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The compulsion to write

During the days and weeks after surgery, the only thing I wrote, apart from emails and short notes and shopping lists, was my journal. That writing kept me going, it was a necessary link with my old self, and a way to watch myself become my new self.

2 January, 2007

All I really want is to heal, to be feeling like myself again, so I should conserve energy for my body, not spend it on this writing, which drains me physically. But I have to write, the familiar act of writing makes me feel normal. It’s a conundrum.

Apart from when I am writing, I feel more like myself as I become aware of who I now am physically. Every day I look in the mirror at my (lack of) breasts and study the contours of my shoulders and upper torso, taking in the bruising and swelling and scars and dry flaking skin. It takes time, and time again, and again, until I look in the mirror and begin to see ME. My shoulders are more prominent now, and my bird-like ribcage drops to a waist I recognise and value more than ever. My legs are thin, the muscles quite wasted from weeks of relative inactivity but they are still mine. My arms are much as before, though I don’t have much feeling in the upper underarm areas and I’ve an odd damaged nerve that twitches down my right arm, moving the skin on its own. It started when I came around from the anaesthetic.

As yet I can’t tell if the ribs are as visible as I think they are – what are these unknown bony protuberances? My healing skin moves over them, all knobbly. Were they really unseen before? I can feel my heart beating when I climb stairs or lie in bed, so close to the surface now – no protection over the heart. I feel like if you held me up to the light you might see through me, see my vulnerable heart pumping in my ribcage.

I am finding my own new ways of doing things. Slow, premeditated and methodical, aware of every movement and thankful for it, each upward stretch a realisation of working against gravity and against the results of the surgeon’s scalpel. I heal, I heal, can literally feel it happening at night, lying quite still and feeling that unique fire still burning across my chest, in prickles and embers of breasts now gone, occasionally the stabbing from phantom nipples. There, right there in the centres of the wounds, like vicious teeth, enough to make me start with fear.

Today I went through my underwear drawer, again. Took out all the bras, threw out the grey and overused, kept the fun and coloured and newish. What for? I wear vests now. What shall I do with the bras? Keep them for a while, like the clothes I couldn’t quite toss out after my mother died. More of me is grieving than I realised. Still some goodbyes to say. A part of me needs to cry and look at old bras. I’ll throw them out another day.

I feel changed. Not just my flat chest and the having been through all this and the relief. A new composure, a new calmer calm, a new nearness to who I am, my heart at the surface, outline clear. A strong fragility. The tension of an insect’s wing.

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About Clare Best

I am Clare Best – poet, writer, teacher of creative writing. My first career was as a fine bookbinder. I've also worked as a bookseller, and for many years as an editor. Poetry publications: Treasure Ground (HappenStance 2009), Excisions (Waterloo Press 2011), Breastless (Pighog Press 2011), CELL (Frogmore Press 2015)

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