A Bad Choice Of Shorts. Period.
By: Elizabeth Taylor
It had only been last night that I’d begged Momma not to tell Daddy. I could only assume that by now he’s deduced what was happening on his own, then again, he was never what you’d call “tuned in.” I could tell him that I’d just been given six months to live and he’d most likely mumble something to the tune of “ Oh, good Honey,” so it’s not necessarily safe to assume he knew what was happening simply because he’d been sent out to pick up a box of Midol.
I went to bed reluctantly that night. My spirit filled with dread. I tossed and turned, tormented by nightmarish images of waking up in pools of blood or slowly bleeding to death as I slept like Nancy Spungen. I got up every few hours to check the giant diaper someone had the ingenuity to euphemize as a maxi pad. I was overreacting.
I woke up alive – no white light, no emergency room. I sat up and was immediately taken aback by the squishy, soggy horror I found myself practically marinated in. For the first time, I could truly empathize with babies, vegetables, and the elderly. In that instant, I felt the magnitude of the situation. I had to go to school and give off the impression that everything was normal.
I overcompensated by trying to dress extra cute that day. My efforts were about as effective as a giant trying to look more petite. It was everything I could do to look cute on a good day. I picked out a cobalt T-shirt that could be seen from space. It had one of those pockets over the left boob. What a futile way to dress up a T-shirt. I paired it with an equally heinous pair of pleated, knee length, paisley patterned shorts; a pair of white shorts to be more specific, to wear on the first day I had to go into public with my period.
I had asked my Mother what I was supposed to do about changing my pad. I couldn’t bear the thought of someone catching me smuggling a maxi pad out of the classroom. I was sure to be scrutinized if I tried to take my back pack to the bathroom. I told myself that if the mammoth diaper lasted through the night, it could last through the school day. The problem was, however, that no one was expecting my period quite yet. I was only about to turn twelve. My mother was a grown woman. She wasn’t afraid of tampons and wasn’t in the habit of keeping maxi pads around. There were no mammoth pads to save me today. She tried to convince me to use a tampon, but I wasn’t ready at that point in my life to start sticking things into my orifices yet. She did have four panty liners, which she assured me at my age, should last the day. I took all four of the thin liners and constructed what resembled a fort inside my panties. With my limited experience, I thought this would work.
My stomach erupted with anxiety the entire way to school. Any number of things were possible that day. Every scenario ran through my mind: what if I’m running around and my pad falls out? What if it sticks out from under my butt and people can see it? Can everyone else hear it rustling around when I move too? All of these horrific possibilities danced through my imagination, but never once did it occur to me to change into something other than a pair of white shorts.
As per my usual request, my Dad dropped my siblings and I off as far from the door as possible. This was to avoid being seen getting out of another enduring humiliation in my life, the family hooptie, a banana yellow 1973 Chevy Caprice with rust spots and hunter green interior (donated to us by a friend). My brother and sister bolted out of the car running innocently toward their potential. I sat for a minute hoping to throw up so that I could go right back home.
“ Did you want me to pull up,” my dad asked?
I got out of the car.
I walked through the doors into the icy lobby of our elementary school. As I passed the janitor, a sudden chill came over him. I could have sworn he said ” dead girl walkin’.” I made an effort to walk as though I was not trying to adjust four asininely placed panty liners. The tape from one of them had folded back and become adhered to my flesh.
As I sat at my desk, I became growingly disappointed that no one seemed to care for my outfit. Not only was I now reevaluating my wardrobe decisions, I felt totally transparent. Here I was trying to look cool, trying to pass. I wasn’t cool. I was an awkward weirdo who could only afford to shop at afro–centric discount fashion stores in East Nashville meant for adult women. I was sneaking around town in a pimp mobile trying to squeeze by as a cool, collected, middle class girl who was not bleeding all over herself.
I finally fell into the hypnosis of the school day for a while. I sat looking around at all of the other docile children. We were supposed to be reading out of our Social Studies books. It was shaping up to be a normal day after all. It was that drowsy time of morning after all the excitement of getting to school had calmed down. Then, I got a cramp. Then another cramp came and seemed to sustain itself with all the strength of the universe backing it. I was reminded at that moment that it was not a normal day. It might have been for them, but not for me; not anymore.
I felt like a woman shamed. What was I saying? A woman? Am I a woman now? I have ovaries. I have a uterus. I can carry a child. God, it was so much pressure. It had only been in the last few months that I had decided to stop being completely humiliated by every little thing. I was only just starting to get over the drama of having my bra strap fall off my shoulder and having to adjust it during The Pledge of Allegiance several weeks ago. Andrew saw it and made fun of my “boobs” for 3 days. God, people had already caught on that I was wearing a bra, practically undeservedly at that, and now I had to struggle to hide the fact that I started my period. Boys find it alien and disgusting and girls treat you like some kind of hussy if they haven’t started yet.
