When I menstruate it’s a war zone between my thighs, Baghdad in my vagina, with clots the size of a king’s ransom. My ovaries feel like marine boot camp, soldiers marching and punching my womb with all of their might to a Marine Corps Cadence,
“We love the double time.
We do it all the time.
Up in the morning with bloodshot eyes.
Now, it looks like another tequila sunrise.
Look in the mirror cause’ I think I’m dead.
Stumbled and staggered into the head.
Look in the mirror cause’ I think I’m dead.
Stumbled and staggered into the commode.
I bend at the waist to puke my load.”
Villages of busted, rusty pipes gush down my canal and steamroll my meaty Jewlips with the propulsion of a sewer explosion. Hostages MIA since the 1940s colonize my breeding bowl, and scurry like refugees battling for their lives for a get-out-of-womb-pass-with-a-pulse card. Not even rolling out the tank (heating pad), or a quarter of any painkiller I can get my hands on, or a shot of fruity schnapps can quell the monstrous cramps. My body swells ten to fifteen pounds like a Dam release trip on the Pocono Whitewaters. My head throbs harder than a drill rupturing concrete and I’m exhausted to the bone. Salted top Premium Crackers and Schweppes Ginger Ale, my cure-all for everything that ails, can’t even preempt extreme Olympian sport hormonal nausea. I feel like I could rehydrate a third world country because I retain that much water.
The morning of my inaugural menstruation, I woke up on a Saturday at dawn feeling juicy between my legs. Ambling to the bathroom wondering what I was going to find, I thought, are vaginas like gardening sprinklers set on a timer, age twelve being the magic number? Do labia’s need watering to keep them growing? Would I have dwarfish lips otherwise? I walked into the bathroom and locked the door behind me. I pulled down my pajama bottoms and saw brownish smudges. Uh-oh, I thought, do I really want to see my undies right now? I didn’t… I squeezed my eyes shut, pulled my Ms. Pacman Underoos (they were campy) down, and sat on the toilet. Through squinty eyes, I saw Ms. Pacman’s mouth stained with droplets of blood. My vagina attacked my heroine in the middle of the night, bitch. After peeing, I wiped myself and saw more blood on the toilet paper. Wait a minute—hold the phone, what the fuck? Am I menstruating?! I’m only twelve, I thought, this can’t be happening. None of my friends are menstruating. They would’ve told me… right?
I ran into my mother’s bedroom, still asleep, not that it mattered, I had a vaginamergency and I needed her. I shook her, whining, “Ma, ma, ma, wake up, ma, ma, I need to talk to you, ma, ma, ma.” As she stumbled out of bed, I dragged her into the bathroom, shutting and locking the door behind us. I sat her down on the toilet and leaned against the wall. I burst into tears (my first official surge of hormones?) Her face lost color. She was nervous. “What? What’s wrong? Tell me right now.” Embarrassed and still juicy, I pointed to my down there and said, “It’s bleeding.” Tears streamed down her face as she opened the bathroom door with the gusto of a woman about to serenade the world in measured bursts of, Halleluiah! Halleluiah! Halleluiah! She woke my father up, shouting, “Katie got her period! Our daughter is menstruating.” Groggy and half-asleep, my dad jumped out of bed, exclaiming pride and congratulations.
My vagina was bleeding. My parents were dancing. I wanted to die.
The shouting woke my younger brother and sister now traipsing into my parent’s bedroom. In harmonized Barbara-Streisand-Neil-Diamond synchronicity, my parents divulged my menses, “Your sister got her period.” Though only aware of the grammatical period, obviously assuming I’d punctuated something accurately; my parents infectious happiness was scarcely pause for concern. In lieu of asking questions, they danced alongside them while I stood on the sidelines murdering Ms. Pacman.
Moments later, my mother took me into the bathroom with my father and lovingly said, “Honey, I need to slap you across the face.” Confused, scared and crying, I asked, “Why? Did my down there do something wrong?” Teeming with pride, “On the contrary, it’s a Jewish tradition.” She said, and tenderly slapped me across the face with the palm of her hand.
Every generation of women in my family were slapped. Rabbis have said that the slapping custom isn’t part of Jewish Law, though it remains a centuries old tradition, perhaps rooted in superstition. It’s not in the Torah—it’s just what you do. A bitch slap wards off the evil eye. I asked my mother what evil eye she was referring to and she just kept reiterating, “The Evil Eye! The Evil Eye! The Evil Eye!”
As if that was explanation enough. Sure. I couldn’t imagine what all this was and conjured up my own line of questioning. Bad luck? Hassidic hymen shoplifters? Ovum stealing goyum? What?!
