"Discarded Hopes" by Hope Denney

After the surgery, you swell. You wouldn’t think there’d be much left to swell after a bilateral mastectomy. But the incisions are remarkably close to your heart, and it’s as though that organ is pumping all your discarded hopes out of your body to do something useful, like help your tissue expanders fill your chest back out.

I don’t think it works that way, your therapist tells you.

Irony is lost on her, so you don’t go back. You tell yourself snowflakes are melting on your cheeks as you drive yourself home.

Before the surgery, you felt things in your bones: the possibility of a fender bender; the inexorable creep of thunderstorms; and the swirling, incongruent cacophony in peoples’ heads. Well-meaning surgeons severed both your fourth intercostal nerves though, and now your energy is directed like cars on a diversion around a traffic accident. You become a G.I. reactor as a result, and life becomes a series of gut feelings.

I’ve never seen anyone run to the restroom after every meal, your work wife says.

You wonder what other wifely observations she’s made about you and don’t tell her that when things aren’t going well at home for her, you know before she says it, because you’re on your knees before the porcelain throne watching her bliss bob on troubled waters.

After you get breast implants, you wonder what your discarded hopes are up to now. A friend asks if she can touch your breast. You shrug. Besides, you ran into a bedpost only yesterday and your breasts were numb. When she presses on your boob, it’s the most impersonal thing that’s ever happened to you. It’s strange to know that although you don’t even have crow’s feet, you will never feel the frantic grasps of passion ever again.

People look at your breasts all the time, but you have never felt less seen.

When you finally get your nipples tattooed, the session goes long into the night. The moon stares at you through the slats of the surgeon’s blinds, and you think you’re just relieved to be done, when really you’re riding the cresting wave of a massive endorphin high. Anything seems possible.

You won’t always think about your breasts so much, the nurse says apropos of nothing as she gets out more ink.

You crash beneath the wave, and no bubbles from your discarded hopes rise to the surface of the still waters.

You don’t tell her that you were thinking about trying a new shade of lipstick.