I had moved into a bland apartment with my first serious boyfriend. We were in college, which seemed easy, so we spent most of our attention on each other. We were fast to be serious with each other — six months in and talking about what we’d name our kids.

While doing the final sweep of his old apartment, a black cat wandered inside. She seemed to be investigating the layout, but when we beckoned “kitty, kitty” she confidently glided to us, slinked around our legs, and looked up with bright green eyes. With no hesitation, we named her Dinosaur and took her with us.

The vet told us that of course she’s pregnant, she’s a friendly cat; Friendly cats are always pregnant. He felt around in her abdoman and suggested at least two kittens would materialize in about 2 months. He gave us flea medicine and sent us home.

Two months later, we found her laying in our closet, the little miracles ready to emerge. Except they weren’t emerging completely. Just a few paws were poking out into the air. My brother happened to be around, and he instinctually knew to grab a cloth and gently help pull. Kitten number one arrived feet first, marble colored orange and black. Kitten number two came out on her own, head first, looking very similar to her sister. Kitten number three was black and white and male, also feet first. A few hours later, Dinosaur had cleaned everyone up, and fallen asleep while they had breakfast at her tummy.

The kittens stayed in the closet for their first week or two, stumbling and struggling to hold up their heavy heads. I came home one of those early days to find only two of the three kittens present in the closet, peeping emanating from somewhere in the house. After a few minutes of searching, I found the little one in the cabinet under the sink in the bathroom. Apparently Dinosaur had carried her there, opened the cabinet, put her in, and closed it. I had no other explanation. I plopped her back in the nest, and my 18-year-old self scolded Dinosaur for being a terrible mother. Later, it would turn out that this kitten had seizures and a strangely dead gaze. Dinosaur refused to lick her clean after that, so it was part of our evening chores.

Slowly, the kittens became mobile, adventuring out into the bedroom. The first kitten tended to maneuver sideways, like a crab. She was a goofball, spinning around with her mother’s confidence. We named her Banana. The strange one swatted at the air at what I don’t remember. I was finishing up a degree in music at the time, and named her Toscanina. Nina for short. The boy we named Tyrone, Ronie for short. We kept them all, and my brother took Dinosaur, bonded by the experience of assisting her in her struggle.

Ronie meows at me at I type these words, his purr bubbling the sound. He yawns widely, showing his old broken canine, and the pink tongue that has eat thousands of dry food pellets. He comfortably squints before leaping to my desk to stare out the window. His sisters, now overweight, sleep in puddles of their own skin against the walls of my office, quietly snoring on the in breaths.

It’s named Golden Gate, after the strait over which the bridge stretches, though it’s about a mile away from the bridge. Its name honors the shimmering beauty at sunset, the way the champagne light twinkles on the mist, not the shimmering beauty scraped from the earth — gold wasn’t discovered until a few years after the strait was named. The park stretches from the beach, where the golden mist and fog emanates, about halfway to downtown, about 3 miles. It’s over 1000 acres, with paths and sidewalks winding throughout. I’ve roamed almost all of them.

The beach end is usually quiet, aside from the bursts of the waves and the whipping salty winds. Just a few blocks in, around 41st Ave, there’s a small lake, encircled by a clean white sidewalk where my husband hid a ring in my pocket before he was my husband. He waited for 45 minutes until I found it, and I remember feeling weirdly giddy and awkward with him that day, despite more than a decade of relationship. A gopher snapped the grasses next to our feet and observed us in our joy, while wrens, peeping congratulations, popped around in a cave of knobby, tangled branches half sunk in the water. As the sun dropped away, silhouettes of bats fluttered against the soft blue evening, no doubt dusting a magic on our marriage.

That was years ago, though we go back to check our spot every so often. Now, the perimeter of the lake is populated by a herd of at least fifteen not-so-wild raccoons who roam in the daytime — they are traditionally nocturnal animals. Around that same area, I once saw a white chicken and rooster there, sitting in a pine tree together. The rooster was crowing, sounding a dinner bell, as an old Asian lady tossed bagfulls of bread crusts to the ever-appearing raccoons. No one seemed to think any of this was odd.