I still have no clue what this evil eye is, but I do know that my parents never made us feel badly about menstruating. They didn’t teach me or my sister to feel like our period was a dirty, unfertilized bastard, speeding towards its final resting place, a plug or a pad betwixt our legs. Our menstrosity was a perfectly normal and healthy and beautiful part of womanhood. In our house, menstrual cycles weren’t cloaked in publicly appetizing nicknames like “Aunt Flo is in town” or “It’s that time of the month” or “I’m on the rag” and my personal shame-fave, “the curse”. In our house, if you had your fucking period, you said, “I have my fucking period”.
When I joined the menses club as a tweener, at first I was uncomfortable, it was a small club—okay, I was the only menstruator. Not one of my friends had joined that I knew of. I had nobody to commiserate with or compare notes to, about my monthly emotional upheaval and discomfort from pads and plugs. I hadn’t even experienced a finger or a penis inside my vagina, yet I was expected to, what, enjoy my new (once a month) 7-day trusty companion?! It was weird! I was terrified of staining, praying for the heaviest flows on weekends so I wouldn’t be in school. My vadge felt mushy and my body felt foreign. I started developing breasts at 10, pubes and underarm hair at 11, now at 12 I was bleeding. I wasn’t prepared for all of these womanly side-effects that tweenerdom brought.
During my third month as a woman I bled through my jeans. It was so humiliating. I was having lunch with some girlfriends on a patch of grass, gossiping about boys and Mr. Potts, our insanely hot English teacher with a massively protruding penis, and brainstorming about ways to get out of P.E., when I stood up and realized that my ass felt a bit wet. I casually reached around and felt the spot. It was so wwwwwet; I took my sweatshirt off and wrapped it around my waist. Outside, it was 40 degrees and overcast, prompting a round of, “Are you nuts, it’s cold out here”. Though I declared I wasn’t the slightest bit chilly, my nipples were telling another story. I collected my things and raced to the bathroom. Once in a private stall, it was time for damage control. My jeans sustained a grapefruit sized smudge. I had nothing to change into and no decent excuse to get out of P.E. With fresh accessories between my legs and a sweatshirt around my waist, I made my way to class. In the gymnasium everyone was doing calisthenics. Hoping to blend in by scurrying to the back of the class, Mr. Weathersbee caught me, furious about my tardiness; he insisted that I put my sweatshirt on because we were heading out of the gym and to the track to run a mile. “Put that sweatshirt on now!” He couldn’t pull me to the side?! I meekly said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Weathersbee, I really can’t. I won’t be cold, honest. I’ll be fine.” “If that sweatshirt isn’t on in 5-minutes, you’ll be serving detention after school.” Oh, that’s just fabulous, more time in blood stained jeans at school, what a gift. Neither of us budged. If I had to stitch that sweatshirt to my ass, I would have. No amount of badgering could’ve made me take it off. He continued his rant in front of 35 students, “Now, Schwartz. Right now! You’re holding up my class. I’m counting to ten. 1… 2… 3… 4…” Flustered, I screamed, “I have my fucking period and I bled through my pants. Happy?!?” The entire class darted their eyes my way as Mr. Weathersbee weaved through the student body towards me, his face flushed with rage, “You just said the f-word and bought yourself detention for the week.” No mention of my period—fucker. “This is menstrual discrimination and you are not getting away with it. I’m marching myself into the principal’s office to set the record straight.” I assertively responded. Our principal was so uncomfortable with sex and down there’s, a bucket of tears and a blood stained tuchas would’ve gotten me a pass to go home and out of detention for a week. Weathersbee knew it, too, and promptly excused me for the day with a hushed apology.
By thirteen, with one-year of menses under my belt, I was an expert menstruator and my friends finally started bleeding, too, or so they said. I became Ask Menstruleena: Dispensing advice, plugs and pads to my eighth grade class, discreetly. Nobody wanted to share their menstrual woes with the group. Each friend pulled me aside to ask questions and though nobody was around, they spoke quietly, holding their heads down. If burqas were in, they would’ve adorned them before approaching, to hide themselves. I couldn’t figure out why my friends were so ashamed. We were all egg-droppers. Originally, as the sole E.D., I was embarrassed. Had I not been alone, I wouldn’t have been.
As I got older, I noticed that menstruation still wasn’t a topic of discussion. I had to make a concerted effort to drag it out of the closet kicking and screaming. We talked about everything else: money, dating, marriage, divorce, sex, parents, kids, moving, all except bleeding. In my experience, women respond to the topic squeamishly, rushing through the conversation, wishing it would end and that it was never tabled to begin with.
