There is a broken rail on the M line, the train crammed elbows to ass cheeks, leisurely stopping at each station. It lingers while track fires are extinguished, or suicides are committed or whatever, and I’m fast on my way to losing my shit: muttering to myself, cutting dark looks around, kicking the door like I can spur the subway to get me to yoga class on time. I see a former student of mine, this kid who always looks a little lost, even when she is sitting at her own desk. She blinks at me through smudged glasses, buffeted by crowds of commuters, while the conductor makes indecipherable announcements about the delay. This kid is trying to get into a competitive high school in midtown, and the placement exam started five minutes ago. And she is behaving better than me.
Here’s the thing about other people: sometimes they startle me into the awareness that I am a horrible, selfish person.
This has been a week of impatience and impotent rage over things like not getting a seat on the subway or failing to secure my favorite spot in the yoga studio. No one else is acting like this. I don’t see other people throwing shit because they might be late for Pilates. Other people are simmering quietly, while I boil over with such a froth of invectives that even the homeless people inch further away. It’s like road rage, but the road is my entire life.
I can’t sleep; every noise wakes me up, and people are awake here, drinking and fucking and living. None of my pillows feels comfortable, and I don’t understand it, because I used to think they were OK. Every time the cheap wood of the bathroom door collides with the doorjamb like a director’s clapper, it startles me out of a miserable half doze. Action. Finally, I’m just starting to fit the notches of consciousness into the grooves of valerian-assisted sleep when a single chime from the iPad on my dresser brings me back to utter wakefulness.
I decide that I’m going to take the iPad and throw it out my front door. I want to set fire to all my technology. These glowing rectangles are at least 30% of the reason I can not sleep (the other 70% is having arguments with people who are not here). But when I pick it up, it slips from my hand and hits the little toe I once broke, twenty years ago, in the middle of an argument with Bummer.
Motherfucker, I cry in bruised exasperation. In the movie, this is where they would insert the footage of birds frightened from their roosts.
I can not sleep, and I am alone. In some small hour, I dial Sketch. He’s not too big on sleep. I think maybe he will be up, and will be able to coach me to sleep. He hypnotized me once, his voice persuading me to drop it, like a hostage negotiator or someone playing with an overenthusiastic dog. When he commanded SLEEP, I plummeted like an elevator with a cut cable. Slept.
In the morning, I check to see what the message was that chimed in and woke me up. It’s from a friend of mine asking if I want to go to Greece over spring break with her to volunteer at this refugee camp on the island of Kos.
In case I needed a reminder: I am a horrible selfish person, completely consumed with my own bullshit. Case in point: lately, while my friends are worrying about Syrian refugees, I have been whiling away my spare time browsing plastic surgery websites. My favorite ones are South Korean. I figure could skip on out of New York and come back a month later from Gagnam with a new face, all my problems bouncing off my newfound symmetry. I look at the before-and-after pictures, sighing with envy and lust. One average-looking Asian girl comes off the operating table glowing like a lightbulb, her eyes doll-round.
I am scolding myself even as I’m perusing these websites, because there are greater problems in the world then whether or not the skin on my neck lays the way I want it to, and because it’s such a gross industry to support; I fucking hate those ads on the New York City subways that show a woman holding a pair of clementines in front of her chest and frowning in photo one, and then holding a pair of grapefruits and grinning in photo two. Written over these ads in sharpie are things like This oppresses women. Sometimes the sharpie-handwriting is mine.
But secretly an enormous hypocrite, I sometimes look at the websites and wonder what it would be like. How things would be different, if I emptied out my bank account to get my chest cut open and filled with jellybeans or whatever they put in there. I’m not going to lie; I would love to have bigger tits. I own a bunch of those bras filled with air or that mystery jelly, bras that crinkle when you hug me. Some days I wear them and some days I don’t, magical cleavage that waxes and wanes at my will.
When I was twelve my mother bought me my first bra. I had heard boys supposedly would come up behind you and snap it; I showed my back with studied casualness, but they left me alone. Maybe that game is only fun if there is the chance that it could unclasp and unleash an avalanche of boob. I tried padding it out with folded layers of toilet paper, but no one was fooled. I was so committed to this ruse I even went into a swimming pool this way once and broke the intake filter when my padding immediately disintegrated.
A few years ago, I went to the mineral baths in Saratoga, New York with some well-endowed friends. Mineral waters are known for their buoyancy– settling into the water, the girls were laughing. Tit soup, my friend called over. Oh yeah, totally, I responded, sinking like a stone.
“Sometimes I think about breast implants,” I tell Sketch. “What would you think about that?” I’m expecting him to protest. He’s always praises the shape of my body, telling me what a razor blade I am. Which is not the most sexually enticing symbol, now that I think about it. He also calls me his lick of flame. These metaphors are the stuff of weaponry, not wet dreams.
“If you wanted them, that would be cool,” he says.
Bodies are different, and I get that. It would be better for me, almost, if the possibility for modification didn’t exist. And there’s things about having small tits that I like: I can stand on my head without anything pressing into my chin and wear sundresses in the spring without bras, and I don’t know what it feels like for it to hurt when you run down stairs. I could shoot a bow and arrow without my nipples getting in the way, if I needed to.
But I still want them. I could go to Brazil and get implants; apparently they give out boob jobs there for girls’ sixteenth birthdays. I don’t know what ultimately keeps stopping me– the image, maybe of someone with a sharpie drawing dotted surgery lines along my perfectly healthy chest. This oppresses women. What if they come out looking shitty? I knew a girl, back when I was our city’s most flat-chested stripper, who used to have to duct-tape her tits into place because of a botched pair of implants. Her nipples looked liked shoes when you put them on the wrong feet. Also, I heard the pain is pretty serious, and they give you drugs, which makes my dormant opiate habit smile in its sleep– not an animal you want to encourage with scraps. And the $8000 price tag means I would be choosing slightly bigger tits over a couple of years worth of summer travel, and I do want to go to Greece with my friend, and also I am lusting after a trip to Patagonia. My friend Michelle is there now, hiking glaciers and going to this island only inhabited by penguins.
I’d rather kick it with the penguins, flightless birds endowed with the A-cups of wings, short and stubby. As a species they traded flight for superior swimming, for the ability to hold a breath under water for twenty minutes. There is a trade-off, it seems, in all things.
I take the subway to work this morning, and it’s running on time. Over the doors, an ad for a Manhattan surgical center featuring a topless woman invites me to DREAM BIG. Demeaning to women, a recently-added sticker opines. Who knows. Maybe they’ll be bigger in my next life. Maybe in this one, I can learn to worry about something else, someone else. There’s no implants for selflessness, unfortunately. I look around for an old lady who might like my seat, but the train is mostly empty.