It was a Sunday in my eleventh year. As was our custom we attended church as a family. We returned home, changed clothes and my father’s former boss joined us to lunch at Ryan’s buffet. I remember it being a beautiful spring day. complete with sunshine and open car windows.
Lunch was a stupendous treat. Rarely did we get to go out to such an expensive meal. I suspect that my Father’s former boss may have pitched in or purchased that meal. I say this because my parents were in good spirits as well. Their most frequent disparities seemed to come from financial woes.
I’m not sure of the complete details of this man’s story but as an adult the details that I do recall seem to indicate that he was separated from his family. He was staying with us for a bit. I don’t remember if he returned to his family or not. I know he had a young son and possibly a daughter older than myself. I know he voiced that he missed them. He often seemed to enjoy the company of our family because of the longing to be with his own family.
After lunch, this family friend asked if I might accompany him on a motorcycle ride. My mother was unnecessarily leery, my father thought it a great idea. I was over the moon! They said “yes”! So, away we went!
It was a glorious ride. We traveled through Northern Louisiana in to Southern Arkansas. The ride seemed to last for hours in my 11 year old dyslexic mind. The roadside scenery was a beauty to behold. There is nothing quite like the South in the Spring. It is a glorious burst of yellows and chartreuse and bright shining sunlight. I remember the soft glow of radiance through the tender new buds in the trees. The smells of soft newness and gasoline engines on the back highways flow over me now as I think about this. It was a good day. It was a glorious day.
We stopped at a small bridge which passed over a small creek. The small creekbed was flushed with other people starving for the fresh air and warmth. There was laughter and bright faces all around. (Side convo: I was wearing a pair of denim, puffed capris, as was the style of the 80’s. When dismounting the motorcycle I pressed my calf on the exhaust. I seared my leg thoroughly and shrugged it off but there is still a bit of a strawberry discoloration on that leg. It looks almost like a birthmark, Bonus!) The pebbles and stones crunched heartily beneath our feet and the water was cool in my hands. It was just as magical as the whole ride.
When I could tell we were heading back home, a bit of unhappiness rose into my throat. It would soon be over. The noise and tension of home would soon surround me. The moment was worth living in though, and I let it whisk me into the air surrounding that magnificent metal steed.
I remember, distinctly, the arrival at home. I was in such amazingly high spirits I stopped to literally smell the roses in our yard. Upon squatting to get close enough to the short rose bushes I realized I needed to visit the bathroom. When I entered the house my mother was fretting over how long we had been away but only a little. Soon she would be much more uncomfortable.
Then it happened. Although I knew a bit about “becoming a woman” I was not really prepared for the actuality of it. On finding that red spot in my white underpants I felt a sense of loss. I felt a sense of something I could not voice. I called to my mother to come help me. I’m sure she knew that something was very amiss because it had been ages since I had summoned her to the private parts of my life like bathroom functions. When she saw the situation I was in she was somewhat concerned but seemed oddly overjoyed about it. I, myself, was confused. She rushed away returning to help me change pants and affix an annoying, bulky, mattress sized pad to my unders.
When I exited the bathroom I was mortified. Despite my mother practically singing about my ushering into adulthood, I felt the shame of thousands of years of female suppression. The words she spoke in that small private space of a bathroom rang in my ears. I’m certain they were spoken with pure encouragement and a bit of pride but they haunted me. I wasn’t even sure what exactly it meant. In my moment of terror she said, “Oh, Honey, It means you are growing up. It means one day you can have babies!”
Babies? Babies?! Why was this said with such joy and exultation? My mother, the mother of three children, one somewhat estranged, and the caregiver to many babysitting children, was indicating I should want these babies. It made no sense to me. Why would I need to bleed to have babies? That red spot imprinted on my mind through the day. It caused me much despair. I immediately felt the need to suppress the knowledge that I was on my cycle. It was like a demented secret I harbored inside myself. I wanted to never let another person know it was happening to me. Still my mother wanted to tell the world I was now with period. I was not proud of the fact at all.
