1966 age 14
Life is a series of first times, that begin when we are born. First breath, first cry, first word, first step, so many firsts that fill out moments as we grow. Some firsts are considered milestones, many are not. I may include several of those in this RAM series, after all, we tend to remember first times more easily than others, because they are moments that are, at the time of happening, unique to us. As life goes on and we experience the same event more and more, it loses the impact of that first time.
The following is about my first period, and a terrible event that happened almost simultaneously, and how the two are forever intertwined in my mind. If you are male, and squeamish about women’s bodily functions, it may be best not to continue reading, though I promise it’s not that bad. I’m not embarrassed, so you shouldn’t be either. 😉
When I was 14, I was one of the last in my class to reach puberty and have my first period. I don’t even know if most women can remember their first period, does the memory fade with time? Was it an important rite of passage that they remember fondly or did it just happen without fanfare?
I was at a family gathering of sorts – cousins mostly, and friends, all kids my age. No grownups, aside from the couple hosting it, this was an all day event of outdoor fun out at some cabin in the woods, maybe an hour away from home. I don’t remember if I was having fun or not – at that age it was almost more of an obligation than anything – a day set up by family without asking any of the kids if they want to do it or not.
Sometime during that morning, I remember feeling something kind of odd, a slight wetness, and going to the bathroom to discover a small spot of blood on my panties. I knew immediately what it was – I vaguely remember my mom telling me about periods and all that a couple of years before, but what she didn’t tell me was what to do with it, how to take care of matters. I had seen Kotex Pads in stores and knew they were to be worn somehow, but that is about it.
Of course, out there at that cabin, I was not prepared, had nothing to use. Plus it was still early in the day. What was I to do? I grabbed as much toilet paper as I thought reasonable, folding it up into pad form and fit it into my panties, pulling my pants up and being glad, at least that I had worn something snug. But I was also feeling a kind of panic, thinking about the long day ahead. What if they want to go hiking? How long would that small tp pad last?
I made several trips to the bathroom, to check on it and change it. Those poor people probably wondered what happened to all their toilet paper. I did have to change a couple of times, and each time wished for some means of escape, some excuse to go home.
As we had lunch, all I could think about was “I want to go home”. Mom would know what to do. She would take me to the store and get me what I needed. But what I needed more than anything at that moment was to get out of the rest of this day, to get myself home. I considered pretending to be ill, but decided that wouldn’t be honest. I sat there eating with the others, distracted, barely hearing the conversation as my mind constantly searched for an excuse, some good reason to get out of the rest of the day. All I could think of was, “I want to go home.”
Not long after lunch, my wish seemingly came through – a telephone call from home. I didn’t talk to my mom, but was simply told by my aunt that I was to go home, and my aunt or uncle or whoever (that part is a blur to me) drove me home. All I could feel was relief and gratitude. I was getting my wish! I did ask the driver why I was being called home, and was told my mom would explain it. At that moment, I didn’t care why, all I could think of was how relieved I was.
Until I walked in the door and saw my mom. I can still picture her, standing by the patio door, light filtering in on her, making her almost stand out in some way. I “saw” immediately that something was wrong. It was the first time I realized that my oddly timed wish fulfillment wasn’t some random event or psychic esp of a mom calling me home so I could take care of matters. Something was Very Very Wrong.
“Your father is in the hospital.” I could see she was flustered, didn’t know how to tell me, but somehow she managed. I learned that he had come home for lunch, and that he had walked in the door and collapsed. Mom called an ambulance and they got to him quickly – she had since been told he had a heart attack. She told me all this as calmly as she could manage, but I could see she was more concerned than she was letting on. She wanted to return to the hospital, this time with me in tow.
I didn’t tell her about my period. I couldn’t. No way. And of course, there were no “supplies” in the house, because my mom had a hysterectomy shortly after I was born. So I did what I could – grabbed more toilet paper and went with her to the hospital.
I didn’t get to see my dad that day – nor for at least a few days. My mom was allowed with him, but apparently no kids until he was stable. As it turns out he’d had a massive heart attack, not a minor one. I didn’t know it at the time but he came very close to dying during those first few days. He ended up staying in the hospital for over a month before he was cleared to go home.
All I knew was that he was in trouble. And that I had wished for an excuse to go home. I didn’t exactly feel responsible, but I couldn’t help wonder at the coincidence. Wonder if, had I not wished so hard to go home, would this have happened? I know, strange thoughts, but they were there. I was feeling guilty, as if my wishing had done this. But for the most part, I pushed those thoughts aside. And not only did my dad survive, he eventually had open heart surgery to replace three defective arteries. He stopped smoking and lost weight and lived a long life.
But that day, I was confused, alone, and still had a problem to take care of. I found a Kotex dispenser in the hospital bathroom, and had some change, so I bought a pad. I had no idea how it was supposed to be used, though. This was not a day and age where they had pads that would stick snugly to your underwear. And I didn’t even know what a Tampax was. (Tampons)
So I bought a Kotex Pad in the dispenser, and bought a second one for when I went home that night. This was nothing like what they have today – it was a big, thickly padded, and fairly wide, and very long from front to back, and had two ends where the netting that contained the padding trailed off – ends that I had no idea what to do with. I later found out you needed a kind of garter belt, but not a garter belt, really, just an elastic belt that had garter like suspensions on the front and back and those ends of the Kotex were to somehow thread through the belt extensions, and thus hold it in place.
All I knew at that time, though, was that I didn’t have whatever was supposed to hold it in place. and I didn’t have a lot of money with me. So I resorted to my toilet paper again, folding it on top of the Kotex pad, and using it to absorb, so the pad would last longer. It worked, and I managed. I spent a lot of time in that hospital those next few days, relying on the dispenser for my needs.
Sometime around the third day the doctors apparently told my mom that my dad was out of the woods. I was allowed to see him – he was hooked up to a bunch of monitors and I remember how very ill he looked, and how shocked I felt on seeing him. Shocked, and, yes, guilty. Hadn’t I wished for a reason, any reason, to leave the gathering? Worse yet, I remembered how relieved I had felt at being told I was to go home. I knew I hadn’t caused my dad’s heart attack – he was overweight, he smoked two to three packs of cigarettes a day, and he worked insane hours, often bringing his work home and working late into the night. That is what nearly killed him, not my vague and panicky wish for an excuse to go home. I knew that, but it still nagged at me. Just a niggling thought – if my period had not started then, and if I had not wished so hard for a reason to go home, would this have happened?
I did finally tell my mom about getting my period, once my dad was stable and on the way to healing. The bleeding was almost over by then, but she took me to the store and explained how to use the Kotex Belt to hold the pads. Oddly enough, for the next few years, before I finally discovered Tampax (through friends who assured me they didn’t hurt) – I continued to add an extra padding to my pads, a layer of toilet paper on top of the pad – especially when I was in school. It made them last longer and somehow made me feel more secure.
The two events will always be linked in my mind – my first period, and my dad’s heart attack, and that strangely terrible way in which my wish for an excuse to go home was fulfilled.
Be careful what you wish for. You never know how Life will answer. But it always does answer, whether you expect it to or not.