Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

A Woman Soon

Written by Cassie J. Sneider
I was sure I was dying the first time I got my period, but it wasn’t for a lack of knowledge on the topic of menstruation. I had already learned about it in school on the day all the boys were sent to the gym to play basketball. Once the girls were segregated, the school nurse rolled a television into our fifth-grade classroom. Then, for thirty minutes, we were manipulated by a video about a girl who wanted to get her period so she could be “normal.” The actress was also in the popular television show Salute Your Shorts, and her bouncy curls and overalls immediately won the attention of the class.
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{mosimage width=400}The plot consisted of her asking several trusted adults for help, as though one of them might be willing to inject her with bovine growth hormone or prod her genitals with a sharp stick to speed up the process. In the dramatic conclusion, she bleeds onto her shorts and, thanks to the collective magic of Hollywood and womanhood, begins to blossom from an ungainly child I could actually identify with into a glowing young woman with thick blue eye shadow.

When the school nurse handed me my free Period Pack, I shoved it to the back of my desk, afraid that if I looked at it, I would start gushing blood onto my sweatpants. When my mother picked me up from school and asked how my day was, I didn’t answer.

“I just want to be eleven, for fuck’s sake!” I wanted to scream.

When I got home, I threw the Period Pack under my bed. I hoped it would mutate into some kind of sterilizing cancerous mushroom that would stunt my growth and keep me from developing.

“Is that your granddaughter?” adults would ask my parents in the year 2035.

“No. It’s our fifty-three year old daughter. She has some kind of gland thing.”

A few months later, my eight-year-old neighbor, Valerie, rollerbladed to where I was playing in my driveway. I was immersed in an elaborate game where I was a bird-watcher, lying in the grass alone with my binoculars. Valerie was the fat kid down the block that my sister played with. Her furniture was girly, she had a parakeet named Jonathan Brandis, and she and my sister set her front yard on fire playing with matches.

“How old are you?” she asked, huffing and puffing on her gay pink Rollerblades.

“Go away, Valerie!” Her wheezing was making the birds fly out of view.

“Howoldareyou? Howoldareyou? Howoldareyou?”

“I’m eleven. Now go away!”

“My mom says you’re gonna get your period soon.” Valerie rollerbladed home, stomping across the charred spot on the lawn that had just begun to grow back. I dropped my binoculars and ran up the driveway to my house. Once inside, I hid in my closet for several hours, praying quietly that God would never let it happen. My knowledge of God’s awesome power was just as good as my knowledge of the human body. My mother had sent my sister Carly and me to Vacation Bible Camp the summer before, not out of any religious zeal, but for a few quiet hours of The Sally Jesse Raphael Show and a pedicure by the pool. Carly and I were easily duped into this. We had learned from TV that camp was full of food fights and capture the flag, so we had no cause for alarm.

On the first day, we were ushered into pews, and the minister began his sermon with the story of the slaughter of the firstborn children of Egypt.

“I’m first born!” I whispered to Carly in a panic, experiencing my first anxiety attack at that very moment. The minister continued and broke off into song.

“Good news! Good news! Christ died for me!” he chanted, and, to our surprise, every child in the church knew the words and sang along to the morbid chorus. “I’m saved eternally! That’s wonderful, extra good news!”

Our summer afternoons, previously full of Super Soakers and water balloon fights, turned into a cheerful pit of hell. Arts and crafts time found us coloring pictures of happy lambs that had no idea they were about to be bludgeoned in a sacrifice to a bipolar, spiteful God. We were each given an extra red crayon for the lambs and Carly choked back tears. I finished coloring Jesus and tried to determine what time it was, but I did not have a watch and the sun did not shine in the musty church basement. We sat in uncomfortable silence and listened to the chatter of the saved surrounding us.

Not soon enough, the day was over, the sun had set, and we went home with the best portion of the day wasted. That night I decided to pray for the first time ever.

“Dear God. I do not have any sheep. Please don’t kill me. Amen. Also, please don’t make me go back there ever again, and I won’t do anything bad for the rest of my life. Double amen. Whoa Jesus.” I decided that I probably would get better results if I prayed every night instead of just when I needed something, that way God would know I meant business, and I wasn’t just being selfish. Also, I figured throwing in a “Whoa Jesus” would ensure me a spot in the Kingdom of Heaven. This system worked well, and I occasionally threw in well-wishes for deceased hamsters or trips to Disney World.

