Back on the Mountain

The retreat was great! Here’s another lyrical essay:

A Woman Now

But I’m 16 and in gym class and somehow this is all ungraceful because yes, I’m the last girl in my class to get her period and no, I don’t have a pad or tampon or even a wad of toilet paper and no, I do not have any stupid quarters for those machines in the bathroom that don’t work anyway. The most ridiculous moment is this: me, tugging Emily Henderson’s arm on the side of the basketball court, saying: “Hey, Hey,” and she’s like, “Will you hold on a minute?” and I know she is saying this because Tyler Stoops is next in line for the lay-up drill and God, he really does have some sort of magic, doesn’t he?

First, there is the getting permission. If I were Tia Florea I would say something sassy, like: “My uterus is falling out! Gimme a Hall Pass!” Instead I manage a pinch-kneed wobble over to Ms. Knight, our androgynous PE teacher and the antithesis of all things feminine, especially once she gets a whistle in her hands like the one she’s holding now, knuckles bent over the metal, stop watch in her other hand, eyes unflinching.

She looks at me like What? and I look at her like Well…and I realize now that the Hall Pass will not be enough, that I have to ask if I can bring Emily with me because Emily has had her period for four years so of course she has tampons in her backpack. But when I say it, it comes out like, “I need to bring a friend with me.” Ms. Androgyny turns her head slowly, like a large snake that is preoccupied digesting something bigger than its own jaws, and with one eyebrow raised manages a husky, “Why?”

“Because I just started my period and I don’t have a tampon.”

She nods, reaches into her pocket to hand me two coveted goldenrod slips of paper. “Five minutes,” she says, then starts her stopwatch.

In the bathroom, Emily is ecstatic and I keep telling her to hush because she is one of those people who, blessed as she is, will never understand just how loud her own voice is. She’s got this buzz going about life and giving life and finally, she leans over the stall door and shouts, “KATEY! YOU’RE A WOMAN NOW!” which declaration about makes me want to flush myself down the toilet along with this mess of wrappers and new blood and hey, I thought this was supposed to be about full moons and little ceremonies, mom taking me on a long walk to tell me that, in some places, the women go to a special hut when it’s time to bleed. Someplace where everything is sacred and wholesome and there is no imperfection, no awkward shame, no sizing up and weighing down. Someplace where no one is grumpy, like how I am right now, what with Emily pacing around the stall and heaven knows how many people overhearing our conversation if you could even call it that. Christ.

I flush, unlock the door, step out into the corridor of stalls and there is Emily with her oh-so-womanly gaze and turn my face towards her, and meet it.

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