You guys, we need to talk,
and it might not be pretty.
If you are squeamish in any way, are eating while you read this, or happen to have been raised in the south, you might find this post a bit, shall we say, MUCH. You’ll probably just want to scroll on past this post. I promise to write something nice next week.
Ok, if you’ve read this far, there is a good possibility that we get each other, which is great because I could use a little help here.
Since preschool, I have considered myself a professional when it comes to my bodily functions. I never wet the bed, spewed milk out my nose in the lunchroom, and never once, in three sexually active decades, did I have an unwanted pregnancy scare. But now I find myself at fifty, completely confused by my own female body.
To show you what I mean, I’ll share a conversation I had with my friend Jo Dee, just yesterday:
I’m leaving brunch at a friend’s house. I had to leave earlier than I had planned and I’m not happy about it. Walking to my car, I call Jo Dee.
“Hey,”she answers. What’s up?”
“Oh, just bleeding on myself. You know, it’s the new normal.” I’m referring to my near constant state of menstruation, since peri-menapause came a-knockin’ about six months ago.
“Oh, hon. Did you bleed through your pants?”
“I’m not sure. I’m sweaty too, so it’s hard to know.” I might be whining at this point. It’s mid- April and the LA sun is already blazing. “I’m going home to change.”
“Poor thing. And also, ew.”
“I know. Am I supposed to just always wear a pantyliner now? Is that what people do?” I can’t believe I even have to ask.
“I think so,” JoDee answers, but not in a way that inspires confidence. I have a feeling she’s as confused as I am. “I guess?” She adds. Yeah, I’m on my own here.
“Well then I have to find unscented pantyliners, because the ones I have make me smell like a giant roll of toilet paper. I hate it.”
She laughs. “Gross! Used toilet paper?”
“No, not used, but still. The smell gets all up in my nostrils and I can’t get rid of it.”
“Can’t you get some crunchy granola pads from Whole foods or whatever, with no smell?”
“Yeah, I can get like a coconut-hemp-compostable-diva-liner thing for seventeen dollars a piece.”
“I’m sure they actually do make unscented liners, though. Just the regular kind from Walgreens.”
“No, those are what I have. But they’re not unscented, not really. That’s what I’m saying.”
“I’m going home and smelling mine.”
“Careful, that shit gets in your nose. You’ll smell it in your dreams.”
She laughs. Laughter. It’s my Valium.
I sit in my car, with the air conditioner cranked and pointing directly at my sweaty face. “My body is totally different suddenly. I’m having to learn so much. And I’m buying all these new things, like I have all kinds of tampons now. I have a whole collection, a cornucopia of choices, for every possible situation. It’s ridiculous. They make one kind now, which I’m sure is for ladies in the home stretch like myself, that is huge— it’s like the size of a hamster. For those special days.”
“That would just piss me off. You have to spend all this time and money on something you’re not even that thrilled to be going through to begin with.”
“But I am thrilled. I’m not crazy about gaining weight or weird hairs growing on me, but I can’t wait for my period to stop.”
“I know people who say they had a few big gushers and then never had another. They were just done. No problems.”
“Fuck them.” (This may sound harsh, but really, people. Know your audience.)
“Exactly,” she says, and I love her for it.
“But some people accidentally say the wrong thing and it’s really not their fault. I shouldn’t blame them but I can’t help it,” I say.
“Of course you can’t. On account of the the hormones.”
“Like this morning, I’m walking into church and the nicest woman walks right up to me and guess what she says?”
“She says, we are having a blood drive next week. Can I sign you up to donate?”
“Oh my god.”
“I told her no way, that I have none to spare, but she wouldn’t give up that easily. She asked if I had ever given blood, and I said actually I’m giving it right now, and if things don’t change I’m the one who’s going to need a donation.”
“What did you say to her?” Jo Dee chimes in. (Oh brother, I say to myself, you’d think she’d know me by now.)
“No, that’s what I said! Those exact words! She looked a little terrified.”
I need to get home and assess the damage to my cute new jeans, but I’m not ready yet. I need to talk right now. As I scrounge under the car seat for a bag of almonds or an old fortune cookie, I imagine JoDee and I in our own Red Tent. We would sit on the straw, sharing stories and binge watching Transparent right on through our moon cycle, emerging only when we were ready to pick up our work again. The caring for the children, the doing of the things. The taking of fish oil and B supplements.
“I saw that you want to start a Facebook group for menopause women and period stuff.”
“Yeah,” I say, tearing into an old fruit roll-up. “I was kind of kidding, but so many women responded, I’m thinking it might be a good idea.”
“There are obviously a lot of us in the same boat.”
“It’s totally selfish on my part. I just want to have a place to ask the nitty gritty questions. I want practical tips. How to’s.”
“You want to know if you’re always supposed to wear a panty liner.”
“Exactly! I want “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret” for grownups.”
We talk for a bit longer, but that’s where my memory fades. Tasting the jelly bean sweetness of dried berries in my mouth, I start the car and head for home, remembering what it was like to be eleven.
Having seen the educational films in health class, and the string that hung between my mother’s legs, I knew what was coming and had a vague idea of what to do.
I had a package of thick pads and a pair of plastic underpants with metal clips that seemed too sharp to wear next to a place so soft. I stole a box of tampons and studied the package insert, chewing on a lock of my hair as I looked at that cartoon of a see-through girl standing sideways.
I needed more.
I needed instructions from the women who could instruct, and embraces from the women who could embrace. When I was eleven, I looked to Judy Blume and the older girls at my summer camp. Somehow I pieced it all together.
It’s harder now.
I’m a grown-ass woman. I expect myself to know better.
But I’m as awkward as I was back then. I know it will be fine, perfect, even, to unfurl the way nature made me. But the sun is hot, and I am not in control of this.
it could also be
that I know what comes after blooming.