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My one piece of fancy A-Cup lingerie, a teal lace bra, was forced into the giveaway pile. Certain styles of clothes, I learned, would never work on my body. This was caused partly by my breast size, and partly by the shape of my ribcage — the muscles surrounding my lungs had overdeveloped after years of exertion. The air trapped in my small airways gave me a barrel chest. I wanted fifties-style sundresses, strapless with structured tops that ballooned into full skirts. But they were out, as was the prom gown with the mermaid bodice.
Jumping rope was another casualty of development. Even with a bra, my breasts slammed against me with each landing. My dad sat there counting, my brother stood waiting to insult my jumping skills, and my cleavage sped up, threatening to fly across the room.
"Daddy, I can't do this anymore. Things are getting in the way." He had poured his paternal protectiveness into my chest, and now the borders of his territory were being scaled back, my sexuality requisitioning the space for itself.
Toward the end of high school, my lung function dropped temporarily. The pros were called in. Chris, a physical therapist, came to my house to perform the same chest percussion routine my dad had once done. "You might want to cover up," he would say, and I'd throw a t-shirt on over my camisole before lying down on my bed. I was always underdressed when Chris arrived — bralessness and short shorts were my ways of reminding him just how much intimacy he was demanding.
Hands cupped, Chris would clap a section of my chest for three minutes, then have me rearrange myself into a new position. I'd toss my SAT II review across the bed and flip over. I never gloated about providing a fringe benefit Chris didn't get from pediatric or male patients. He was trespassing, arriving in my doorway and hitting my breasts and arranging my pillows and pocketing his check.
My breasts rewrote the way in which my upper body received attention. Construction workers catcall. The Victoria's Secret saleswoman says, "I'll get you the next size up," and I take that as proof of goodness. A chest that hasn't given in to gravity, that's remained creamy while my arms and face have freckled, that makes me feel desirable even if my stomach looks similarly convex: how could it not be my best feature? When I take off my sweater in a coffee shop, the maneuver pulls down the wifebeater underneath. I feel eyes peeking at the exposed satin of my bra and I agree with the approval. Never mind that I've asked the barista for an extra cup because I'm coughing up too much mucus to spit into tissues.
My breasts are decoys, distracting the customer from the muck underneath. So maybe I can get a man's attention with a neckline. Does that mean he's going to find it sexy when he has to furrow under hospital gowns and EKG sensors and skin I haven't washed in a week because I'm too exhausted? Because that is what he's getting into — not at the end, when the numbers go down for good, but now.
The median life expectancy for a person with CF is thirty-eight, up from thirty-two in 2000. I'm twenty-three. But my private prognosis is a fickle thing. Ask me how long I'm going to live, and my answer will have little to do with the drugs in the pipeline. When I see photos of Madonna, nearly fifty, I bask in the prospect that older isn't synonymous with decrepit and asexual, and my predicted lifespan rises accordingly.