I got my first period when I was only 10 years old. Racing into the downstairs bathroom in-between rounds of neighborhood kick-the-can, I pulled down my shorts and saw a kind of rusty blood there. I didn't think I was dying. I didn't think I had cancer. With two older sisters, I pretty much knew I had started my period. Problem was, I thought I was going to have it every day for the rest of my life. I was doomed.
I didn't tell anybody: not my mother, not my sisters, not my best friend. I felt way too embarrassed about the whole operation. I hated the thought of periods. I hated words like "menstruation," "puberty," "pubic region," even "perspiration." I avoided reading about and learning about such things.
If I hadn't been so averse to the idea of growing up, I would have known the remaining days of my life were not going to be those of perennial bleeding. Instead, I wept. And weeping, I crept up to the closet where the monster pads with the long tails (called "sanitary napkins") were kept for my sisters. I shoved one in my shorts, and took to my bed.
That very long day, I remember looking out the window at my neighborhood friends, still playing blithely in the street. I envied the boys, who would never know the shame of blood. I envied the girls, with their straight up-and-down stick figures, who still obviously had years to go before they became handicapped like me. I watched the occasional mother come up the street, pushing a stroller or calling to one of the kids. I thought, "Wow, just think. She has her period right now too. How does she act so normal? How can she smile? She's bleeding!" I despaired. And then I wept some more.
I pretended to be sick that night. I told my mother I had a stomach ache and stayed in bed. Actually, I did have a stomach ache so it wasn't hard to fake. She did the usual things, like taking my temperature and bringing me a cold, ice-clinking glass of ginger ale. We only got soda when we were sick. It didn't help, though. I was still doomed.
When the time came to change the monstrous sanitary napkin, I was stymied. What to do? How to hide the evidence? I couldn't just wrap it up in tissue paper and put it in the bathroom trash can, like my sisters. Then EVERYONE WOULD KNOW! I threw it in the toilet instead, and flushed. In horror, I watched the water in the toilet bowl rise, and rise, until the water tipped over the top and seeped across the floor. I grabbed towels to wipe up the mess, then patiently tore the pad into tiny bits. I ran the bathtub to disguise the sound of the many flushes it took to dispose of the evidence.
"Everything OK in there, Jules?" my mom called from outside the bathroom door.
"Yup, Mom," I replied. "Just taking a bath. I'll be out in a bit." I snuck another pad out of the closet and went back to bed.
The next morning, my mother must have had a premonition or something, because she took the opportunity to try to tell me "the facts of life." I was propped up in my parents' bed at this point, watching the stream of old favorites we were allowed to watch when we were sick: "I Love Lucy," "Leave It to Beaver," "Andy Griffith," "The Dobie Gillis Show."
"Jule," she said, scooting me over a bit on the bed. "Since no one is around today, I thought it might be a good time to tell you about the facts of life."
"Umm, Mom," I said, squirming a bit and feeling my face grow hot. "You don't need to. Jeannie [my best friend] has a book. I already know everything."
In fact, I didn't know everything. Sure, I knew about the sex part—that part was fascinating, if horrifying. But the "menstruation" part—eww! I avoided those pages. So I still didn't know about the reprieve that would come, after just a few days, every single month. I still thought I was destined to the invalid life.
"Are you sure, Julie?" my mom asked. "Do you have any questions at all?"
"Nope!" I replied glumly. "I don't really want to talk about it either."
My mom laughed. "You're just like Aunt Maryjean! She never liked to talk about periods or anything either. She would just fume about it! We used to laugh and laugh at her!"
I smiled weakly, wondering how anyone could laugh at such a travesty. Poor Aunt Maryjean. She knew what it felt like to give up a normal life. She must have missed the joys of running and playing without a care to blood, and pads, and staining. Oh how I wished I was a kid again. Age 10, and life as I knew it was over.
Life went on like this for a few more days. It was summer, so thankfully I did not have to go to school. I lay about, sneaking pads from the closet, and finding various places to dispose of them (the outdoor trash can, my sister's bathroom, under the stuff in the kitchen garbage). I declined all invitations to play. I sat by the window with my dog Jock on my lap and watched all those poor ladies with their periods walk by. I wondered how they stood it, day after day after day.
Then, a miracle occurred. The blood was gone! I couldn't believe my eyes! My prayers to God had been answered, and He had returned me to my rightful state—that of a kid! Hallelujah! I returned to my normal life.
Unfortunately, as we all know, my hopes were soon dashed. A few months later, the blood returned. I woke in the morning to find my pajamas stained with it. This time, I just couldn't take it. I ran out of my room and into my parents' room, crying loudly.
"Mom!" I cried, choking back a sob. "Mom!"
My mom sat up in bed. "What is it, Jules? Is something wrong with Jock? Did he get loose? What's wrong?" I sobbed even louder. I couldn't seem to get the words out.
"Are you sick? Are you scared? What's wrong? Tell me?" My mom got out of bed and put her arms around me.
"I HAVE MY PERIOD!" I cried. "I HAVE MY PERIOD AND I'M GOING TO HAVE IT EVERY DAY FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!"
My mother looked at me, astounded. "Your period? Really? Well, you are a little young, but that's OK. And what's all this about every day for the rest of your life? It'll only last a few days, maybe five, and then go away. I thought you knew all about this, honey. You told me you read a book."
"NOT THAT PART!" I gulped. "ONLY THE OTHER PARTS." My mother laughed, took me by the hand, and led me to the closet.
"Here's where we keep the pads," she said. "Hmmm. Not many left. I'll have to get more. Now let me show you how to do this."
I relaxed for the first time in months and let her show me. She seemed happy to be doing her motherly duty. I felt happy to be finally rid of my secret. More than that, I felt such relief. Not every day? Not every day for the rest of my life? A few days a month and no more? Heck, I can do that! That's not such a big deal at all! I went to the phone and called my best friend.
"Hey, Jeannie," I said, "Wanna come over and play?"