If you follow the sidewalk just south of the lake, there is the field where we take the dogs to run. We search for a spot in the sun, a mud-free place to settle for a few minutes while we watch our galloping horse of a dog outrun our wiggly, herding puppy. Until they both galavant into the woods, down a vague path. Then we heave ourselves from our grassy seats and chase them through the shady underbrush trying not to get sand in our shoes, trying not to disturb the occasional homeless person, as we crush leaves and leap over fallen pines and eucalyptus.

After a while it gets cold, hidden from the sun, so we tumble out, dogs finally leashed by the fly fishing ponds, where you can once again stand flat on the sidewalk. The ponds are large, square cement pools, angled like beaches at the edges so old men can wade in, waterproofed to their chests as they lasso long lines over their heads. I have seen no fish through the dense, dark green water, but a sign says these strange pools are stocked. We never stay here for long; without plastic overalls, you are a pariah.

Such oddities genuinely exist in this municipal wonderland. There’s also a bison paddock which I only ever came across the time we rented Segways with our friend Steve. We zipped like annoying tourists along the sidewalks and in the bike lanes, hoping not to fly off as we teetered over cracked cement and rumbly asphalt. It was my husband’s birthday, and Steve had brought chalky, pastel-colored rice crispy treats made with weed in celebration. These were authentic San Francisco edibles, procured from some guy on Haight Street. New to us, we gave them a try. I remember feeling distant from my legs, exhausted afterward, and very little else. But, I do remember the bison with their mop-like fur and enormous cow noses, chewing steadily next to their barn as we marveled through the chainlink from our contraptions.

The science museum also lives in the park. We went with Eva and Schubert to see a lecture on mushrooms. Every Thursday, they have an event for adults that includes activities like drinking and making art from a mushroom cap. On these nights, cars line the dark park streets like teeth, and people trickle along the unlit paths in clumps, catching up on each others lives, flickering their iPhone lights ahead of them. Once inside, there’s plenty of space to fit us all. We feel a conditioned sense of sneakiness at being allowed to run loose here without supervision. But I only went the once. We had expensive screwdrivers made with cheap ingredients, listened to someone talk about mycelium networks in the dirt and their use in composting, and wandered through the aquarium, where grumpy fish tried to sleep, despite the disco-like atmosphere.

Not far from there is the rose garden, which consists of about 12 rows of thorny green bushes, not in bloom in spring, and an asphalt path where people bike and wander past the benches that face the imaginary flowers. I was reading on one of those benches just last week, and a squirrel came to see what food I had. She climbed on my backpack and found a six-month-old bag of nuts. She waited on top of my backpack, leaning forward as I unzipped the plastic bag and offered a handful. At first, she stared at me with her big black button eyes as she grabbed up what she could before running away to munch. But after a while, she just came over to my hand, pressing my fingers further open with her cool paws, keeping her claws clear of my skin as she gathered up armloads of nuts and took them to be buried under the trees. A guy cycled past on the path and yelled, “Don’t feed wild animals,” but I defied him.

I ran on the same path the day I miscarried. I couldn’t distinguish what pain was emotional from that which was physical. I just ran. Past the playground, past the AIDS memorial, and the Lily Pond. The green leaves reached out as I passed. I remember a sweet soft breeze, just the right temperature. There weren’t many people out that day. Those sidewalks were almost completely mine.

Like veins, the paths flow from one end to the other, branching off to innervate vital organs, bringing good and bad and whatever gets into the system. Some are wide and others barely noticeable, but their existence is evidence that someone has walked there before. They have been carrying life through this park for almost 150 years and will no doubt continue for 150 more.

They are a quintessentially female piece of anatomy, an indicator of gender even underneath clothing. They create aspects of identity and, like skin color, probably elicit immediate first impressions about the human to which they are attached. Males don’t seem to have a similar social identifier, except for perhaps the Adam’s apple, which doesn’t count since it’s not a sex organ. The sex organ they do have is generally invisible in public, unless you live in a nudist colony or in San Francisco. Boobs are special. 

