Warning, this story is about a natural biological function some people don't like to talk about. If you're one of those, don't read it.
Kotex: Wanting to Hide the Evidence
It was in the late winter of 1958; I was 12 years old. I missed two and a half, almost three weeks of school with a combination of “Virus Influenza” and Scarlet Fever. Virus Influenza is what we now call the flu. It was a particularly virulent strain that year. A lot of people died. My school was closed.
I was bed-ridden. I was too sick to do much more than groan. My mother brought me orange juice and chicken soup and begged me to eat. I couldn't eat. I could barely raise my hand. My mother held the glasses of juice to my lips, spoon-fed me soup.
Just as I was beginning to recover and scarcely could sit up in bed, I found blood in my sheets and blood in my pajamas. At first, I was frightened. I thought I had something terribly wrong with me, caused by my illness, perhaps, or something else. I lay in bed and brooded about death.
Years before, I had had suddenly realized that I would die. I realized I had to die. I was terrified. I couldn't sleep at night. I thought about ceasing to exist, ceasing to be me.
It was a terrible thought. I thought I couldn't bear it. But I had no choice. I did bear it. I never came to terms with it, but I sort of got used to it.
(As I am writing this, I am walking across an intersection. I have the walk light, but a car roars into the street and nearly hits me. I could die today, right now.)
The day that I found the blood, I was still very sick. I was so sick that the idea of dying seemed like a real possibility. Only I stopped being afraid. I thought I could just close my eyes, go to sleep and not wake up. It would be okay.
So I closed my eyes and waited to die.
I didn’t die.
Instead of death, I had another thought. Menses. My period. I'd never had a period, but my mother had told me about it, and the school nurse had come to the girl's gym class and told us about it in school.
It occurred to me that I was having my first period. At twelve, I'd started growing breasts. I began to cry. I didn't want to bleed every month. I didn't want breasts. I didn't want to be a woman.
In 1958, women were treated like dirt. They were expected to marry, have children, stay home, take care of the kids, cook, clean house, obey their husbands. I hated the idea of all that. I wanted to be a scientist. I wanted to be a marine biologist or a forest ranger. I did not want to be a housewife and I did not want to bleed from that shameful secret place between my legs.
I lay there and thought I would have been happier dying than having my period.
Then I remembered that we didn't have to take gym when we were having our periods. Dorothy had told me that. She was my best friend, and a year older. She hadn't gotten her period yet. But she knew things I didn't know, because she was older.
I liked gym. Except when we had to dance with the boys or shimmy up ropes. If I could arrange to have my period during those days, maybe it wouldn't be quite so bad. A tiny silver lining.
I didn't tell my mother.
I was embarrassed and ashamed.
And besides, I knew she would be excited about this terrible thing that was happening to me.
But she found the blood. And she was excited. She was ecstatic. Her little girl was now a woman. A young woman. I got lectured about being careful, being responsible. I got treats.
And I got this horrid icky harness thing to hold these big fat pads between my legs. That same week, the dog next door got into the trash and dragged out Mrs. Farnwell's used Kotexes all over the lawn. I was mortified. And scrupulously careful how I wrapped mine and hid them.
It was just after I got better that I discovered touching. Previously, I thought boys were for playing baseball and football with, for climbing trees and building forts.
My mother saw me wrestling with Don Laufer. We were having way too much fun. She stopped the wrestling match and lectured me about hormones and touching boys. Again.
Touching Don, even while wrestling, felt good. Exciting. I didn’t understand it, but I wanted to do it again. I wanted to kiss a boy. For the first time, I started liking being a girl. I liked the thrill of touch. If I were a boy, like I had always wanted to be, I reasoned, kissing boys wouldn't be as much fun. I had never heard of homosexuality at that point. All I knew was that, for the first time in my life, being a girl felt good.
* * * *
I wrote this while walking. Discovery at Little Hog Island has been delayed due to life getting in the way, will come asap.