“Dear God,” I began, crouched in my closet with my face buried in scratchy turtlenecks and Tasmanian Devil sweatshirts. “Please make it so I can’t have babies. I don’t want them. Ever. And I don’t want to bleed on my shorts. I only have two pairs, and my mom says Didi Seven is too expensive. Amen.”

Despite my prayers, each time I took off my pants after that day, I expected a scene out of The Shining. Womanhood was some sort of awful punishment, and I awaited the onset of puberty like Marie Antoinette wincing in anticipation of the guillotine. I was determined to stay a child for as long as my dormant reproductive organs would allow me. That wasn’t too hard, considering that my sister and I were mainly outfitted in well-meaning gifts from relatives.

I also watched a lot of reruns, and when it came time for me to move onto junior high, I was painfully out of touch with what human beings my age actually wore.

“Mommy,” I said, standing amid aisles of stretch pants in the Pretty Plus section of the Sears children’s department, “I think I want to wear jeans this year.”

Delighted that I was making strides toward normalcy, my mother ushered me into the Juniors department, and there, I made the first decision of my teenage life.

And that decision was to let my mom pick out jeans for me. Skintight, straight-leg, store-brand jeans. Jeans with an eighteen-inch zipper that covered my belly button and cut off the circulation to my genitals if I made the mistake of bending. Jeans that looked like I was trying to score hash at a Rolling Stones concert, not join the science club or contribute to the literary magazine.

“Dear God,” I said later that night, hugging my stuffed rabbit. “Thank you for these jeans. I am very nervous about junior high, but I know I will make friends now!” Moonlight shone across my closet and made the copper rivets of my new jeans flash like diamonds. I would finally have friends in junior high. The world would be my gangly, teenage oyster.

During the summer of 1995, every child entering junior high received a memo in the mail. Mine was confused for a voter registration form and torn in half by my parents, but in subsequent years, I have been able to piece together what it said:

Dear Prospective Student,

You are about to enter a hellish, grueling world where the content of your character is no longer up for consideration. Your social standing from this day forward will be based solely upon the bagginess of your jeans on the first day of middle school. We ask that you shop wisely in an effort to prevent being chewed up and spit out by your peers.

Sincerely yours,
James A. Ruck
Superintendent of Schools

(For most people, junior high is a miserable experience. If it wasn’t, you were probably the asshole that threw pencils out the bus window or talked, at an ostentatious volume, about your experience fingering a girl. If so, you also have no business reading about my shitty childhood and should instead do us all a favor and drink yourself to death at a Sublime tribute concert. For the rest of you, please read on.)

Several factors came together during middle school to make them the worst years of my life. First, in seventh grade, I was sent to a different school than my best friend Krysten. Secondly, during the year we were apart, Krysten began to acquire pricey designer clothing, whereas I continued to look like I just stepped off of a minibus. Lastly, somebody stole my glasses in the seventh grade. I don’t know what purpose they could serve to anyone other than me, perhaps as an ant-burning device or motivation for a custodial circle-jerk, but I never got them back. Instead of buying me a new pair so I could see the chalkboard or watch Nickelodeon without getting a tension headache, my parents refused to buy me new glasses for a whole year. Most of the seventh grade was spent stumbling to the lost and found, feeling the walls of the bright yellow hallway and dodging shapes of people.

I changed schools in the eighth grade, and on the first day, Krysten convinced me to join a club.

“I was in this club last year, and we went on all these nature hikes and stuff,” she said, rustling around in her new Perry Ellis bubble coat.

“What’s it called?” I asked, stuffing my embarrassing Jets Starter jacket into my locker.

“The Outing Club,” she said.

I was unaware of the potentially far-reaching negative social consequences of joining an organization called The Outing Club. I liked animals. I liked being outdoors. It only seemed like serendipity that I should join such a club.

We had our first meeting after the club fair. The ratio of smelly kids to non-smelly kids in The Outing Club was probably higher than that of the NRA. In fact, most of the other members appeared as though they were routinely neglected by their parents. At the meeting, duties were assigned to each member for the year. I chose the job of feeding the birds in the courtyard an hour before school started. That way, I could satiate my burning need for wildlife and also make an unnecessary spectacle of myself as my peers filed into school. Krysten did not sign up for any responsibilities and said that there were a lot more cool people the previous year. There was a tone in her voice that suggested that maybe she did not belong among the flannel-wearing underdogs of The New Outing Club.

