I found myself walking alongside Highway 61 like I have so many times before; the speeding cars whipping up cold currents with the scent of pine trees and massive Lake Superior, which permeates just about everything in Northern Minnesota — from the temperature to the gift shops to the way you set about your day, clear-brained, sparse, alert. I had set out to buy a Fruits of the Forest pie from the Northern Lights restaurant. My mother, sister, and stepdad were putting a dinner together back in the cabin.
“Why is this different now?” I wondered, wading through a patch of wild daisies and snap dragons. “What’s changed so much about this place?” There was a feeling I was searching for: something comfortable and familiar, unselfconscious, natural. It had departed slowly over the years, out the back door so that I couldn’t detect its absence until I’d specifically called upon it.
Suddenly it hit me. Breasts. It’s the goddamn breasts that have done it.
As a friend of mine put it in defense, “but Adrianne, breasts make everything awesome.” You don’t have to state the obvious. My whole life I’ve been championing breasts and their cause. They make any outfit look fantastic, you can be sunburned to a crisp and still deemed oddly desirable in some way, and, of course, everybody needs a bosom for a pillow.
But there’s also an unfortunate side effect to the owner of this particular development: just as you are, we become constantly aware of ourselves.
I’d thought the main hurdle to get over was pubescence, but it turns out that even as you become comfortable in your body, you can feel like everyone in the world is staring at it. And instead of being consoled by the knowledge of your own pubescent insanity and its forseeable departure, at this age people expect you to just get used to it — postmodern psuedo-scientific articles lecture you about evolution, sexual advantages, how male aggression and female pomp is “human nature.”
“Jesus Christ,” I thought to myself, “If I thought about my left arm as often as I think about my breasts, I would have to commit myself to an asylum.”
And this is the main change I’ve been searching for all these years, from Boston to Minneapolis to Venice to the rural shores of Lake Superior: I can’t get lost in my own thoughts in public any more. There’s always this awareness, this fear of welcoming something, the sensation of being watched. You turn twelve and you’re all “oh sweet, I’m developing brains and a personality, I’m going to go enjoy these now” and then BAM, breasts hit you like a mack truck. Suddenly everyone’s paying attention.
“Some day,” I thought, comforted, “I will be older, wrinklier, saggier, and then I’ll finally be left to my own thoughts again.”
It struck me as depressing that this seemed so far off, yet the prospect of its actualization was little comfort as well; after all, it’s fun to be pretty, desirable to be desirable. Stupid life: how confusing. I was standing on the top of an island at the time, the wind blowing a flowered dress in pirouettes around my still-young legs, a picture someone could be taking. My family was clambering over rocks in the distance.
Suddenly, with the movements of a paranoid wild rodent, I was ducking down into a crevasse, dodging into a hidden nook of the rocks, so that I could see nothing around me: no people, no distant cabins, nothing but water and jagged stone. The wind was insane here, blowing up my dress, driving my hair into my eyes. It was a wonderful combination of invisibility, sensation and chaos: just like old times.
“Aha,” I thought, crumpled into the warm black rock, “there.”