I do not want to grow up to be like my mother. Harsh, maybe, but it’s hard to feel any different when she’s the living, breathing embodiment of everything I hate.
Imagine you’re sitting in an interrogation room staring at the same two-way mirror your entire life. On one hand, any future could be hiding behind that cold, dark panel: a healthy relationship with an NBA Player, a financially stable career, an exciting life on the road following Kanye West, anything. There is no certainty. Except, in this scenario, there is. In this scenario, your future is there pacing the room with you, banging on the walls to let you both out. The future lies in the woman who trapped you there in the first place. The 5’3″, built-like-a-raisin statue yelling at you every 5 seconds to pay attention to her. The one who brought you mental illness like a gift on a silver platter: Depression, Mania, Anxiety, OCD, Paranoia. She’s here to inhabit this cell block forever. First with you, then within you.
Periods are taboo in Catholic history. If there’s any movie that represents this perfectly, it would be the 1976 film, Carrie. For the most part, Sissy Spacek is your typical teenager. She’s blonde, bullied, and has a penchant for murder that has been carefully cultivated by the shitty people in her life. Just as she starts to make sense of her adolescence, in swoops her crimson tide like waves upon her southern shore. Not sure of what to do, she seeks her mother’s help. As a response, her mom locks her in a closet and tells her this “very natural thing her body is doing” is the devil’s work.
This is my only point of reference for periods as a 5th-grade child.
A lot of things run through my head the first day I got my period. I’m in 7th grade and have just begun capturing the attention of my boyfriend Ryan M., who is debating leaving me for a girl who shaves her legs. I know this shift in my body will gross him out even more and I am incredibly nervous. Almost as nervous as I am to go home and tell my mother I am bleeding and it is finally time for her to lock me in a small closet for the rest of my life.
I ask my teacher if I can leave school after noticing I have bled through my terrible khaki shorts. I say I have a bad stomach ache and cannot, for the life of me, figure out why. I’m sure Mrs. Hampton knows it’s cramps because she lets me off easy with a pat on the back and a note to the principals. As I pack up my bag and head down to the main office, I debate who to call in lieu of the situation. I could call my sister, but she is currently going through a moody high school phase and would absolutely kill me if I got blood all over the luxurious seats of her 2005 Suzuki Grand Vitara.
I could call my mom, but I already know how that would turn out, with a senior prom ending in more blood than the river between my thighs.
The last resort is my dad. I cross my fingers, pick up the phone, and call home in hopes he picks up.
Besides, he’ll understand better than anyone what my body is doing.
Unfortunately, my mom picks up and tells me she will come get me from school. Panicking, I realize there is literally no way to hide the evidence, considering it is all over my pants. I have approximately twenty minutes before my world ends.
I accept my fate and begin deciding who will get what after I die. Molly will get my doll collection, Mary will get my dog, and Mandie will be forever haunted by my revenge-seeking spirit after my soul is doomed to wander the earth as a misguided ghost. Stuck in my own thoughts, I barely hear Mrs. Birky tell me my mom has arrived and I am free to go. I sigh a dramatic, hearty sigh, grab my bag, and storm out of the office in a pre-pubescent rage.
My mind races as fast as the 2007 Jeep Liberty rounding Regis Middle School’s corner and I begin having a conversation with myself. Should I ask my mom what she does in situations like this? Probably not. Does she even have situations like this? Of course she doesn’t, Meggie, no one but you has the misfortune to bleed through Old Navy shorts. How do I make it stop? What do I wear to make it stop? Is God going to hate me? Do I have to transfer to public school now?
And, of course,
Am I going to bleed through my swimming suit on my date with Ryan M.?
I sheepishly get in the car and sit in silence as my mom asks me what exactly is wrong. She wants to know if the color on my cheeks is because of a fever and if we should stop at CVS before going home to pick up some medicine. I mumble something, incoherent. She asks, AGAIN, if we should stop by CVS on the way home because holy crap do I look like I’m about to die.
How selfish of her to look out for me.
I scream that I’m on my period and no amount of Advil can fix whatever is happening to me at this very moment. Not only is my body broken, my entire social life is about to become unhinged because Ryan M. is going to realize I am excreting disgusting bodily fluids and who needs that when he can stick his fingers in Annie D.
Defeated, I relay this sentiment to my mom but keep out the part about Annie D. She’s a good girl and we’re friends with her parents. My mom nods solemnly and drives the rest of our trip in silence, terrifying, considering the fact I’m having a full-blown panic attack.
As we pull into our driveway, the words she meant to say hit me like a thousand bricks. The heartbreak for my soiled Old Navy shorts, the excitement about my prude-ish nature, the disappointment it’s her and not my dad picking me up. I realize this is a sink or swim moment for our relationship. If she’s the mother who claims to love me, she will walk me through the steps of being a woman. If she’s the friend I truly hope she is, she’ll let me bleed out and die figuring it all out on my own.
We walk in the door and she says she’s going to help me. I walk upstairs, taking note of the incredibly white carpet, and carefully change into my pajama pants. I open my bedroom door and, to my dismay, find my mom waiting for me outside the bathroom. Instead of acknowledging me, she blows right past me and unhooks the mirror from my wall. Unfazed, she commands me to sit on the bathroom tile and take off my pants, like a drill sergeant preparing for war. Suddenly, I realize the true nature of her silence in the car ride earlier. It wasn’t because she was upset with me. It was because she was about to sit down on this cold, white tile and explain to her bare-ass teenage daughter the compartments of her vagina like a true American hero.
I take off my pants and sit across from the woman now holding a mirror to my naked body. She hands me a tampon and tells me exactly what to do, but I do it wrong too many times and begin to cry. I tell her it’s okay, this pool party isn’t worth a piece of cotton ruining my day. I close my legs defeated, get up, and begin to push her, and my bedroom mirror, out the door. She lets me but squeezes her shoulder in the door frame before I can close her off entirely. Making eye contact with me through the mirror hanging on the wall, she says.
“Never let anyone make you feel bad for being a woman.”
I’m afraid of the future a lot of days. Afraid of the woman I’m on the track to becoming. Afraid I’ll be too much or not enough for someone to love. Afraid I’ll develop into the type of woman I hate. But then I remember all the good things about the woman who has walked the path before me. The sound of her laughter, the thud of her shoes when she dances, the way she pours her love into the world without asking for anything in return.
My mother has bled approximately 54 liters of blood over her lifetime. She is a warrior who melts at the softest touch and becomes stone-faced at the site of anyone who has done her family wrong. If that is the woman I am going to become, so be it. There are no shoes I’d be happier to fill.