You’re never truly ready the first time you bleed, no matter how prepared you are. Once you’ve been through days of feverish hemorrhaging and boiling organs, you’ll know for certain you are being punished by an unholy force. No gentle spirit would allow such unjust suffering. Not dying from it afterwards feels unnatural.
In the third grade my mom told me what was coming. We sat on the floor of the living room, our backs against the couch, and she explained the physiological process of “becoming a woman.”
She informed me I was going to bleed once a month. There was a general overview of how babies were made, but only as far as it related to menstruation. Feminine hygiene products were discussed. Bloating, pain, and mood swings were mentioned briefly. She asked me, solemnly, if I had any questions. I can’t remember if I asked any. The only thing on my mind I dared not ask: “Are you crazy?”
Until that moment I had been living in a world of tire swing championships and crunching grasshoppers in the grass until dinnertime. Major highlights that year had been pierced ears and dancing at my favorite teacher’s wedding reception.
And now my mother was telling me that my uterus had an automatic self-cleaning cycle. It would cause pain and inconvenience and make me bleed from between my legs. And I had no say in the matter.
The idea of menstruation appalled me. How could such a thing be possible? It was ridiculous that blood letting and uterine shedding was part of being a woman. It was a story line from a twisted x-rated slasher film. It was unbelievable, and so I decided to not believe it. And then I put it out of my mind.
A couple of weeks into my seventh grade a calm ache simmered in my pelvis, and my heartbeat pulsed in my breasts. A sticky wet substance appeared in my underwear. I decided to ignore it.
By the time I staggered home after school, blood dripped down my leg and seeped into my sock. In the bathroom I peeled off my jeans, dripping dark inside and out. The amount of blood surprised me. I couldn’t believe it. That horrible, unnatural thing that I refused to believe would happen, actually happened.
My mother figured out what had happened when she came in to get the laundry from my room that night. I lay defeated in my footed pajamas, my underwear stuffed with heavy-duty absorbent pads, as she reiterated the major points of the talk we’d had years before. It sounded vaguely familiar.
A storm raged in my genitals. I imagined the churning pineapple in my womb, its bumpy skin scraping the inside, its crown poking through my cervix. It would explain sweet stickiness of the blood.
I went white-faced to school the next day, armed with several super-absorbent pads with useless adhesive strips and a note to excuse me from PE. All day I raced to the bathroom between classes, trying to stay ahead of the flow that gushed out of me.
I ignored the significance of conversations cut short when I waddled by and women teachers I didn’t know asking me how I was feeling. I pretended I was not mortified by the smell of the deodorant pad, full with warm menstrual blood, wafting from my crotch. I paid no attention to whispers as I walked to my desk in the last class of the day, shaking and thirsty. The large crimson smear I had left on my chair yesterday, however, could not be ignored.