I am writing this piece in a cafe, and like the father of the toddler at the table beside me, I have to remind myself, again and again, I may not shout, even as a shout threatens to explode like a thunder clap:
Turn off this fucking music!
Everyone shut up! I can’t hear my voice.
Open the windows. It’s too stuffy in here!
(I may have been too harsh with my family this morning.)
I’ve spent the past year angry and heartbroken and surrendered. Every year has its companion. Mine was a recommendation from my first born: Jack Kornfield’s, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace. I’ve just finished it. (I think I’ll start again from the beginning.)
It’s taken decades to give up the power that my appearance held, while slowly and all at once claiming the sovereignty of irrelevance.
Because a heart broken,
(Related post: I’m Leaving.)