Being raised by my dad, I had relatively low awareness about the boob-development part of adolescence, which arrived a little earlier for me than for my peers. I remember changing in the locker room in 6th grade and not understanding why Lindsay and Margot were staring and giggling. Later, the nun teaching PE in this Catholic school took me aside and told me I needed to start wearing a bra. I don’t remember feeling particularly ashamed about it, but I do remember feeling like a weirdo.

My aunt took me to get a training bra, about which I was initially quite excited for vague reasons around doing what grown up ladies did. I remember being incredibly picky about the color, and then utterly hating the experience of actually wearing it. After all, it was made of pieces of elastic that restrict your breathing and dig into your shoulders, just like they’re made today. 

At 32 years old, I consider how I would manage to put on a bra at night before running out of the house if it were on fire. The band has created a seemingly permanent home for itself in my lats. My back actually aches intensely if I don’t wear one. It’s not that the bra is comfortable, at least in the physical sense of the term, but it’s a requirement to be accepted in public with this size of bosom. I definitely notice when a woman isn’t wearing a bra, and it seems to indicate either that they are young, small-boobed and perky, or that they aren’t a functioning part of society. 

When I was in high school, all the girls (including me) pined for large boobs. At about the same age, I’m guessing that boys probably stare at their crotches, also wishing for an increase in size. It may be lessening recently, but the social influences at the time seemed to indicate that bigger boobs were better. I can’t even pinpoint examples of where I absorbed this. It was simply understood.

Boobs may be part of female power, like intoxicating perfumes, battable eyelashes, or high heels. In a French study, men were more comfortable approaching women with larger breasts. A 2009 field study found that waitresses with larger bra sizes received larger tips. Another study claims that male drivers stopped for a larger-busted confederate female hitchhiker more often than a lesser-busted one. Yet another experiment indicated that men prefer larger busts and smaller waists and tend to rate women with this ideal shape more positively, regardless of their personality.

While large breasts may be useful sometimes, these studies illustrate a bias. Why would we be treated so differently? What exactly does it mean about how we’re perceived? Perhaps that we’re more fertile, as at least one study suggests, but are there other implicit assumptions about our intellect or willingness to partake in sexual antics? Is there something about larger breasts that indicates we deserve less respect? One study looked at men’s preferred sizes, and those who liked larger breasts tended to be sexist, objectifying, and hostile toward women. Another showed a connection to resource security, showing that men who were hungry or made less money preferred larger breasts. Do larger-breasted women attract assholes and losers?

Looking at all of these studies, I sense an implication that we’d be particularly good caretakers. We’d be particularly patient, empathic, understanding, and willing to wipe noses and rear ends. These traits might apply transitively to our man as well as our children. In other words, we’d be more willing to take traditional wife roles and perhaps deal with more neediness from our male partner.

My boobs are “massive,” a descriptor once used by a medical professional as he biopsied a cyst — massive breasts tend to have more little doodads to keep an eye on. When not wearing a bra, they hang like salamis, beans from the Kigelia tree, or, if I’ve lost a little weight, tube socks with softballs in them. The body shape produced by their unaided position is similar to a clog, heel end down. US stores don’t usually carry bras large enough to accommodate such a size, and for years, I muddled along with Victoria’s Secret DD bras that hovered away from my rib cage, their underwires digging pits into the sides of each bosom. Those bras were more like hairless toupees, providing a light coverage, but really just making things worse. I still couldn’t run or jump or even raise my arms without some unsightly sloppage.

In my late twenties, a friend with European family mentioned the existence of bras with sizes past DD and yet small bands. This was probably the most practically helpful advice of my life, thus far. (Thank you, Randi.) There is now some indication of a slight hourglass structure under my clothes, and because they aren’t wobbling around so much, I tend to ignore the saddlebags most of the time. I’d even say they look pretty good.

