BraVa! 2017: What is Pretty?

Once again last year, I participated in BraVa! This event, a fundraiser for the YWCA of the Greater Capital Region, is described by creator Marion Roach Smith as “a night of memoir about the place of bras in our life.” Admission to the event includes a new bra. The bras are given to women who are in need.

I am honored to have participated in BraVa! for three years. When the call for submissions for the 2017 event came out last September, I wasn’t planning to write anything. Life was too busy. I was moving at the end of October, and I had no time to write. Plus, I didn’t know if I had another bra story in me. I had already written two (this one and this one) and couldn’t think of something new.

But, the day of the submission deadline I decided I had to at least try. I sat at my computer thinking of everything that had happened since the start of 2016 – the femur fracture, rehabilitation, moving out of my apartment, facing another imminent move into a new apartment, not being able to independently drive, trying to maintain full-time employment and volunteer activities. I reminded myself that I had set a goal to submit a piece of writing somewhere in 2017, and how I had not yet done so.

I started to write at 6:38 PM. At 10:03 PM I hit “submit” and uploaded my essay. I had no hope of being selected to read, but was proud that I sent it in. When I received the notice it had been chosen, I was honestly surprised and of course honored.

I never considered that I might be developing a local reputation as a woman who writes about bras until I attended TEDxAlbany in December. One of the speakers, Jené Luciani, spoke about how to find the perfect bra. (You can learn more about her talk here.) As we gathered back in the auditorium after lunch, a woman came up to me and told me she recognized me from BraVa! She then asked if I was going to be speaking about bras! We laughed as I explained I was just a member of the audience this time.

Since that encounter, three other strangers have approached me about my BraVa! readings. As someone who is routinely approached by strangers because of my disability, it is refreshing to have people stop me for a different reason. Perhaps, I’m OK with being known as the “bra lady” after all!

Here is the piece I read in November for BraVa! I hope the next time you are shopping for a new bra for yourself (or someone you love), you’ll consider buying an extra bra for a local women’s shelter. Everyone can use support now and then.

Umbrella clothesline full of bras in assorted sizes and colors.

What is Pretty?

I was two hours late for work on my first day back after an unexpected five day absence due to an intense sinus infection. An emergency wheelchair repair delayed my arrival, but I was determined to make it through the day now that I was finally at the office.

So when I began to get a strange sensation “down there” around noon I ignored it. I had been so wiped out by the sinus infection, I completely forgot my period was due.

I had to go home to change before the situation became even uglier. I called one of my Personal Assistants to help. We arrived home at the same time, and I urgently threw my cape aside as I rushed to the commode.

But, even when the need is great, one should not rush a transfer from wheelchair to commode. Particularly when the Personal Assistant who is working is incapable of following verbal directions. She didn’t listen to my commands. She dropped me.

SNAP! I heard the crack of the splintering bone as my butt crashed down on my ankle..

Imagine the scene – me, half naked on the floor by the commode, bleeding and still needing to pee, knee blown up the size of a basketball, a whimpering Personal Assistant trying too late to make things better. And now in walks the police officer, the first to respond to the 9-1-1 call.

It wasn’t pretty.

It definitely wasn’t pretty as the paramedics moved me to a backboard then lifted me to a stretcher. It turned downright ugly as I swore nonstop in agony while they secured me in the rig. We don’t need to talk about the ambulance ride to the hospital.

Two days later, the surgeon reassembled my fractured femur with, in his words, “a plate, screws, chicken wire and bubble gum.” I asked him to point out the bubble gum on the x-ray, and was told sometimes that dissolves before imaging. The thirteen screws and eight inch plate that I will carry for the rest of my life are clearly visible.

After two weeks in a hospital bed, it was time for me to get dressed and head to Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital for intensive physical and occupational therapy. I was the least pretty I had ever felt in my life. I needed a shower, a razor, a manicure, and a good pair of tweezers.

My friend Sally brought some clothes, honoring my request for loose tops and comfortable pants. As she removed the items from a bag, I saw a flash of red.

I know you aren’t feeling like yourself, but I figured you’d want a pretty bra.

Sally, bless her heart, knows I don’t wear boring white bras even on the worst of days. She understands my need for color, the satisfaction I gain from knowing underneath my sensible, sexless fleece turtleneck is a scrap of satin that gives support to so much more than my breasts. Sally packed six colorful bras for me – and a tan one because she is practical after all.

I worked harder than I ever had at any physical task for those two weeks at Sunnyview. Three hours of exercise every day, enduring the most intense orthopedic pain I’ve ever experienced. It was not an attractive time for me. I was angry, bitter, and resentful. I have never been an exercise person, and now I was breaking a sweat – in the morning AND afternoon! Thank goodness I had all of those bras because there was no way I was wearing any of them for more than one day at a time.