Before going to sleep my mother came to speak with me at my bedside. She asked if our family friend had touched me in a way not common. As an adult I realize what she was afraid of. It must have weighed on her the whole day. How sad that this thing is not only an indicator of the coming of age but also a loss of innocence. There are so many things tied into that red spot. So many dark revelations and many more intricacies that go unspoken in public concerning this womanhood. If you are a man, this will not be common knowledge to you, if you are a woman, this is the essence of our quiet sisterhood.
The many unspoken realities of menstruation are numerous. It is a strange affair, this coming of age. I have no idea what the modern male equivalent is. In explanation of this thing, I want to voice the commonalities of the red spot. I don’t thing I’ve done a fair job of this story. There are so many things I want to say that I haven’t said. I’ll try now.
As I have become more mature I have come to an understanding about this red spot. I have been ever sorrowful of the appearance of it. I have often cried on the first day of its coming. Often out of the approaching pain and agony as well as its annoyance but also out of a joy of its return. The coming of the red spot is a marking of a renewal but it is an arduous transformation of the female womb. It mostly means that a woman is not pregnant. It means that the babies haven’t come yet. It means that the night(s) of passion hasn’t/haven’t yielded a child too soon. It can also mean that the night(s) of passion hasn’t/haven’t given the thing some women want most. It is often a deep darkness of shame. In most cultures it is a thing we don’t talk about.
(Isn’t it so in all cultures?)
I have been fortunate to have the companionship of more than one man. In light of my uncomfortable cycles, two of four have been most understanding. Lovers, on the other hand have not always been so. So much disdain for the facts of life a woman goes through are shied away from. If a woman is on her period it’s viewed as disgusting in many cases, to the point of her being useless to a lover. Many men only want to know that a women is on her cycle in order to avoid her. It’s really no wonder that PMS includes bouts of frustration and anger. Women are often invalidated on a daily basis. Often the insult hurled at women who questions such invalidation is, “What, are you on the rag or something?” I feel I defend myself more efficiently when I am on my period. I actually seem to make more lucid decisions for my well being when I’m on my period. I also experience a distinct brain fog during that time. There are extreme mood swings, generally from bliss to despair, often skipping any angry outbursts. I often experience intense sexual desires at the dawn and dusk of my cycle. This may explain why it disappoints me that so many men are grossed out by a woman on her period or possibly about to start her period.
So why is it such a big deal? Why should I be writing about this? Because, it’s really not spoken of often. How can something so prevalent not be normalized? If you know a woman, she more than likely has had a menstrual cycle, get this, when you were in the same room with her. Many times I’m sure you didn’t even know it. Let’s go through some basic commonalities. Not all women who have entered puberty but most: have debilitating cramps, nausea, headaches, uncontrollable mood swings, heavy blood flow days, hypoglycemia, back pain, muscle soreness, joint pain, breast tenderness, depression, lethargy, and hot flashes. These are some of the naturally occurring symptoms of menstruation. They are extreme for some women. It varies widely and from the little other women feel comfortable sharing I have rarely heard a woman say it’s an easy thing for them. On top of these symptoms women often go through the daily life experiencing belittlement, objectification, oppression, and a general lack of respect. Maintaining the poise it takes to endure all of these things at once is astounding. It is no small feat. The average age for the onset of menstruation is 12 years old and generally lasts till the age of menopause which is reached, on average, at 45. That’s 33 years of menstruation once a month (possibly 396 periods lasting 4-7days), barring conception of a viable fetus. Most women will endure the cost of tampons, pads, and other period related necessities, in many cases all of these are necessary. This is a thing we live with. It is a part of us. It is the thing that makes us a ciswomen. These are the mostly physical things women abide and don’t really include the psychological aspects of our society’s viewing of the natural processes women undergo.
My personal feelings haven’t been fully expressed here. I feel this is just the beginning on this topic, but responsibility to rest calls me. I hope I opened this door so you are at least standing on the threshold. I hope to write again soon. Thank you for reading.