This was all happening too soon. I wasn’t ready to handle any of it yet. I was only just turning twelve. I had been dreading this curse ever sense my mom gave me “the big talk” just a year before. My instincts were only keen enough at this point to send me into a pack of wolves armed with nothing, but four panty liners and a pair of white shorts! I didn’t have a shot in hell of surviving that day without a proper crisis. The geography alone was bad enough. My desk was settled between the two biggest jerks in our class - possibly our grade. These guys just lived for moments to torment me. Chris was on my left snuffing cigarettes out into his forearms and Andrew was on my right carving tits into his desk.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel so good. A cramp pierced through my uterus. I started getting hot. I started sweating. I was dizzy. Another cramp rumbled like thunder through my ovaries and across my back. I felt pressure, like my bladder would pop. I was ready to fall out into the floor when the levies broke. I froze in my seat as what felt like gallons of liquid that I prayed to be pee, involuntarily liberated itself from my body into my four paper thin panty liners. Even with my limited experience, I knew that the system I devised could not withstand that much “moisture” as the commercials put it, all at once.
I sat there for a moment contemplating my fate, weighing my options. I wondered if it would be better to slit my wrists with my plastic scissors or eat all of the lead out of my pencil and pray for a quick death. I had almost certainly decided to slit my wrists thinking that my arm blood could blend with my crotch blood and no one would know the difference when I noticed my teacher get up.
I looked at the clock. Recess. I panicked. It was everything I could do not to start hyperventilating. I just sat frozen in terror as the rest of the innocent, unchanged children ran joyously to the door. I pretended to be into a math problem, really into it. I felt my face flush. I could already picture it: crowds pointing and laughing and some ignorant red-neck old enough to sprout wispy, dark facial hair saying something disgusting like ” if she’s old enough to bleed, she’s old enough to breed.” These traditional mating tactics are taught to them by their Fathers/ Uncles. I hated my period. I heard Carrie’s mother screaming “sinner!” I envisioned her locking me in the closet to pray for redemption. This period made me feel like a slut, and I wasn’t even sure what a slut was yet.
My teacher Miss Smart had noticed that I was still seated and yelled over the top of the roar, “Come on Elizabeth, those math problems will be waiting for you when you get back.”
“Fuck off bitch, I’m dying inside -” I thought, “so this is PMS.” I rose out of my chair, conscious to keep my backside away from all of the nosey onlookers. I tried to sneak a casual glance down at my seat. It was worse than I had thought. How could God forsake me this way? There was a huge red blood smear practically pooling up in the middle of my seat. I shuttered to think of what the back of my white shorts looked like. I put my folder on my seat and pushed my chair under my desk.
By the mercy of fate, my teacher stood by the doorway as each student left the classroom in a single file line and waited at the end of the hallway. I looked up and whispered, “I’m sick. I need to go home.”
She instinctively went straight to her desk and wrote me a note to call home. She could tell by the look on my face that there was no need to ask questions. It was either that or all the blood all over my pants.
As I walked down the hall, I prayed. I prayed that I wouldn’t run into anybody, I prayed that there wouldn’t be any other kids in the principal’s office, and most of all I prayed that my mom would answer the phone and not my dad.
If Momma answered the phone, I wouldn’t have to explain myself. She would automatically know what had happened and be there in a heartbeat to take me home to wash all the shame off of my shorts – better yet, burn my shorts with all the love and understanding of a Saint. If Daddy answered, there would be all kinds of questions, I’d have to think of excuses on the spot that he wouldn’t be listening to anyway and I’d have to repeat myself over and over again until he finally focused. After finally agreeing to come and get me, he would probably get caught up in another one of his infamous “conference calls” a.k.a. he forgot about me and leave me sitting and waiting for the next two and a half hours. If it was my dad, he may or may not make it before the actual school buses themselves did. I said another silent prayer.
Upon walking into the office, I was pleased to see only one kid was getting into trouble in the back. I heard the word “smut” which sounded like something I could hold over him if he tried to make fun of me later. I had a small window of opportunity for relative privacy. I approached the mammoth office counter that separated the lobby from the secretaries at their desks. I rose up on the balls of my feet and leaned onto the counter. I wanted to seem obnoxious so that the secretary would get off the phone and pay attention to me. She was speaking to Tina, that much I’d picked up. Who did this lady think she was? Didn’t she have anything better to do than talk to Tina about her never ending hunt for the perfect garage sale mattress? How insensitive. Didn’t she know that people were starting their periods around here?
I focused a cold glare intended to will her to hang up. As I stared this woman down, I couldn’t help but notice the fuscia red lipstick smudged on her teeth. This reminded me of the bright red blood smudged all over my pants and then I became exceedingly bitter. Everything about this woman began to bother me: her contrived bleached blonde perm, they way her bangs seemed to bloom from her forehead defying the very laws of physics, as if they were trapped in an aerosol force field. I began to hate her navy eyeliner. I was about to tell her just how handsomely the fluorescents lights set off her mint green eye shadow when she finally got off the phone.
She looked up at me, “What do you need, honey?”
By that point, I felt I needed a tourniquet.
“ I need to call home sick.”
“ Don’t forget to dial 9 to get out.” She said so perkily.
She turned around and went back to pretending to be busy. I wondered if I’d heard her right. Dial 9? What for? The mouthpiece of the phone had lipstick smeared all over it. The receiver was still moist from her breath and smelt faintly of roses. I dialed.
“Great,” I thought. “This lady’s spit smells like roses and I’ve got a bloody lake in my panties.”
It was ringing.
“I’ll just never be that kind of woman.”
It was Daddy.