It initially surprised me how drastic a change in my life this one suggestion had spurred. It is, after all, merely cosmetic. But its effects are not. I perceive a higher level of respect from the world, and whether this is my imagination, stemming from a change in my confidence, or truly a change in the world’s behavior toward me, I don’t care. Some long-held anxiety has relaxed.

While they are much more manageable and attractive to me encased in their strong new hammocks, I still have some complaints. Alas, if only I could comfortably lay face down, jog long distances without needing to re-cinch my bra straps, or fold forward without having to round my spine over them. I’m constantly reminded of their presence as my arms brush past them when I walk, type, cook, or do almost anything with my hands. They chafe my inner upper arms when I run long distances. When I see another woman, I immediately know if we share the same woes of ill-fitting button-up shirts, or experience an automatic twinge of envy at their apparent fitness. Even if you aren’t “fat,” having large bosoms makes most clothing hang a few inches away from your mid-section, creating some illusion of pregnancy or overweight-ness. In warmer weather, when smaller chested women are wearing tank tops and looking perfectly acceptable, I need to wear more clothing, else I expose cleavage too provocative for occasions other than the beach or bedroom.

I fantasize about what it would be like to have a smaller, cup-cake sized bust. I picture frolicking in fields wearing merely the bras that are built into Lululemon shirts. I’d often be in a crisp button-up, looking tidy and put together. I’d do multiple pull-ups in a row because I’m so much lighter weight and in such better shape because I can be so much more mobile. I picture not having to work so aggressively to have good posture. I also imagine not having to worry about whether a man is treating me differently because of them, or whether a woman dislikes me because of that dynamic. My guess is that I wouldn’t think quite so much about boobs — I’d be busy being unimpeded by them, and instead I’d fixate on my teeth or hair or weirdly long second toe, moving along the hierarchy of neuroses.

I still keep the possibility of a reduction in mind, but I’m hoping first to have kids and use these boobs as biologically-intended. Another saggy-teated friend told me that the extra length allowed for hands-free breastfeeding; She would lie next to the baby and simply flop the breast off to the side where the baby could reach — they kind of melt into the armpit area on their own, anyway. Perhaps during motherhood I’ll start to appreciate them for their usefulness, but I still fear their potential growth during and after pregnancy. Any bigger, and they’ll verge on comical.

Even though small seems better to me now, it seems many women want larger boobs, and those who have implant surgery have twice the risk of suicide than the normal population. While the reasons related in the research about this are bland terms like “anxiety” and “depression,” I’m pretty sure it relates to thinking of themselves as primarily valuable for your sex appeal. These days, this is is exactly what I do not want to be valued for.

As a teenager, I was one of those girls who assumed my value was primarily a factor of sex appeal, though this wasn’t something I overtly understood about my motivations. At 15, I secretly dated men in their twenties who seemed to be wildly attracted to me, though boys my own age still ran away screaming “cooties.” It definitely wasn’t a good thing to be doing, but I loved the attention. It was one of the few things I was good at, at the time, at least in my own mind. I have no doubt that my voluptuous physique contributed to the situation, creating the illusion that I was older than I was.

Now, married and in my thirties, I want people to pay attention to my ideas and creative contributions. I don’t know the last time I attempted to use feminine wiles. What would it be like without them? What exactly would I be giving up or gaining? I see the proud images of women who have had double mastectomies for their health, and I see a strange freedom. They have shed an identity, and are now developing a new one.

But “going flat” is very new social territory. The unknown is usually a source of some fear, and completely removing a signature of femininity I have had since I became a woman would create an identity I don’t yet know. Would I still feel like a woman? Would my hormonal output be different? Would I then be different?

My boobs have worn themselves into my current sense of self. Whatever the social responses are to them, I’m used to them. I know how to dress, to strengthen my upper back, and that immense relief awaits at the end of the day, when I finally unclasp my bra. My boobs are part of the context in which I live my life. And while I am not my boobs, they contribute to who I am, like the tree that bends around a pole to reach the sunlight.