When my parents finally took me to get glasses, I spent the car ride to the optometrist thinking about all the things that had changed between Krysten and me. She had forgotten my birthday, she wouldn’t sit next to me on the bus anymore, and she refused to be seen without her bright yellow Perry Ellis puffy coat. If only I could do something to make her see I was cool, too! If only there was some object I could acquire to tell the whole world I was awesome!

When we got to the eye doctor, a heavenly spotlight fell on the first display I saw: Perry Ellis frames. That was it. It didn’t matter that they were men’s glasses, that they were too big for my face, or that no one would ever see where it was imprinted PERRY ELLIS MENS on the inside by the ear. I felt that anyone truly cool would be able to automatically sense that the frames bore a designer’s name. Then they would invite me to the back of the bus and “have my back,” something I had heard cool kids say but never understood its meaning.

No one told me that the frames were not cool, that they obscured my gender, or that they, coupled with the cassette of Melissa Etheridge’s Yes I Am that I listened to on the bus every morning, would not ever make my life any easier. But that day, I went home ecstatic.

“Dear God. Thank you for my new glasses. I know it will happen this time. I’m gonna make friends. This is the first day of the rest of my life. Thank you, God. Amen.”

I stopped wearing my new glasses about as quickly as I received them. When I saw my reflection in the swiveling mirror at the eye doctor a week later, I knew the magnitude of the mistake I had made. I wore them in school only after the teacher turned off the lights to copy notes from a projector. I wore them at home to watch television. I squinted whenever I could, guessing at the letters and shapes I was bombarded with, using sounds and vibrations to get by, like a bat, or, perhaps, Stevie Wonder.

I was fourteen when I finally got my period. I was gearing up for a science class field trip to an organic farm and waiting for my mom to take me to buy Mad Magazine for the bus ride. I felt a change in the climate of the high-waisted bloomers my mom bought for me, and it had happened.

“I’m dying. There is no God, and I am dying,” I said, staring at the crime scene before me.

I tried on a pad, but the only other menstruating adult in the house was my mother. The thing about moms is that they are content with any sanitary napkin, even if it has the dimensions of the Yellow Pages, as long as it is on sale. “This is not acceptable. This is—this cannot—be normal. There has to be something else out there.” I was talking to myself in the bathroom, trying to decide if it was normal to feel like I was smuggling War and Peace between my thighs, when my mom started banging on the door.

“Are you ready?”

“Just a minute,” I said, shifting the diaper and trying to walk.

“I don’t have all day!” I decided that it was as comfortable as it was going to get and met my mother outside. Once in the drugstore, I found Mad Magazine, but I felt like I was supposed to tell my mother what had happened. In the video I had seen in school, the girl’s mother told her she was a woman and hugged her. I was mortified, but I felt contractually obligated to fill my mom in.

I squinted down the aisles of the drugstore, trying to find a shape that looked like my mom. I eventually identified her by straining my eyes, as well as by scent and vibration.

“You done?” she asked.

“Ma, I, uh…” I was too embarrassed to say it. Not only had I been abandoned by God in my prayers of infertility, but I was now supposed to announce it. I looked around, squinting at the objects for sale when I determined the aisle we were standing in front of contained brightly colored rectangles. We were right next to the Maxi Pad aisle! I only needed to gesture for my mother to understand I was now a woman. “Ma, uh, I…” I pointed, lowering my eyes in shame.

“You what?” She followed my pantomime to the colorful plastic rectangles. “You pissed yourself?”

“What?” I squinted harder and read the words on a green rectangle: DEPEND. “No! I, uh, I mean I…” I moved to the next aisle, a corridor of pink squares.

“You got your period?”

“Uh, I, yeah.”

“I’m very proud of you,” says Educational Video Mom. “You’re a woman now.”

“We have pads at home,” said my mom. “Let’s pay for your magazine and get out of here.”

I never quite adapted to the height and bulk of my mother’s store brand sanitary napkins. I also never understood why God would ignore such a simple prayer when I was so gracious about my own sterilization. But, wisdom is blind, and perhaps one day when my life is saved by using a Kotex Overnight as a floatation device and by eating my own clotted blood as I await rescue, I will finally understand.
Photo courtesy of Cassie J. Sneider 

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