“SEEING RED: Or, How I Thought I was Dying as a Teenager Because No one told me about Periods”
Note: The author of this post has requested to use a pseudonym for her story
By Alina Syed
A t age 11, I led a carefree life, one spent mostly with my nose comfortably ensconced within the pages of a Baby-Sitters Club book. I was the girl who, until an embarrassingly advanced age, thought the “baby” Madonna was battling her Papa to keep was an unsavory boyfriend, and who was unable to decipher what on earth Michael meant when he emphatically declared that Billie Jean’s kid was not his son. My existence was so innocent and pure that no one had bothered bursting my prepubescent bubble by troubling my simple mind with the intricacies of the impending joys of womanhood.
And so it was with grave solemnity that I woke up one morning, went to the bathroom, and realized that I was dying.
Yes, dying. There was no other way to explain what was going on down there. All I knew was there was blood, and no good could ever come of that—period. A strange calm seeped over me—as I’m sure anyone who has faced death before me can relate—and I approached my mother to break the news. She was going to have to learn to get along without her cherished angel, and I knew I had to be strong for her as she absorbed the magnitude of this tragedy. Yes, it was unfortunate that the world would be deprived of my general adorableness so soon, and there would indeed be a long—very long, I hoped—mourning period; but it was Allah’s will, and everything happens for a reason, I would console her with uncharacteristic stoic resolve.
I found her in the family room, on the phone. Anyone with a desi mother knows that aunties and phones are attracted to each other with a magnetism so potent that it must someday be studied by science. It’s OK, I told myself. Don’t panic. Go with the flow. So I waited. And waited. Ten minutes trickled by, then 15. I made impatient gestures. Started to get frantic. Tried to pantomime to her that that this was a dire emergency, and I was in a tough spot. I was afraid to sit down, worried that a scarlet torrent would desecrate the furniture. Instead, I paced furiously in front of her as she absentmindedly twisted the spiral cord between her fingers. What in the bloody hell is Razia Aunty gushing about that could be more important than me, your oldest daughter? I wondered with great indignation. But for 45 endless minutes Mom averted her gaze from my histrionics and kept yapping, so immune was she by then to my admittedly melodramatic tendencies.
By now my cheeks were flushed crimson with rage. I started envisioning how awful this woman would feel when she finally ended her call and realized that she had frittered away one of her daughter’s precious final hours with idle chitchat. I would certainly be able to leverage her guilt to my advantage, I decided, and began fantasizing about the library of books I would demand to keep me company in my final days in the hospital—Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins and Encyclopedia Brown, oh my! (yes, I was a nerd, leave me alone).
Eventually she returned the phone to its cradle and turned her attention to me; I promptly blurted out what was going on, without padding the truth. In response, my mother burst out laughing. She then led me to her bedroom, clued me in to the basics of this thing called “menstruation,” explained how to use the necessary equipment, and chuckled to herself all day.
In her merriment my neglectful mother also failed to mention that this misfortune was only to befall me one week per month. And so there I was, in a daze, picturing the rest of my existence being spent bleeding into what essentially amounted to a diaper for adults. This was considered growing up? It certainly seemed like devolution to me.
And that, friends, was my red-letter day.
January 27, 2012