“Fried Eggs”

Published in the inaugural LOONBEEK book-a-zine, December 2021.

Eggs to me are like bacon to other people – they make everything better, a happy addition to a pizza or fried rice or a leftover salad, making fresh and superior whatever you happen to plunk down on a plate. Ohhh how that just-cooked yolk loosens itself and then takes hold of the pieces of your meal like an edible orange glue. The oranger and the goopier, the better.

As a born-and-bred Manhattan gal, I have a long history with eggs. They were a staple at home, sure, but they were also a go-to at our neighborhood joints. I lived in Greenwich Village for much of my city time, farther west as a schoolgirl in the 1970s then closer to NYU and lower Broadway as an adult. My favorite morning outpost when I didn’t have to hustle to work was called The Bagel. It was a little wedge of a place on West Fourth Street near Sixth Avenue with just enough space for the chef’s cubbyhole in the back and our one faithful server, a middle-aged man whose face I can still conjure but whose name I’ll never know. He had a Latin twang was he Puerto Rican perhaps and he enjoyed speaking in a lilt like the out and proud gay man that he was. We were, after all, just steps away from Christopher Street.

Like a humble don our man presided over customers at the short counter with stools for five or maybe six if everyone was small and four two-top tables shoved against the other wall that was crowned with framed and faded newspaper reviews. Regulars knew to arrive already having answered nature’s call; and if that wasn’t possible – New York’s infamous for its lack of public toilets – better to visit the loo before being crowbarred into your seat. No one wants to get up from that position until the warm eggs have been eaten and the belly is nice and full.

And full it got. The classic, the thing I always ordered, was cheese and eggs with a buttered bagel on the side. You had to say “Hold the butter” if you wanted it dry and no one wanted that. Fresh-squeezed o.j. and a diner’s mug full to spilling of shitty coffee were the high-low hybrid we all slurped between bites. This was before fancy coffee became a thing you put in takeaway cups with lids, and it may explain why The Bagel is no longer there. Along with so much else.

That breakfast, the unfussiness of it, the occasional banter between tables, the unrushed yet distinct downtown thrum of the place was a ballast, an anchor that would carry me through the toughest of days. If I stayed away too long, its thread would pull me back. Until one day I walked in ready for my sticky eggs but there was a new younger server, the eggs were dry, the bagel overtoasted, and soon enough the institution the place that felt like forever itself was shuttered and gone.

Just like my boobs.

One day they were there, the next ... of course it’s more complicated than that. (And yes, this still has to do with eggs.) I’ve always been on the small size, 34B on a good day. A very good day. And they didn’t show up until late. Very late. I remember bumping into the stepmom my father divorced the minute I left for college and her first impulse, à la the tiny grandma in Sixteen Candles, was to put her hands on my chest and say, “You got some!” No shit Sherlock. And thanks so much for the public fondling. Good to see you, too.

I’d say, generally speaking, I’ve had a positive relationship with my tits. They’ve never been my best feature but they were cute enough perky enough didn’t weigh me down if I went for a long run on concrete sidewalks. Let’s just say they got the job done, signaled to myself and others that I was a girl then a woman someone to contend with who in a surprise twist ended up happily married with two kids.

I never was the type to Oooh and Ahhhh over babies. That was my younger sister. Not to say I didn’t like them, I just wasn’t taken by them, didn’t dream of being a Mom and tucking my wee ones into bed at night. Might have something to do with the aforementioned stepmom and her particularly arid brand of quote-unquote mothering. Might have something to do with the fact that I loved to work and go out dancing with my very single friends and worked to keep nice-enough beaus at a healthy arm’s length. But eventually the right one found me, wouldn’t let me get away (I tried!) and together we got me nice and preggo.

And that’s when my boobs became someone else’s boobs. Even before they became The Property of Baby Número Uno, which definitely did happen, they became ... hooters. Wildly bigger. It wasn’t even milk in there, which later we had to desperately coax into arriving with the help of lactation consultants and late-night Googling. But during the pregnancy it was just more ... boob. And it was fun! I was no longer exercising beyond city walking so I didn’t need to strap those jugs into a new and miraculous jog bra, and though sex did still occur I can’t say my chest’s increased volume triggered any extra funny business. I didn’t feel super womanly or anything. (I was nauseous most of the nine months.) More like it was funny, like a science experiment. What would happen next, would I grow an extra toe or finally tolerate smoked mozzarella?

We had two babies two years apart which was us thinking we were being intelligent by waiting that one extra year. Ha. HA! Shacking up with a new baby plus a hell-raising two year old in the same one-bedroom apartment with no sleeping schedule to speak of no training no happy relationship with a nearby aunt or older sibling with some time on their hands meant we were running around like uneducated maniacs and then collapsing like none-the-wiser zombies at all hours of the day and night.

But back to my boobs. Once the milk finally came in and I exhaled just a little bit – though really I’m surprised I successfully shat once during those four years of infant boot camp I was so pretzeled up so wide-eyed with fear and awe at the magnitude of the responsibility nature had handed us – my boobs got bigger still. Tauter. And of course they would shoot milk at the oddest moments. A friend told me the whoooshing sound of her vacuum would set off her tits, wetting her t-shirt before she could figure out what the hell was happening to her body. Breastfeeding pads, those were worth their weight in gold. Forget about running out of bananas or toilet paper, DO NOT run low on those bad boys during the breastfeeding years.