In my thirties, I became even more vocal. If a friend or a stranger asks me how I am, I say, “I’m menstruating.” Though my sister, Kerri is more conservative about her menses than I am, she bears no shame. Kerri only shares her menstruation with her inner circle. Thank God I’m in the circle. If she begins menses without telling me, admittedly I overreact by saying something to the effect of, “Yesterday, we dished throughout the entire day via text message, instant message, email and phone about how we were doing, yet you conveniently omitted that menses commenced. How could you?!?” We cycle similarly. I have a right to know what to expect, i.e., is Niagara missing a fall or is this leaky faucet that’s so benign, it doesn’t even require pliers?! Things I need to know.
Mensversation has become one of my favorite pastimes, and a mammoth part of my vulvacabulary. I have no shame, even if it is overcompensating for my fellow menstrualettes that do. I want my period out of the closet and in the limelight. Not the stains, the discussion.
When I open an Always menstrual product, each pad or plug says “Have a happy period … from Always”. Ok, that’s annoying. Ideally, messages would read, “How relieved you must be that you aren’t knocked up… Love, Always.” Or, “Congratulations that your ovaries have dropped an egg, a sign that things are working properly. Best, Always”. I could even live with, “We hope this menstruation is an easy one… Sincerely, Always.” Regardless, at least they’re not perpetuating shame because Moses is parting my lippy seas on a monthly basis. From my vantage point, that’s a bonus.
Another positive repercussion of menstruation is those deep menstrualgasms. When I was twenty, I went all the way with my then meat-of-the-week. His junk was saturated in unfertilized oveye. He reacted like a petulant brat, flailing his arms and bemoaning about not being adequately prepared. I sent him in with a miner’s cap and a compass. He found his way out of my vagina. What damages? Though, introducing first timers to the Gaza Strip can backfire—wildly. One of my first dates finger-fucked me in the backseat of his Mazda RX7. There I was basking in post orgasmic bliss while he was hyperventilating at the sight of his fingers covered in blood. He passed out after viewing his freshly-tinted beige seats. (They were in dire need of a splash of color, anyway.) He couldn’t thank me for the jhush?!
Admittedly, menses props don’t always top my “To Do” list. There are times when being Taco Grand Rapids isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Feeling like there’s drunken holiday traffic speeding through my womb can be a chore, particularly if it’s a new dick month or if I’m scheduled for a flangezam (gynecological exam). Or, if I bought a fabulous pair of white trousers to wear. Inevitably, menses will commence on those days because that’s how I roll. Because, God forbid, my ovum take my needs into consideration for five fucking minutes. I shouldn’t have to be on hurricane menses watch every month. I just am.
Wikipedia says that each menstrual cycle produces a half a cup of blood. On my fourth day of my cycle, yeah a half a cup of blood, but on the first, second and third days I bleed enough to fill a Coleman ice chest. I know I’m not the only gusher, there are legions of us spending twenty plus dollars a month terrified of bleeding out. At times, I want to throw down with my ovum and say, “Listen, bitches, I call the shots, not you. You are my minions and you will do as I say.”
I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. I’m their bottom, their bitch, they own me, and they know it.
Despite ovum running amuck each month, behaving like mini-cuntsteinowitzs, I love my menses. I do. I wish it wasn’t so stigmatized. My ovum reminds me to pause and to ponder, to reflect and decompress, to celebrate the organic order of my mind, body and spirit every month. Hempy as that sounds, it’s one of the things I love most about being a woman. Menstrual blood is the blood without deserved recognition. The blood we don’t discuss. The centuries-old blood that women have been chastised ridiculed and shamed for. I think of it as an unsung badge of honor and something to be proud of. In essence, it’s the ultimate red carpet. Sharp shooting-ass pains and menstrual cramps I could live without, sure. And, of course leakage, and those please-don’t-shove-your-hand-in-my-flange moments. Hollow leg syndrome, unnerving emotional reactions—crying at Hallmark commercials, Viagra ads and promos for Lifetime semicolon herstory movies, I could skip.
Once, just once, I would love it if, instead of snickering at my blood stained pants, or laughing at me for stockpiling a six-month supply of menstrual products, a few comfort food items thrown in for a decent menses binge, a bottle of Peach Schnapps to ease the pain and a few candles to light for a good cry, would it kill us to smile? Any missive that reminds me we’re not alone or that either sex isn’t deathly afraid of The Curse? That would really make this girl’s day.