I continued therapy for months at home and as an outpatient, learning new ways to perform all of my activities of daily living. I will never recover some of the function I had before the femur fracture. I now need more assistance to complete tasks I used to do independently. So much in life has changed because of that fall twenty months ago.

One thing has not changed. I still like, and wear, pretty bras. I don’t wear them for a man or a woman. I’m not trying to impress or attract anyone with my colorful lingerie.

I wear them to remind myself that even when life hands me the most repulsive challenges, causing me to grimace daily and feel unlovable and homely, I am beautiful on the inside, through it all. And I deserve every color of the rainbow.

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Unruly Underwire

Last month, I took part in the 2nd Annual Brava! This event is a fundraiser for the YWCA of the Greater Capital Region. The evening features local writers performing readings on the subject of brassiers in their lives. I read my essay “Just the Bra for This” last year, and was honored to have another essay selected by the jury for this year’s successful event. Thanks to my sister Sandy, who was also one of this year’s featured writers, you can watch a video of me reading this essay.

Yes, this is a true story. Yes, I still talk to Don and he knows I shared the story publicly. I know I am not the only wheelchair user who has had odd things stuck in her wheels. Since I shared this video on my Facebook page, friends have shared their stories of underwear, hair ties, socks – you name it – stuck in their wheels. To my knowledge, I am the only one with an unruly underwire though.

Unruly Underwire

My longest romantic relationship started because I was being held hostage by a bra.

When Don first called in late September 2001 to ask me on a date, I was using a lightweight manual wheelchair. It had removable armrests, swing-away footrests and weighed less than 22 pounds. It was everything I wanted and needed from a wheelchair at the time.

The only part of the chair I didn’t love was the front wheel, or caster, mount. My front casters were four inches in diameter, held in place with a fork mount allowing them to spin and rotate easily, too easily. Things were always getting caught in them – hair, yarn, string, even fake cobwebs at Halloween.

I don’t really know how it happened. I was sitting in my bedroom, sorting laundry when the phone rang. The basket tumbled off my lap as I dashed across the floor to grab the cordless headset. Don said hello as I backed up to collect the wrinkled shirts and pants now on the floor around me.

Except, I didn’t move. My front wheel was stuck, not rotating, not turning, nothing. I almost flipped backwards as I uselessly struggled to reverse my chair off the pile of clothes. Looking down I realized something was wedged into the caster fork, through the front wheel.

My pink underwire bra, a favorite because of the fit, color and comfort, had somehow become twisted up inside the wheel. The wire itself, which had been threatening to come loose from its casing for weeks, was now wedged across the wheel, effectively locking it. My attempts to move and turn had simply lodged the bra firmly in place, preventing any wheel movement whatsoever.

I sat listening to Don, wondering how to bring this up in conversation. How exactly do you tell a male stranger that you are held hostage by a bra? A bright pink bra?

Um, excuse me Don. You don’t seem like a psychopath, and I’d like to talk to you, but there is a bra stuck in my wheelchair so now’s not the best time for us to have our first conversation.

Yeah – to pull that off without scaring a guy obviously flirting with me, who is interested in me, and who called me? As a rule, men didn’t often pursue me, so I was not going to jeopardize a potential romantic connection just because of an unruly underwire!

I continued to talk with Don as I frantically tried to come up with a strategy to set me free. All my adult life, I have joked with friends that living with disability has made me a female MacGyver, the TV hero who could get himself out of any sticky situation. Put me in a tough spot with very few resources, and I can problem solve my way through just about anything. But try as I might, I could not release the bra from the wheel. I twisted and contorted my body, bending forward, trying to pull the strap to move the wire while still maintaining a grip on the phone.

Yes, I love visiting bookstores.

I grabbed a pen off my dresser and attempted to push the bra out through the hole in the wheel.

No, I haven’t been to the new Barnes and Noble.

I leaned over the opposite way to take weight off the wheel praying to get it to spin freely, all the while making what I hoped were appropriate responses and encouraging remarks to Don.

Coffee on Sunday? I think that sounds great!

After an hour I realized the only way to liberate myself was to sacrifice the pink underwire and just cut the bra loose. I could see my scissors on the desk next to my bed, four feet away. Somehow, I had to get them.

So, I removed an armrest and used it to push the laundry basket across the floor to the desk. Turning a dirty pair of pants into a lasso, I tossed one pant leg over to the desk. The pants and the scissors slid and after four attempts, fell into the laundry basket. I dragged the basket containing the coveted scissors back to me with the chair armrest.

Snipping the offending undergarment into multiple pieces, I laughed in vindication. I wheeled backwards, taking in the tattered pink satin scraps scattered on the floor like cotton candy confetti. I wielded my shears in victory as I tossed the misshapen underwire into the trash.

