It’s our third trip to Target to buy bras in as many years. Some people go to church for support, others drink; we buy ours in the intimate section of a chain store.
Equally-new support devices line my mother’s lingerie drawer at home, but we’re back today with a mission and a game plan.
Okay, how many bras are we talking here?
They say bras need 24hrs for the elastic to recover.
She’s nervous so I leave the random fact untouched.
You’ll be in the hospital for five days – so three?
She wants five. We descend upon the racks; she goes left, I go right.
I resemble my mother in many ways — in coloring, in sarcasm and in stubbornness — but also in being the valedictorian of over-preparing. That’s why we’re here. Three years ago, her undiagnosed stomach pains became diagnosed Stage 4 Colorectal Cancer.
I remember getting the call and the way her voice vibrated. I remember her telling me I should come home and I remember racing from Albany to Long Island to be there. I remember getting to the hospital and I remember seeing an older woman, in a sterile bed, with tubes and machines that cluttered the room. I remember that I had never seen her that way before. Not before cancer.
On that day, in that bed, my mother was told she would lose large sections of her colon and her liver, and the entirety of her spleen, gallbladder and appendix.
On that day, in that bed, my mother said no, not now. She needed to go home and to prepare. She had no bras to wear to the hospital.
That’s when it started. She bought three new bras.
“Remind me, what kind of bra do we usually get?” I asked.
The ones at home say “pantaletas.”
That one I couldn’t leave alone.
That’s panties in Spanish, Mom.
We roam the racks, just like we’ve done before, reading the labels.
Women’s Favorite Plunge Push-Up Bra
Lace T-Shirt Convertible Plunge Bra
Xpressions Women’s Extreme Lift Bra
We pay respect to the ridiculousness of our mission, holding bras up to our matching flat chests. If only Target carried something to put in the bras, then we’d be onto something.
Her second surgery came almost exactly one year after the first – cancer in the liver. But it was good news, they said! It was old cancer, not new cancer. Old cancer signaled no additional spread – just matter they missed the first time.
Six-day hospital stay.
Four bras purchased.
We keep roaming. Roaming and talking. She likes my boyfriend. She wishes my brothers would move out of her house. She’s certain that her next-door neighbor was tickled to learn about her cancer diagnosis. I tell her there’s no way that’s true, but, it might be. That woman next door is a bitch. I tell her about my job, my friends and my life. We talk about everything, but also nothing.
We’ve walked in circles for an hour. She pauses, stops.
I don’t want to do this.
In 48 hours, she’ll go back under — this time it is new cancer, and it’s everywhere.
But that’s not today. Today, in Target, we have enlisted five new soldiers – five push-ups with enough power and padding to support her through surgery, radiation and a boating accident. Two black, one grey, and one nude. Serious bras. We also get a black lace demi push up just because.
We get home and I grab the suitcase from her bedroom, plop it on her bed. The bras are to be packed immediately with the other items she’s secured — new pajamas, new toothbrush, and yes, even new pantaletas.
Alone in her room I open her lingerie drawer to see the others. They are lined up, carefully put into place, ready for action, still there. These are the bras that have supported her before. They are firm, not having had the chance for their elastic to stretch or be pulled; reserved for a purpose. I gently touch each one, remembering their service and the comfort they have provided her.
Packing my mother’s bras, in this moment, on that bed, I am happy we have so much support. Each bra in that drawer has a story and a part in helping us to prepare for what comes next. Even in these moments, when we are unsure, her bras are a tangible reminder that we are ready.