July 2009

So Much for Passing

There is no passing when you’re naked. That’s what I learned on my summer vacation when Mary and I went to Orr Hot Springs, near Ukiah, California. For more than ten years the hot springs has been one of our favorite retreats. Some of our first canoodling was in a tub at those Springs and we make a point of stopping for a night or two anytime we are north of San Francisco.

I love the remoteness of the Springs, tucked away in a fold of hills between Ukiah and Mendocino. I love the smell of sulfur and hot brakes that greets you when you throw open the car door at the front gate. (The car’s brakes smoking from a descent ripe with hairpin turns and bedazzling views.) Most of all, I am intrigued by the hippie-dippy folks it attracts. Women with lazy smiles and wavy, Rapunzel hair who swim like mermaids. Men with bodies wallpapered in tattoos who convey no other vocation than simply drinking in the goodness of life.

Thirteen years ago, during a yoga retreat at the Springs, I got naked in public for the first time—no small feat for a Catholic girl from Kentucky—but I’m afraid this trip may have been my last. My first post-mastectomy foray into buck-nakedness made me acutely aware of how much smack I’ve been talking about passing. Mea culpa. Unlike people who’s scars are highly visible, I am lucky to have the option of passing  as a flat-chested woman. Strutting my naked, breast-be-gone stuff was tough. Much tougher than I expected.

From the moment I slipped into my first soak, the feeling of loss was akin to taking a bowling ball to the gut. Not a loss of my breasts, per se, but the loss of comfort in being my bare-naked self. I felt ugly and scarred. I felt alone. I wanted to hide behind my towel, Mary, a fig leaf…anything I could get my hands on. Yes, I know my scars are still fresh—figuratively and literally. And, sure, showing up naked after such an ordeal is “brave.” Whatever. None of that seems to matter. What matters is that, for the first time in my life, I wanted nothing more than to take cover, and that felt shitty.