MacGyver’s got nothin’ on me.

Just the Bra for This

Last month, I participated in an event called Brava! Billed as “a night of memoir about the place of bras in our lives,” the benefit was hosted by The Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, NY, and raised funds and bras for the women at The YWCA of the Greater Capital Region. You can read about the women who conceived of the event in this article from the Albany Times-Union.

The night featured poems, essays and a song all written on the subject of brassieres. All audience members were asked to bring a new bra as part of the admission fee. At the start of the event the organizers announced they had already collected five hundred new bras. Several of these were used by artist Sharon Bates to create a unique sculpture display for the reading.

In addition to being an amazing fundraiser for a worthy cause, the event marked the first time I submitted an essay to a judged event. I wrote the following essay, and was thrilled when I received notice the jurors had selected it to be included in the reading. I shared an amateur recording of my reading on my personal Facebook page, but the video was not captioned and was not truly accessible to all my friends. I promised I would share the piece on my blog, so here it is. A link to the video is posted below if you want to hear me read the essay. I think the captioning worked, but to be safe I am including the text of the essay here. It is not a professional video, but the audio is clear and that is what matters.

And just in case you are still completing your holiday shopping, please remember your local women’s shelter or domestic violence program. They help women in need, women who deserve support in many ways. Consider donating new undergarments to your local shelter. And please, make them colorful and fun – not just boring white or beige.

Just The Bra for This

My older sisters and cousins laugh when they explain how they all knew it was time for them to start wearing a bra. When “the aunts” (my mom and her sisters) gave them hugs and rubbed their backs, surreptitiously checking for the presence of an elastic band, it meant you should be measuring yourself for band and cup size. I don’t remember those hugs. Probably because I can barely remember a time when I didn’t need to wear a bra.

Like most females in my family, I was an early bloomer and began wearing a bra before other girls my age. I come from a line of well-endowed women. I always knew I would be “blessed” in much the same fashion.

Bras were just a necessity. A piece of elastic designed to keep things in place. A required article of clothing which I couldn’t wait to remove at the end of the day.

Things changed when I left college. I started dating and realized I was quite literally sitting under a gold mine. These breasts, which were so inconvenient given my narrow shoulders, were a way to attract attention from men.

Men love cleavage. I am fairly certain there are some scientific studies to support that claim.

With the right bra, I have great cleavage, as I have been told by multiple men – and some women. My cleavage is a wonderful asset. Men notice it. Small chested women envy it.

Once I realized cleavage was a source of power, I recognized the importance of equipping myself with proper tools to achieve the desired effect. Enter the padded push up bra.

Some might think a woman with a size 38D bust might not require a padded push up. Some might be mistaken. Without padding, my bosoms are big and bulbous, but not worthy of more than a glance.

Add the padding and push them up and my cleavage takes shape. Given the right v-neck shirt or dress, men notice my ample breasts instead of my wheelchair.

Oh, who am I kidding? People always notice the chair first. It’s shiny, red and permanently attached to my butt. However, the right bra makes it easier for men to view me as a sexual being.

If you think women who use wheelchairs aren’t sexual, you’re wrong. We crave intimacy and connection as much as our nondisabled peers. We have sex and we like it!

Now I view my bras as more than a requirement. They are essential accessories which play an important role in my daily fashion. Each day my bras are called upon to complete a vital task. My bras offer support and shape to my torso, and provide a boost of confidence which I imagine ambulatory women find in a killer pair of shoes.

I treat my bras with the respect they deserve. I clasp the band together before placing them in the wash. My bras are hung on my clothes rack to dry and never go in the dryer. Clothes dryers are mortal enemies to maintaining proper fit and shape. Nothing ruins underwire faster.

No longer do I limit myself to boring white. I wrap myself in color – red, pink, blue, magenta, peach and black. I have special occasion bras which I save for particular dresses or blouses. I can’t wear just any old bra with my little black dress. I have to wear the padded orange and black push up with the air pillow inserts; the one which makes my uneven breasts look the same size. If I wear the fuschia gown, I need the minimizer which squashes in the back fat and gives me a smoother finish.

When I was temporarily living with my sister and her family, my nephew once asked, “Mom, how come Aunt Denise’s bras are colorful and yours are only white?” My sister’s former husband agreed that was a fantastic question. I was no longer allowed to hang my bras in the bathroom to dry.

A few years ago I made the mistake of buying a youth large shirt instead of an adult size. I tried it on, realizing my mistake as soon as I attempted to pull it down. The friend who was assisting me lamented at my mistake, fearing I would not be able to wear the top – a killer red shirt with the word “Diva” spelled in silver sparkles across the chest.

“Don’t worry,” I said calmly. “I have just the bra for this.”