Or should I say months? I lasted until month eight with our firstborn. That’s when she started to bite, mid-feeding. Hey, wouldn’t you? You’ve got a brand-new tooth and you wanna take it out for a spin! Chomp chomp. But my nipple, that left one – I remember the boob, the couch I was sitting on, everyone who says you don’t remember the early years is BATSHIT or just no-I’m-not-jealous lucky – it yelped and then I yelped and simultaneously yanked my little child off of me like she was vermin. And alien. The enemy. That fucking hurt! No warning, yet another thing about parenthood no one had mentioned ahead of time. Nothing about it in the books we had read. I wept bitterly, told my husband what happened and also the mom across the hall with twins and no husband in sight. The general feeling was wellllll try to get through it, breastfeeding is so Important.

I let it happen one more time and then I was done. Fuck that. Sorry tiny baby’s immune system! Sorry guilt-trucking lactation experts and anyone else who wanted to put that admittedly helpless child’s needs before my very own. That first year was no cake walk, more akin to a shit show (literally and figuratively – we once had to wipe poo off the WALL after she squeezed her cheeks together and projectiled during a routine diaper change) so my threshold for any added discomfort was extremely low. Like sub-sub-sub basement level. Plus I’ve always been quite sensitive to pain. I felt those two bites in my spine. In the insides of my wrists. In my soul.

I’m happy to say she weaned like a pro – and here memory does fade, I’ve no dramatic stories to tell about her refusing anything but the trusty ol’ boob. Just bottles of formula and heaven-sent help with feedings from the hubbie and anyone else brave enough to visit. No I didn’t continue to lactate and pump; that notion was out there in the ether but I was way past that kind of model behavior. Plus I had tried the pump, detested those suction cups almost feared them really like maybe they’d come at me in the night. I just wanted my boobs safely away from that mouth that was filling with teeth. I figured I’d dig out my old 34Bs and get on with things.

And here’s where eggs come back into the story. It wasn’t overnight but eventually my hooters sagged and deflated. They lost their milk, yes of course, but they also lost their flesh too, the stuff that grew to such proud proportions during the pregnancy. I was kinda busy with everything, with a child who was happy enough with a bottle but unhappy with most everything else unless she was being shushed jiggled strapped onto my chest or back or pushed or rocked or all of that plus a song if you please. Once I bumped into a friend at a shop, I think it was Anthropologie or Madewell, two of my favorites at the time and a welcome respite from the chaos of home, and as we chatted I pushed and jostled the stroller in front of me, completely forgetting that my husband had the kid. The not-inexpensive vehicle that was practically grafted to my hands was entirely empty but I was hard-wired to soothethebaby soothethebaby – whether she was there or not. Nice friend, he didn’t say a thing.

So I didn’t exactly watch the deflation process closely, document it with daily pics for family oversharing later. I don’t think I pointed it out to my husband either I just remember one day I was at my sister’s house in New Jersey maybe it was finally summer and we were going to the local pool and she saw me topless and said “fried eggs.” She was always a little like our stepmom, in fact sis chose to stay with her when the divorce happened and she was still in high school. But at least she didn’t reach out and touch what was left of my boobs.

But she was correct. They looked exactly like fried eggs. Droopy ones at that. Like they had done their duty, shot their wad, given all they had to the cause and THAT WAS THAT. Call the morgue. Though the joke was at my expense, I tried to laugh, tucked those sad discs into my swimsuit, and got on with the day. Shushing and changing and feeding the child, and eventually much later piecing together a meal for myself. Floating in a pool with the sun on my face. Eating a strawberry or two, if there were any left.

Amazing thing is, when we had the second child, those sad sacks perked back up. Enough to do six months of feeding. No biting to bring things to a halt, nothing wild or over the top. Our second was sent from the gods, a legit easy baby. But I was still tired, bone tired. It was a point of pride that I had made it to month six. And that my boobs had delivered sustenance, again.

Also again – and this time I didn’t need my sister to christen them – the fried eggs returned! And they settled in for a longer stay – I still have them, more or less, and our daughters are now teenagers. They got big (the girls, yes, but I mean the boobs) at least sizable for non-lactating me, during the first Covid-19 quarantine when I survived by eating bags of Doritos in a sitting and couch-potatoed more than I walked. It was fun to shelve those tired old eggs for a minute, to dig out old bigger bras, to feel curvy. But eventually we were freed to go back outside and UGH my stomach decided to reject all things gluten- and sugar-filled. So I got skinny. Super skinny. The boobs were gone again but so was any extra fat anywhere. Probably my earlobes were thinner. I’ve always been petite but this was ridiculous. I hated it.

I’ve gotten better at cooking and baking within my newly restrictive diet, and I’m putting on some much-needed weight. Yay! My mother-in-law once said to me in greeting, But you’re so tiny! Like I have a choice in the matter. I have allergies and a weak stomach, two things that came with pregnancy and moving out of New York City to fertile valleys and humid port cities. I mostly eat what I want, and that still includes blessed runny eggs. These days, sandwiched between two slices of GF bread or on last night’s lactose-free Indian food.

And I’ve made myself this shirt. So that the joke is finally mine. Not my sister’s, not my baby’s, not the culture’s. Mine.