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Missile Tits. It wasn't particularly clever or even an accurate description. Thinking back, they were a shapely B cup, maybe B-minus, but when Karl Capshaw dubbed me Missile Tits in eighth-grade gym class, it stuck.
I was a barely average athlete, so gym class was never a favorite. But when the coach started dividing up the boys into basketball teams, my chest would tighten. And what a chest it was. Shirt, skin, shirt, skin. Please, God, let him make me a shirt.
Every June through August, our town pool played the part of babysitter, and the summer before fifth grade, I remember sprouting these Missile Tits. I don't remember this happening to any of the other boys at the pool, except for my big brother, Al. But we didn't talk about anything below the surface in our house.
Every day, Al and I would anxiously wait to be released from weeding the gardens so we could spend the afternoon doing watermelons off the diving board, challenging each other to swim the length of the pool without coming up for air, and in general, avoiding getting benched by the lifeguards. At 5 p.m. the pool would close for an hour, but we would stay around for an hour of swim team practice. I was actually good at swimming and had a stack of blue ribbons to prove it. Bet you can guess my best stroke.
Eventually the pool, once a place I couldn't get enough of, became a hated enemy. One day my father announced that he wasn't going to waste his goddamn money on a season pass if no one was going to use it. Good. One less thing to feel guilty about.
Being the youngest kid in my class and eventually the last to hit puberty, I found it completely unfair that my breasts blossomed along with the girls', but I would be a few years behind what the other boys were experiencing. I so wanted to experience what they were experiencing -- flash back to 1976, when the Sonny and Cher variety hour was peaking in popularity and mom says all I wanted for Christmas was a Cher doll. I was 2 years old.
At 15, it became clear that Missile Tits was here to stay, and I begrudgingly asked mom for a doctor's appointment under the guise of being a late bloomer. While I did have hair "down there," it was suspiciously absent from my legs, something my own inner Cher noticed regularly since she was secretly turned on the by the guys in school sprouting the dark stuff on their muscular calves.
I truthfully grunted an affirmation when Dr. Nelson asked if I could ejaculate, but he never even mentioned Missile Tits. He did affirm that I was a late bloomer and prescribed a low dose of testosterone. I was hopeful it would be the answer to at least one of my nightly prayers.
Now, given how freely information was exchanged in my tiny Indiana farm town, I couldn't risk getting the prescription filled at our local pharmacy. So we drove 10 miles to the next town, and I waited in the car while Mom went in to retrieve my magic beans. After 20 excruciating minutes, she finally emerged. Empty-handed. The pharmacy didn't carry the low dose prescribed and suggested someplace else. Horrified, I told her to forget the whole thing and take me home. The prescription was never filled.
Over the years, starting in junior high, I had kept a few extra pounds around the middle. Not like it was work considering my relationship with doughnuts and Doritos, but the extra weight could somewhat explain Missile Tits to onlookers: "Oh, that guy is busty because he's chubby." One summer during college, I tested the theory and lost 30 pounds. The result was thin around the middle and perky around the top. Maybe I was transgender?
Ever the survivor, Cher would not go away. Experimentation with girls was always attempted after a half dozen cans of Busch Light at the fraternity house, and eventually boys were added to the mix. One guy even told me he liked my "pecs." But it was always the same well into my 20s: months of sexual avoidance peppered with booze-fueled one-night stands. Never a second date. I hated Cher. I hated Missile Tits. Why give anyone else the chance to hate them too?
Pool, beaches, hot tubs. When not completely avoided, were carefully navigated. Now, when taking off your shirt, always move to the point nearest the water, turn away from the others, and hustle in. When sunbathing, concentrate on bronzing that gorgeous back. Others already in the water? Wait for a distraction or point one out behind them while you quietly slip in. And when emerging from the water, it's always cold, even at indoor pools. Be sure to wrap your arms about your Missile Tits to keep them warm and safe.
Approaching 30, I finally worked up the courage to seek medical advice for the second time. After lab work ruled out any hormonal imbalance, my general practitioner referred me to a plastic surgeon. Finally, the real Cher and I would have something in common. Dr. Southern diagnosed the condition as gynecomastia, a catchall term for men with abnormally large breasts. In my case, it was hereditary, and surgery was my only option.
It was a relief to learn that Missile Tits was not fat but breast tissue, and no amount of diet or exercise would ever rid me of them.
Getting insurance to cover the procedure proved to be one more wave of humiliation. Along with the paperwork, I was asked to thumb through stacks of photos and submit those when Missile Tits were really showing off for the camera. After years of carefully choosing dark, bulky clothing, I knew there would be none of me in a tight white tank. Long story short: A nurse with a camera and me posing topless made for the world's most uncomfortable photo shoot.
A double mastectomy. Terrifying words to thousands of woman dealing with breast cancer. For me, a welcome weight off my chest, literally. Waiting for them to wheel me to the operating room, I signed the pre-op forms releasing Missile Tits to researchers. No, I don't think I'll be taking them home in glass jars like people do with gallstones. You all go ahead and keep them. I've still got Cher to keep me company, and we're ready to hit the beach.
GEORGE A. MILLER spends his time on the commuter train daydreaming of being a full time writer and performer of sketch comedy. His work has been featured on the stages of Chicago's Second City Training Center, WGN TV, and his parents' refrigerator. He also competes in open water swimming 5Ks whenever the parks department deems the level of sewage in Lake Michigan to be acceptable.