We had gone to the farmer’s market, inspired to cook more. The tomatoes were bright and just on the precipice of overripeness, the sorrel was novel, verdant, and standing at attention. The salad was coming together nicely, but I saw the carrots sitting there, banded together with their stems wilting more every moment. I chose the one that had spit into two roots, appearing like a pair of trousers. I grabbed it by the legs and cracked them apart easily. To get the necessary delicacy to match the rest of the nuanced salad, I decided to use the mandolin slicer.

I began with vigor, as I have 50 times before. I thought about how I needed to be careful and light with my pressure, how sharp the blade was, and how I needed to start slowing soon as I neared my hand. At the instant those thoughts were floating past, something went awry. The carrot had sidestepped the blade, leaving my thumb to take its place. For a moment, I wondered if I had imagined it. I waited to see if pain would come. It did. I looked with curiosity: it’s probably just a little surface nick. And for a moment, it looked like a superficial abrasion of the clearish layer of skin.

Then the blood came. Damn you, Trousers. My hand was wet, so I wondered if it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Waves of nausea began to expand outward from my stomach as I ran upstairs toward the bathroom. The blood was becoming thicker and more plentiful and inversely proportional to my remaining ability to see. A little cold sweat, my body ringing like a tuning fork. I laid on the white tile floor, babying my dizziness and covering my eyes, until my husband came up to be rational.

It’s a pretty small wound compared to my entire surface area. But, it’s on my right thumb. It’s on the half of the thumb that would press the space bar or piano keys. Apparently my right thumb has been doing all of the space bar pressing in my life. My left hand is quite confused about how to do it. It’s surprising how often there’s a space in writing. I’m not used to noticing. Typing is slow and frustrating, which hasn’t been the case since I was 13, and my 32-year-old brain is probably lamer at learning. But I think it’s a good skill to have, if I can develop it — the left hand space-bar skill. It’s like discovering you have a weak muscle and watching it strengthen. I’m hoping for some satisfaction, as I do with everything that’s a choice.

My thumb is wrapped in a paper towel and climbing tape, the joint cemented straight. It’s a white confection I’m instinctively holding out, hitchhiker-style at all moments. I can’t shower without getting it wet or floss effectively without my thumb’s assistance. (I’m only actually missing being able to do one of those acts. My thumb’s skin flap is more a scapegoat for the other.) Having not showered in a few days, I look a little crazy, like a wild Edelweiss. It doesn’t help my appearance that today is intensely hot, inciting a stripping down to the underpants. Sweatily, pantless, and with fetid breath and armpits, I tick out these words instead of making dinner or conquering the giant pile of dishes mounting in the sink.

This is small potatoes, I know. I could have slipped and fractured my spine or gotten brain damage. But it’s a teeny reminder of how dependent on the physical we humans are. Most of the time, it doesn’t seem like it. It seems more the other way. We have keyboards that capture our huge thoughts with tiny touches. We nearly effortlessly race to however million miles per hour in our Kias or Teslas or airplanes. I’m accustomed to the physical mostly making things easier for the mental. (Most of my what makes my life hard comes from relationships — intangible ill-communication.)

What spurred our farmer’s market outing was watching Cooked, a Netflix series about food hosted by Michael Pollan. In it, there was a scene in India where a goat was brought in, carried sideways by a couple of its little legs, to be slaughtered for lunch. The cooks laid its confused head on a bloodied plate, which indicated the normalcy of this event. The man doing the chopping didn’t change his neutral expression. I looked away for the actual killing, but from what I did see, he removed the goat’s life as though he were washing a dish or tying a shoe.

It takes one banal movement of a man’s arm to dismantle the delicate fabric of the neck, for sentience to pour out on a plate.

