I got my first period after I had already started having sex at the age of 15. (I thought that maybe I got it just moments after, but it turned out that that was just ruptured hymen blood.) I envied the other girls their training bras and period-talk, their whispered confessions of cramps and blood-stained panties, their furtive tampon smuggling.
When I did finally get it, my father gave me a dozen white roses to celebrate my metamorphosis from girl to woman. (Ironic, as I was no longer white-rose-pure, but you don't tell your dad about the first time a boy makes you Kraft Dinner and then takes you into his dark basement bedroom in the middle of a fine summer afternoon and fucks you (twice) in his unmade bed between boy-smelling sheets.) This gift from the most important male figure in my life made me thereafter think of this blood not as a thing to be whispered about and hidden, but as a gift to be disclosed and celebrated. Shared, even.
Being rather of the more responsible sort, I went immediately on the pill. For the last 25 years, I have had a four-and-a-half day period with light flow and minimal cramping, possibly a mild headache, a marked tendency to be induced to tears during long-distance commercials, and the increased desire to consume foodstuffs of the cocoa-bean variety. I knew that other girls' periods were not nearly as kind as mine: terrible tales of gut-wrenching cramps that made gym class impossible and Midol or Tylenol necessary in order to bear the week of horror, flow that arrived unexpectedly during swimming lessons or band practice or math tests, periods that came only once every few months, and then with a vengeance. I was lucky. I was grateful (or as grateful as a teenager unconcerned with mortality and the mysteries of life could be). I came to count on her timely arrival as a sign of anatomical mastery: the dissembling hormones had done their job and no embryo had taken up lodging inside my uterus.
And now all that has changed. My body has decided, after so many years of benevolence and submission, to rebel.
I began waking up at night, my t-shirt soaked with sweat. Is my duvet too heavy for the season? I wondered, as I changed my top and stuck my feet out from beneath the covers. And then in the middle of the afternoon, that first rush of heat out of nowhere. God, is it hot in here? I need to open a window. I must have been over-exerting myself. But in the recesses of my brain, the dim thought that maybe this was it, my procreating years were nearing an end. Impossible to imagine when one is under 40 with no children. Forcing me to ask myself if I actually want to have a baby, now that I have almost missed my chance; the typical human response of wanting something only when you can no longer have it. (I have reviewed and found my decision to remain childless acceptable.)
Despite the warning signs, that first unexpectedly heavy period took me completely by surprise. Cramps that made me bend over in pain, clutching my belly; clots like pieces of liver, wet and slippery, sliding into the toilet with the bright red rush of blood. I wondered if maybe I needed to go to the hospital, I was hemorrhaging, I was dying. I asked advice of friends on the internet, I googled, I learned the word perimenopause. (They make sure to tell you what will happen when you first start bleeding, but no one really talks about what happens when you first start to stop.) I mentioned it to my doctor, who told me I was too young for menopause. My body begs to differ.
I can only hope that this process will be swift, that the menstrual goddesses will relent and be kind to me in the ending as they were kind in the beginning, because they sure are being cunts right now. For the past few months, my uterus has contracted and expelled dark fist-sized clots of uterine lining like pumpkin flesh and seeds being scraped clean with a dull spoon and then ripped out by handfuls. For the first time in my life, I have had to buy super absorbent tampons and overnight maxipads with wings. I have bled through denim. I have stained the sheets. I have had post-period spotting of up to a week. I have had headaches for four days that no amount or kind of drug can cure. I will miss you, blood-friend, but let's make this quick, okay?
So this is undeniably it: the beginning of the end. It's a strange thing to come to terms with. The girl with the bouquet of white roses is inside me still, but so is the dried-up old woman with jowls and saggy breasts and laugh-lines. I can see her there, just around the corner. Blood and life and death.