Fear and Modesty

She gets dressed in the closet. That is why nobody knew until it was too late. She is the picture of modesty and the fear of a woman’s body.

It was a beautiful Florida summer day, and I was ready to enjoy the wealth of sunshine and a grandmother’s love. We were going shopping!
Sensual curves, deadly curves. Poets glorify a woman’s body. Painters capture the beauty of a woman’s body. Why do women live in fear of their own bodies?

My aunt needs a trash can. Great. I am ready to go to Lord and Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s. Instead, we are going to Kmart for a trash can.
Can we find a source for this fear? Too messy, too bloody. A woman’s body is the source of life and the source of mystery. She never would have thought to look at herself in the mirror, let alone touch herself.

Where are the trashcans? My aunt, my grandmother and I go up and down aisles looking for trashcans. Success! Decision time.
She always wears the white pearl clip-on earrings. She always has a Kleenex. She always has candy mints. Always.

Tall and skinny. Round and fat. I never realized how many different sizes and styles trashcans came in. My aunt cannot make up her mind which kind she wants. I have to go to the bathroom. “Gramy, I have to go.”
Roast beef. She makes the best roast beef. “Just for you,” she says. “I made it just for you.” She never seems to do anything for herself. He asks “Dear, will you do this,” “Dear, will you do that.” She does, but never for herself.

What seems like hours later, Gramy and I find the bathroom somewhere behind customer service. Relief! Gramy is slow. I wait for her. Knock! Knock!
Is she going to be all right? How bad is it? Why?

“Hello? Is there anyone in there?” “Gramy — there is a man knocking on the bathroom door.” “Excuse me, but we have had a bomb threat and must evacuate the store.”
A lump. A large malignant lump was found and it is spreading. It is too late for treatment. Surgery, removal of both breasts is the only hope.

I am going to die. Ahh! I am going to die in the ladies room of Kmart. This is not how and where I want to go. Hurry up, Gramy!
No one can pinpoint exactly when the lump formed or how long it existed before it got bad enough and she could not ignore it anymore. This is scary because the history is so hard to determine, and because many believe that breast cancer is hereditary.

Gramy and I make a mad dash for the parking lot. We find my aunt among the other evacuated customers. She is upset. We wait.
Are you less of a woman without your breasts? The pain is great. She is always in some sort of pain now. She is depressed. I often wonder how she feels — how she feels inside, not just the physical pain. She is still modest. She still gets dressed in the closet. Is she ashamed now? We do not talk about it.
I am her sunshine girl; she calls me Sara Sunshine. I am glad that I can still shine on her. Yet, I am also mad at her. I am mad because she still gets dressed in the closet. I am mad because she waited so long to react. I am mad because we do not talk about it.

It is acknowledged with pink ribbons and hugs that are not as tight as they used to be, with high necklines and no more swimming. There are swimsuits designed for her to wear, but she will not wear them. She is more afraid of her body now then before.

Is she afraid now because she is different? Because she is not “whole?” I do not know. She is beyond childbearing age. He will still love her. I do know. She is a woman; they are a part of her; they are a part of us all. She is not whole.
We stood out in the parking lot for 10 minutes. Kmart did not blow up. We went back into the store and bought the trashcan. But it could have happened.
It could happen to me. But I am not going to let it happen to me. I am going to break the cycle of fear. I am going to look, touch and react. I will never get dressed in the closet.