My torn thumb, my special opposable digit, presses me gently against my own sentience. Most everything I do, I do with my hands. Most of the time, I think I am what I do unless I’m really paying attention. I’m a writer, or a composer, or a pianist or a baker. My hands take my ideas and communicate them in various ways. Those huge thoughts are shuffled around in these fragile meat pajamas, an extension of our spirit, or the cause of our spirit. Until they stop working.

So often, I am my body without even noticing. I don’t much think of the bones that lever me up hills, or the blood that pumps the right amount of hormone here and there. It is simultaneously extraordinary and disappointingly primitive. How is it that such raw material, lumps of bologna, can be responsible for creating the vastness of human experience? How can this soft, malleable material be our shields?

And yet it works pretty well, unless someone grabs you by the legs around lunchtime. In a moment, no more smelling, or seeing, or hearing. No more worrying. No more baking or painting. Back to molecules and dirt.

We could live anywhere. We can choose to live in any city or town or province where we can afford it.

It feels like a very permanent choice, since Todd and I are looking to buy a place and have a baby, though I know we could manage uprooting again. We’ve had a lot of practice, having moved over a dozen places throughout our fifteen years together.

The place we lived the longest — 5 years — was a tiny apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. That area still feels most like home, probably because we became adults there (as much as we’ll probably ever become adults) and made most of our friends there. But things have changed, and friends have moved on or become something a little different than friends, the figures of friends. They’re like stars that you can barely see because of all the other light in your eyes, and when you do notice them, you’re seeing the memories of them, the light from a while ago. New York may feel like home mostly because of the memory of it being home for so long, but I’m not sure it’s home anymore. Just a twinkly, old galaxy.

We have both rented since we moved out of our parents’ houses, so we’ve never had the experience of a place truly being our own. To have a little spot on this planet where no one will get mad at us for scratching the hardwood, making too many holes in the wall for shelves, or replacing the fixtures, seems an exquisite relief. In the same way that taking long walks in the forest somewhat quiets the anxiety we didn’t know was vibrating in us, I imagine that this freedom will allow the last few internal strings to fully relax, to detune to stillness for the first time ever in our lives.

My piano teacher once told me how she used to have a bathroom entirely made of glass. I imagined it having glass walls encasing the shower and I also pictured it having a frosted glass entrance and several large mirrors. She explained that after learning that her newly born son was mentally handicapped, she took a baseball bat to it all. I don’t remember what she was trying to illustrate with that story, but what stuck with me is how fully she expressed her anger. That the expression was allowed.

I’ve been sitting on a massive pile of anger for a few months, after having a rough time with a new boss. A while ago, I slammed a glass in an almost reflexive attempt to express some of this anger, but as soon as the glass left my hand, I was immediately concerned for the soft floors, where it would leave a big-toe-sized dent. For a fraction of a second it promised catharsis, a full expression of my emotion in that moment with the potential for a contended release at the end. But the onset of insecurity about the floor undermined the power of the gesture. Ultimately, it felt more like pulling out.

I long for a glass bathroom I’m allowed to take a bat to. This would require some sense of security that it’s not a big financial problem to fix it. Getting to the point where we have enough money to make a down payment is a warm and fuzzy feeling, so I’m irrationally confident at the moment, content to imagine only the best possible scenarios such as having enough financial security to break something immediately upon officially owning a structure of our own.

We also have a few other ideas. Todd wanted to build a rooftop garden in our current early-20th century rental, complete with automatic irrigation, but I vetoed this, worried about impending water damage. I’d like to have a more sound-proof recording area, which would involve installing either a premade booth or redoing the century-old windows and adding some expensive padding. This would allow for as much operatic experimentation as my vocal chords could tolerate without the neighbors calling the police either out of frustration or concern. I also like the idea that I could just scream if I felt like it without worrying what people would think.

Not having to think about how I’m going to remove something before I even install it would be a mental relief, part of that tension release I imagine Home-ownership providing. It’s also part of the illusion of permanence. That permanence is something to revolve around, giving us some gravity after being weightless for so long. We’ll just plan to be in that spot, without planning to be anywhere else. It’ll really be Home, where can do whatever the hell we want.