Scene # 1 around age 4, in a public restroom. I was in the stall with mother and noticed that there was blood in the toilet when she stood up to flush.
“Did you cut yourself, momma? Are you hurt?” The only response I got was an impatient, “No.” I felt scared and worried and thought I might pee blood, too.
Scene # 2, around age 5 or 6, playing with Karen and Carla Kirkman in the Amarillo neighborhood I grew up in. Sidney Powers, an older boy, came by on his bike and stopped to talk. He asked us if we knew what fucking was. Nope, none of us did. He laid his bike over on the curb and picked up a stick. He drew some stick figures in the dirt and then showed a line going from one of them to the other and said, “And that’s when they fuck.” When he left, I went home for lunch. Momma and Daddy were in the kitchen. As I walked in, I asked them if they knew what fuck meant. Daddy jerked me up and slammed me down onto the clothes dryer in the corner, looked me dead in the eye, inches from my face and sputtered, “Don’t you ever let me hear you saying that word again. You forget that word right this minute.” I was extremely impressed and needless to say, never forgot that word.
There was a big pink book on my parent’s bookshelf, along with the encyclopedias and the National Geographics. I came across it after we moved to the farm from Amarillo, when I was 10 years old. I would sneak into the den late at night, pull it from the shelf and sneak it back to my bedroom. I’d pour over it for several hours and then sneak it back into place. It was called “The First Nine Months,” and was written in the 40’s, I think, and meant to be for first-time mothers. I was fascinated with the pictures that were illustrations of the embryo at each stage of growth, month by month, with descriptions of what the mother should expect to feel at each stage.
As I approached puberty, I showed that book to girlfriends who were spending the night. We’d giggle and try to imagine how a baby could come out, and how one got in there in the first place. In 6th grade during health class one day, it was announced that the boys would be going outside, while the girls watched a film. I felt embarrassed and ashamed, but didn’t know why. They film explained about a girl’s first period. As I remember, there was no mention about potential pregnancy. I remember a girl in the class, Lois Null, who had developed more quickly than the rest of us. When the teacher asked if anyone in the room had had their first period, she raised her hand. Then she asked a question about tampons, which the film had mentioned as one of the choice for ‘sanitary protection.’ “What if the string breaks?” Everybody laughed loud and long, but it sure seemed like a reasonable concern to me.
At home that evening, I kept hanging around the kitchen after supper, wanting to ask mother about this impending event. I wanted to know what it felt like, what it meant. I needed to be reassured and given clear information about what was happening to my body. I knew mother had a problem with blood, and I was curious about how she handled seeing her own.
Finally the dishes were washed, dried and put away. She could tell I wanted something. Finally, I managed to blurt out a question. “How old were you when you had your first period?” She blanched, stared at the floor for a minute and as she turned to leave the kitchen she said, “I just can’t talk to you about that.”
Several days later I found an ad in one of my teen magazines. I clipped it out and put it with a note that I left in mother’s bathroom: “Could you please buy this for me?” Nothing was ever said.
A few weeks later there was a package for me in the middle of my bed when I got home from school. It was an introductory kit, put together, I’m sure, by the people that make kotex. There was a supply of pads, an elastic belt and a booklet with pictures. My education was finally underway.
Written 4/9/03 (c) Jade Beaty