I had, of course, had inklings.
My first suspicion that life was going to throw me some curve balls occurred when I was four years old and my mother carefully and kindly explained to me that as much as I might want to grow up to be an eagle, it probably wasn’t going to happen barring some very wrong science.
Another time when I was seven, my older cousin not-so-kindly let me know that no matter how much I loved Donny Osmond and his purple socks, he was just never going to give me the time of day. Donny Osmond was after older girls. Donny dug nine-year-olds...like her.
And even accidentally discovering the the David Cassidy guitar hidden in my mom’s closet two days before “Santa” brought it down our fake chimney with a big bow and a ho-ho-ho just for me -
Even the death of Santa Claus didn’t shock me into big girl reality as much as the mind-bending truth I found out one fateful day in fourth grade in the dusty, dark library of Annunciation B.V.M Elementary School when my classmate, Maria, shoved a Young Miss magazine under my nose, its pages opened to an ad displaying a pert, long-haired girl dancing in a field of purple flowers.
Like my older cousin, Maria also wasn’t kind: she was as precise as a meat-fisted surgeon.
“Know what this picture is for?”
“Uhhhhhm. A new movie? A perfume? A TV show?”
“No. It’s for your period.”
She gave the word period special emphasis to let me know that in no uncertain terms was she talking about punctuation. I was a quick study and caught on that there was a game afoot, and if I didn’t rise to her challenge and fake like I'd never faked before, I would be slaughtered.
“Oh. My period. Yeah, that.” I was a goner, and she knew it.
“You don’t even know what a period is, doooo you?”
“Yes I do! I know what it is! Pfft. Of course I do.” I gathered from Maria’s hand-on-hip pose that I was going to have to offer more proof than a weak bravado. “It’s a…a….”
(Think fast, think fast! Field of flowers…young woman…long hair…dancing….AH HA! I had it!)
“A period is when you daydream about things. Like when I daydream about being a go-go dancer on Laugh-In!”
I could instantly tell by Maria’s widening grin and narrowing eyes that I had revealed a dangerous amount of information about myself. She leaned in close and hissed:
“Your PERIOD is when BLOOD gushes out from a HOLE between your LEGS for a WHOLE WEEK, and a MAXI PAD is a LADY DIAPER that you have to wear EVERY DAY for a MONTH and this happens to EVERY GIRL when they become TEENAGERS and MY SISTER told me this and you can ask CARLA in Sixth Grade because her sisters TOLD HER TOO and it’s GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU and YOU are going to PEE BLOOD and IT HURTS and it DOESN‘T STOP until you are DEAD!”
And with that, Maria turned heel and scanned the room for her next unsuspecting victim.
Meanwhile, I was left with a mind-boggling amount of information and horror to take in considering just five minutes before Maria's pronouncement I had been minding my own business, hanging around in my high knee socks and long plaid skirt and wondering which pony book to check out this week.
Pee blood? Wear a diaper? The whole notion was, simply put, preposterous.
And yet…she had quoted her sister as a source. You only dared to misquote an older sibling under risk of public playground humiliation. And Carla in Sixth Grade was widely recognized as being The Authority on all things teenager, herself having four older sisters of varying ages and bust size. Wasn’t it Carla who confirmed as fact the miserable rumor that sometimes a teenage boy would try to put his tongue in a girl’s mouth when they were kissing and that if he did this it could make the girl have a baby unless the girl quick ate an entire pack of Orange Tic Tacs?
But no…this period thing couldn’t be true. Could it?
During recess, the mood among the fourth grade girls was grim. Some of them had heard of this “period” before today, some hadn’t until Maria’s stunning revelation. There were more rumors, whisperings, groups of girls huddled together fretting and rehashing the information as they knew it.
Yes, Jennifer Walton had heard of this “period” from her oldest sister. She said that her sister called it “her time of the month” and it usually meant that her oldest sister got to hog the television all to herself for a week while she moaned and whined about her stomach hurting.
Shari Marcavage told us that her mom had to put rags in her underwear to stop the blood and that she couldn’t run or swim or ride a bike when it was happening.
Ann Ronan was somber. “Yes. It’s all true. Blood comes out between your legs for a bunch of days, but you don’t have to wear a diaper. It’s more like a big long towel folded up that you attach to a belt around your waist and you have to change the towel every hour and you can’t go near any animals or they’ll smell the blood and attack you.”
We were dumbfounded and cautious, but then Ann recited those five words that proved what she said was true:
“I saw it on T.V.”
Our morbid curiosity turned to panic: When would this happen? Would there be any warning? Would we be at recess and all of a sudden The Period would happen? And never mind when, but why?
At this, Carol Malone heaved a sigh and leveled the final blow:
“I heard Sister Davidica say that women have the babies and get all big and fat and that when they have the babies the women are in pain and scream a lot because this is the punishment for picking the apple that God told Eve not to pick.”
Eve? What the hell?
My haze of shock was lifting and in its place was righteous anger born of Eve’s indignation at being blamed for the whole apple episode in The Garden and thus being pinned with her particular punishment for acting as the source of Original Sin and thus damnation of all humanity. But, good lord, if God’s going to punish Eve for being duped by the evil genius of The Prince of Darkness, what did it say about Adam that it just took a wink and a nod from some dame to get him to give up eternity?
“But! But! But what about boys?" I tried to rally. "What happens to them?! This isn't fair! If we have to have periods, what do boys get?”
None of my classmates had an answer. They were still rapt in their anxiety over possibly getting their period while standing in the front of the classroom diagramming a sentence.
“Boys have something worse.”
Into our circle stepped Carla Pronio, her plaid skirt rolled above her knees, her knee socks rolled down around her ankles, a forbidden slash of blue eye shadow and mascara on her face, and the shadow of Maria’s mocking smile on her lips.
“Boys have it a lot worse.”
I just couldn’t imagine it. “But what?! What could be worse than having a period?!” This horror for boys had better be something really embarrassing and uncomfortable and involving a lot of wet towels between their legs, or I was signing off the whole God thing once and for all. I understood punishment - all kids understand punishment without much question - but what no child understands is the perception of unfairness in just how adults levy the loss of weekend television time to one child while another kid gets away with a few measly tut-tuts for what is so maddeningly evident as the same infraction, if not worse.
Carla leaned in and testified:
“When boys become teenagers, this thing happens where they pee in their bed, like every night.”
This boy thing sounded promising.
“And not only that, but whenever they see a girl, their pecker starts to hurt like someone kicked them. Like someone kicked them right. in. the. pecker.”
This might do. Although...perhaps it did sound a bit harsh.
I could tell by Carla’s half-giggle that she was about to deliver the coup de grace.
“…the boys see a girl, and they start peeing in their pants. And they can’t stop.”
Well. That clinched it for me. Whatever it was that happened to teenage boys, it sure sounded a heck a lot worse than a few drip of blood and wearing diapers every month. God may have even gone a bit overboard on this one, but frankly, who was I to judge? I still sometimes mourned the unfairness of not being able to grow wings and someday pose on the emblem of The United States of America. I was content to let this entire day pass into distant memory until that day when I became a teenager and had to worry about periods in earnest. Although, really, what worry?
No worry. No worry at all.
Until recess ended and on the walk back to the classroom, Maria once again bumped up against me.
You know what a tampon is...don’t you?”