She was an 11 year-old. “Fucking hell.” She was an 11 year-old who sneaks into her living room at night to watch Showtime and HBO after her parents go to bed. “Goddamn fucking shit hell.” She was an 11 year-old who just got her period. “Fuck. This. Nasty. Ass. Shit.”
Well, she thought, I guess I need a pad or diaper or something. She had suffered through the “so you’re becoming a woman” adolescent health day in fifth grade, about six months ago. As a child obsessed with being a good student, she paid attention to every word her extremely awkward Science/PE teacher shared about anatomy and the menstrual cycle. As a child uncomfortable with her body and unsure of her sexuality, she was not interested in this new development. Not interested at all.
Many of her friends were thrilled about getting their periods and boobs and all the things that made them into what they thought women should be. She disagreed with her friends. “A period is an annoying reminder that girls and woman are usually seen as baby making machines. I don’t want to make babies. I am going to be a fancy business lady in a power suit. Like Maxine from Living Single.” She was a smartass brown 11-year-old in 1996 who found solace in Black sitcom television.
She couldn’t find her mom’s pads. “Well damn.” She did not want to have to call her mom… and have to describe the circumstances. She was annoyed with this entire ordeal, and slightly embarrassed. She better not ask me any questions. Or say anything other than directions to where I can find these stupid things.
The phone rings. “Hello, psychiatric clinic, can I help you?”
Her mom is the medical assistant at a psychiatric clinic. A busy medical assistant with very little time to chat about her daughter’s blossoming body… or at least I hope she is too busy right now, the 11 year-old thought.
“Hi Amma. I need something please…”
“Hello baby! How are you? Did you do your homework?”
“Amma, it’s July. I don’t have any homework. But Amma I nee–“
“Well read a book. Or go outside. Turn off the TV. Eat something. Did you eat? I left you some–“
“Amma! I ate. I need something. Medical I guess. I am… bleeding.”
“What??!! Where is your brother?? Why aren’t you at the hospital? I am coming home.”
“Amma! No! It’s not like that. I… it’s a girl thing. There is blood in my underwear. I need a pad thing or something.”
“Oh. Ah. Bathroom closet, in the basket on the bottom shelf. Use the large one just in case. Do you know what to do?”
“Um… stick it like a sticker in my underwear?”
“Yes. Take Advil if you need it. Drink water. Have a nutty chocolate bar. I’ll be home soon.”
“Oh…ok. Cool. Thanks, Amma.”
“Yes yes. I love you. Take care.”
“Love you, too.”
Well damn! That was cool! She was surprised by how casual her mom was being about this whole thing. Like, really casual… maybe too casual. She was pleasantly surprised by the fact that her mom didn’t ask her any questions about this or give her a talk like white people do to their kids on sitcoms.
Now all she wanted to do was lay around with chocolate ice cream and Power Rangers reruns, but alas, it was July 4th. U.S. Independence Day. A holiday for which all the Indian family friends roll out, no matter how connected they feel to this country, because Indian people love fireworks. Her mother wouldn’t let her get out of this one, no matter how much her uterus was rebelling against her.
She settles in the Toyota Corolla next to her 16-year-old brother. A caring and gentle giant, her brother was aware that his little sister was in no mood for any of this business. He didn’t know what was exactly going on with her, but he didn’t need to know.
“Hey dude, how you doing?”
“Don’t worry about the Aunties. I’m sure they’ll be fine. I’ll try to distract them with college talk so they won’t hassle you.”
“Ugh the Aunties!” She didn’t even factor them and their intrusiveness into this mess. “Amma, can I please stay home?”
“Baby, you love fireworks. This will be nice.” She said nicely but with the stern tone indicating that no one was escaping this car until we all reach the park together. Her mom also hadn’t mentioned the “big news” since she got home that evening… and this was not the time to test her. Plus her mom was right. She does live for fireworks.
Her brother set up the blanket just behind the three families her parents called friends. She rarely knew how to interact with these families. There were lots of hugs, cheek-pinching, and sly comments about her shapely tummy… but also a sweet familiarity that helped her feel at home. Her parents didn’t socialize much with anyone else, so she knew she had to keep her cool in this crowd.
“Dude, you want to grab some cones? We gotta get the swirl!”
Even though her brother didn’t know that on this day she was starting to become a woman, he knew just what she needed to hear. A vanilla/chocolate swirl soft serve ice cream cone was essential in this moment. She found a new form of bliss at that ice cream truck each summer. As she stood there, eating up the melting goodness, reveling in this bliss, she started to feel that maybe this menstruation thing wasn’t so terri–
“You’re on your rag!”
A warm heat took over her entire head.
“Gross!! That better not be contagious.”
She stared in disbelief at the boy laughing at her. He is the son of an Auntie and Uncle her parents have known forever. A boy with whom she was supposed to be friends. A boy who has destroyed her life in one cackle.
“Ok, leave her alone, dude.”
Her brother comes to the rescue, trying to maintain a chill in a moment of realizing that his only little sister was blossoming before his eyes… and that he had no way to relate to what she was going through.
“Shut up!” She yells while flailing back to the blanket, hoping to find solace with her understanding mom. As she plops down on the blanket, an Auntie approaches her.
“I cannot believe our little girl is a little woman!” She pinches the now-dubbed-little-woman’s cheeks. “Welcome to womanhood, Beta. Maybe you will start to wear little dresses and bangles, huh?”
The warm heat in her head has now consumed her entire body. She was on fire. A fire of embarrassment. She searches for the source…
“Oh nothing will get her in a dress! Don’t you think I try?” Her mother shouts through her giggles.
Her mother smiles and pokes her tongue out the side of her mouth. The 11-year-old stuffs the rest of the ice cream cone in her face, lays down on the blanket, impatiently awaits the suburban fireworks show, and tries to drown out the sounds of her Amma and the other Aunties giggling uncontrollably about the now-dubbed-little woman’s bleeding uterus.