Do you know what I did on June 5th, 1990?
I went on a field trip with my grade seven class to an authentic Victorian village.
It was brutal.
We had to dress in old timey clothes and go to old timey school and watch old timey people do weird, old timey things. And the smell! I remember the whole joint reeked of manure and vegetable soup.
As much as I loathed that field trip, there were some high points to the day. The boy I liked sat with me and my friends at lunch, we got to peruse the gift shop and I became a woman.
It all went down at lunch. I had just finished eating and needed to go pee. I went to find the bathroom with some girls from my class. I remember there was a huge line up and I really needed to go. It felt like hours went by before a stall became free. I hustled in, locked the door and pulled down my navy blue Coconut Joe shorts and white cotton underwear. Then, I silently freaked the fuck out. Staring up at me from the crotch of my underthings was a jarringly red brown smear of what appeared to be blood.
My twelve year old self could not comprehend what was happening. A wave of panic came over me. My brain went into deductive reasoning over drive. Maybe it wasn’t blood? Maybe I sat in some rust coloured paint or on a rogue cranberry? Maybe I had a mosquito bite “down there” and it was bleeding? What else could it be? My period?
Wasn’t I too young to get my period? I thought you had to be at least thirteen? I never imagined that I would get my first period in a public bathroom OR in the freak’n Victorian Era.
I felt dizzy and nauseous and then I remember telling my little preteen self to PULL IT TOGETHER. What was I going to do about this “situation”? Of course my teacher was male that year. Did I have to tell him? What if I did tell him and then he told one of the old timey women? And what if that old timey woman forced me to use an old timey sanitary napkin? And what if that old timey sanitary napkin was made out of sheep’s wool and spit and moss? Telling my male teacher was definitely out. Suddenly, I had a grand idea. I grabbed a handful of toilet paper and stuffed it into my underwear. I figured that would pass as a pad. I frantically went pee, flushed the toilet, washed my hands and tried to act natural as I joined my class.
The rest of the afternoon went by in a blur. The one thing I do remember is that our old timey guide seemed to use the word “period” excessively. He was all, “blah, blah, blah Victorian time PERIOD” and “blah, blah, blah PERIOD costumes”. I felt like he was looking right at me every time he dropped the “p” word.
Finally it was time to leave. Lucky for me, my crush decided to sit right next to me on the bus. I was horrified. What if my period got like super heavy and leaked all over his leg? What if my makeshift toilet paper pad fell out of my shorts and landed on his feet?
After the longest and most stressful bus ride EVER, we finally got back to school. I bolted off the bus, grabbed my stuff from my locker, ran home and locked myself in the upstairs bathroom. l dug around in the cupboard under the sink until I found a box of my mom’s pads. I carefully unwrapped the soft pink paper with shaking hands and unfolded a fucking mattress of a maxi. That thing was huge! I could have literally gone surfing on it. I disposed of my toilet paper pad and tried on my mom’s mattress. I checked out my reflection in the mirror. That pad was so big that I could see its outline through my shorts. No way I was going to wear it to school. Everyone would know. So I took off the pad, grabbed some scissors and cut that puppy in half. Much better! And so clever! I stared at myself for a long while in the bathroom mirror until I heard my mom calling me from downstairs.
I took a deep breath, knowing that I had to tell my mom the news. I walked down the stairs at a snail’s speed. I managed to make small talk for a few minutes before I worked up enough courage to drop the bomb. I’m pretty sure these were my exact words…
“So, something happened on the field trip today…in the bathroom…to me…erm…you know…I…*cough *cough… got my…erm…you know…um…period.”
I thought I was going to pass out from the awkwardness of it all. My mom looked at me and said “okay” and that she would go out and buy me some pads. I told her she didn’t have to because I just cut hers in half. Apparently this was not acceptable, so she went to the drug store. Moments later she returned with my very own box of “teen” pads. She asked me if I had any questions and I obviously had about a billion but there was no way in hell I was going to talk to ANYBODY about my own personal vaginal bleeding.
That night went on without any mentions of menstruation, until bedtime. My parents were already in bed and as I went in to say goodnight, my dad hugged me super hard and said, “my little girl’s a woman”. I flat out died as soon as those words left his lips. DIED. I believe I yelled something to the tune of , “AS IF YOU TOLD HIM”, to my mother and then stormed out of their room dramatically. Those period hormones sure did kick in fast!
Once I had calmed down, I got into bed and grabbed my copy of Teen Magazine off of my night table. There was this one column in each issue called “Ask Always” where girls could write in their questions about their periods. Surrounded by my stuffed animals, I read those questions and answers over and over. I remember feeling a slight tinge of excitement. I could finally read” Ask Always” and actually know what they were talking about. I felt like I had been invited to join a very exclusive club.
And then it hit me…HOLY CRAP, I WAS A WOMAN!
What did being a woman even mean?
I had no clue.
Would I have to start wearing high heels and frosted blue eye shadow? Did I have to stop playing with toys and rolling down hills and biking with no hands? My body was telling me that I was ready for this major leap into womanhood, but my mind wasn’t there yet.
I was a mix of confused, excited, anxious and curious as I put down my magazine and reached under my pillow for my diary. I wrote “June 5th, 1990” in big, bold letters across two pages. Then, I slipped my diary back under my pillow and drifted off to sleepwith thoughts of pads, tampons, periods, my crush, becoming a woman and the Victorian Era.