|Where it happened^|
It happened in the back of an old school Volvo – one of the ones where the third seat faced backwards. The cracked leather was hot against my hands as I did the shit-hot seat wiggle, trying to give first one leg, then the other a tiny break from the heat. I was counting the minutes until our carpool arrived at Hebrew school when Janine turned to me over the middle seat and announced that someone in her class had gotten her period.
“What does that mean?” I asked, and she closed her eyes with the kind of exasperation I was used to getting from my mom, not a fifth grader who only had 2 years on me.
She explained that all girls got periods because we had to get rid of some blood every month. This scared me. Would I start bleeding soon? Did all girls really do this? Why? Was it painful? And why was Janine whispering so her mom couldn’t hear? Was it a secret? Was it awful? Would I survive? Where did the blood come from? Is that why my 3rd grade teacher was absent earlier in the week? Did you go to the hospital when it happened?
Questions raced through my mind too fast for my mouth to catch up. I finally sputtered, “Do you go to the hospital?”
“You can’t leave the house when you get your period because there’s too much blood. You have to sit on a bucket for a week and let your body drain.”
She sighed again. “So, so much blood.”
I let that sink in for a moment. “Does your butt hurt from sitting on a bucket for a week?”
“Yes. Well, sometimes you can walk around for a little bit if you wear a pad in your underwear.”
I was visibly horrified. I wanted to call my mom and ask her, but the second I thought of it, Janine turned around again and hissed, “Don’t tell your mom I told you!”
“WHO ELSE AM I SUPPOSED TO TALK TO ABOUT THIS?”
“Just look for her pads,” Janine said. “Then you can say, ‘What are these?’ and she’ll tell you about this stuff.”
Over the next couple of weeks, I searched all the bathrooms in the house as slyly as I could for pads. It was hard because I didn’t totally know what I was looking for, but I persevered. There were a lot of bathrooms in our house at the time, and luckily no one noticed when I started using all of them on a rotation.
The worst thing about it was that I knew I could ask my mom anything, no matter how awkward, but I didn’t want Janine to get in trouble for telling me super secret info that 3rd graders were not supposed to have access to. So I kept quiet and gave up my search for pads, resigned to my fate of sitting on a bucket for roughly 25% of my lady life.
A year later, my mom started bugging me to read a book with her. I was always a voracious reader, so I already had 15 books on my nightstand that I planned to read. She gave up and put the book on the bottom of the pile. She was a marketing professor at the time, so I assume she had things to do.
When I got to the book I quickly realized it was not a novel, but a health book. Like a good little reader, I read it cover to cover, and it was full of wacky information. One page will stay with me forever:
“The man and the woman lay sideways facing each other on a bed, close enough so that the man’s penis can fit into the woman’s vagina.”
I should tell you that for YEARS, I thought this was the only way people had sex. Sideways on a bed.
I remember my mom trying to talk to me about the book, and I remember saying no, that I understood all of it. I wasn’t afraid. I just truly thought I understood all the information in it. I still wanted to ask about my period, but I couldn’t rat out Janine so I kept my mouth shut.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t glean that information from the book. My guess is that I wasn’t 100% paying attention, and I wasn’t aware that “period” was a slang term.
I remained apprehensive about getting my period. Each time my stomach hurt I would wonder, “Is this it? Is this the end of my bucket-free days?”
|^My childhood drug of choice^|
One day my mom found me rummaging in her bathroom and I had some explaining to do. She was understandably upset because the last time she found me doing this, I had eaten 30 dinosaur vitamins and was projectile vomiting everywhere. My question burst out of my mouth in a similar fashion:
“MAMA WHY DON’T YOU HAVE ANY PADS?”
The conversation was a long time coming. As it turned out, my mom didn’t have a period because she’d had a hysterectomy, and I would not have to ever to sit on a bucket.
Mom agreed to not spill the beans to Janine’s mom under one condition: “Promise me you’ll always come ask me before you believe ANYTHING your friends say!” And I did. It was the beginning of an open dialogue between us that would be one of the few reasons I survived my adolescence.
I maintained my excessive reading habits and marched right up to her holding chapters on masturbation, dating, drugs, alcohol, love, and abuse. The day a girl in my 7th grade chorus class told me she’d given a blow job under the bleachers in the gym, I sat my mother down and said, “We need to talk. What is a blowjob?”
When I heard about pot, I asked her why it was so bad if it was a plant. She explained that because it wasn’t legal, there was no quality control or list of ingredients, so you never knew what was in it and it could be laced with things that were dangerous.
When I asked her about tampons, she told me to go read the back of the box and come back to her if I still wanted to use them. I waited 2 years.
When I asked what would happen if I threw a huge party while she was out of town, she explained that a) she would never trust me enough to leave me alone because I was far too social and b) if it happened for some odd reason, I shouldn’t do it because if anything was broken I would pay for it with my Bat Mitzvah money, and if anyone left our party and got seriously hurt, in the eyes of the law it would be her fault. “Do you want me to go to jail?” she asked.
When I asked my mom about sex, she said that I didn’t need to wait until marriage, but she hoped I would wait a long time because sex made things different. I would be different, and the relationship would be different. She also said that women often attach feelings to sex with more intensity than men do, so it was very easy to get hurt. I still learned this lesson the hard way, but she was there for me each time I did.
When I wanted to watch Sex&theCity, she said it was fine as long as she watched it with me so she could answer questions and explain things. I’ll never forget the day she sat me down and said, “Leah there is this show we HAVE to watch. It’s just like Sex&theCity, but it’s gay men on Liberty Ave in Pittsburgh!” (My mom is from just outside of Pittsburgh). This began our joint obsession with Queer as Folk and my lifelong obsession with damaged bad boy characters who secretly have hearts of gold. BRIAN KINNEY I LOVE YOU. NO APOLOGIES. NO REGRETS.
|I want you to know it took all my willpower not to post a picture of his naked ass. I figured one of him smoking a joint, and drinking Jim Beam on the floor was the second best thing. You're welcome or I'm sorry, depending on your point of view.|
|Sawyer from Lost, or as I like to call him, "Brian Kinney 2.0"|
When I asked her if she would be upset if I were gay, she told me it would be fine as long as I still raised my children Jewish.
Now that I’m 30, the questions are different. Sometimes I Google, but more often than not I call Mom. While I was writing this, I realized I had another question, so I called my mom and asked, “Is pooping when you give birth a thing?” Also, Daddy, I’m sorry that you overheard Mom saying, “Hi Leah!” and “Well, you’re in the hospital, so…” and got concerned. She was explaining pre-birth enemas to me. I’m fine, and now I know about enemas. Nice little Monday morning!
Mama, I want you to know that I am forever thankful for your honesty, your openness, your candor, and the values you instilled in me. Thank you for always being there for me and answering all of my questions. I hope I can build a relationship with my children that is like the one we have. I had all these friends who asked me whispered questions they were too afraid to ask their own mothers, and I can’t imagine what that was like for them. Luckily, I didn’t have to. I love you.
And Janine, I haven’t heard from you since we left Dallas in 1995. I doubt you’ll ever read this, but on the off chance that you do, I want you to know that every so often when I’m mopping the floor I wonder what you’re up to. I think it would be hilarious if you ended up a doctor.