I got my period for the first time, without warning, when I was in the fifth grade. Having requested a full hysterectomy mere months after squeezing me out into the world (no, I didn’t take that decision personally, nope, not at all!), my mom didn’t have any menstrual products in the house, so I had to sit on the toilet, leaking beef soup into the bowl, while she found a kitchen towel that she didn’t mind being sacrificed for the cause and folded it into my underpants to tide me over while she ran to the drugstore. And then, every subsequent month, or six weeks, or eight weeks, or sometimes for so many months that I wondered if maybe it had reversed itself out of spite, in the middle of a test during Algebra 2, my period would throw a surprise pool party all across the crotch of my thrifted lavender corduroys.
My period has remained this way for decades: hostile, elusive, disrespectful of the lengths to which I had gone to line up the adult human sex she was interrupting. I never get a sore-boob warning or cautionary twinge of back pain, and I cry at dog food commercials regardless of the state of my hormones, so I’m never prepared with a tampon or a maxi pad or a beach towel whenever she decides to show up and spend a week (or several) ruining my fucking life.
I flew to Austin in November for the Texas Book Festival. I’m not really a Texas kinda guy, but I have friends down there who lied and said that fall isn’t that hot, and like a fool, I believed them. I took a commuter plane from my tiny regional airport to Detroit; we pulled into gate A78, and my connecting flight was out of gate B437. I mean, not really, there aren’t really more than 400 gates in the Delta terminal at the Detroit Metro Airport, but skip-walking the two-plus miles across the entire airport in 10 minutes with a sweaty backpack full of trashy magazines jostling against my back, it fucking felt like it. I’m not a scientist or whatever, but I knew something in my body shook loose somewhere between the moving walkway and the Zingerman’s kiosk near the gate that charged me $15 for a turkey sandwich.
The next morning—groggy, vaguely sticky, the lingering perfume of an ill-advised oily vegan eggroll I’d gotten off a food truck the night before (because in Austin I’m apparently the kind of person who eats food on the damn sidewalk) clinging to my tongue—I woke up in a pool of blood so deep you’d need galoshes to wade through it. This is the kind of corporeal surprise that — no matter how many gerbil-sized clots I passed in filthy bar bathrooms or navy blue towels I’ve laid across unsuspecting Uber rear seats — I don’t know that I ever would have been prepared for. Sure, I got the pamphlet in gym class about what to do when your flower first blooms and your neat and tidy menarche leaves one perfectly round droplet of blood in your underpants to let you know you are becoming a woman, but yeah, Mr. Pabich never had us run any period drills illuminating the proper course of action one must take at 37 years old when faced with crisp hotel sheets unexpectedly drenched in cervical mucus and endometrial tissue. I must have been asleep the day they taught adult womanhood at lady school, and as I glanced down at my dino-print pajamas (see?!) to confirm what the slick, cold dampness up my back and across my stomach had already told my brain, I thought, “Maybe I am dead and this is hell.”
No one ever taught me the protocol for what to do when you turn a Queen Deluxe room at the Intercontinental into a fucking crime scene, so I shoved a blindingly white hand towel into my underwear, Googled “destroyed four-star hotel room with menstrual blood,” and ended up scrolling through a Reddit thread populated by very helpful anonymous strangers who all had relatively sound advice on how to deal with such a dilemma. There was a very reassuring subthread in which hotel workers detailed the various states of horror they’d discovered celebrity rooms in, so I just channeled Bruno Mars or whatever while stripping the bed and rolling the sheets into a uterine-lining burrito because Renee872 posted, “if housekeeping sees balled up bed linens they know to just shove it right into the bag.” I found the roll of emergency cash I keep in the pocket of my backpack and peeled off three twenties and left them on the bed with a note that read, “I apologize for my body it is a toilet.”
My last period began on December 15, 2017, and ended on February 12, 2018. I only know this because that Texas episode scared the shit out of me, and since terror is my only motivation, I bought the kind of planner high school kids pretend to write their assignments in and marked a red dot on every day a torrent of blood rained down from my uterus, helpless as I stained every flat surface in my house. It wasn’t the first time this kind of thing had happened, but it was certainly the worst. I couldn’t live my life like a normal person, and I don’t even live the exciting life of a woman in a Kotex ad! I don’t rock climb or play tennis in tiny pastel shorts! I’m not sitting in a kayak or riding a fucking skateboard! But even my depressed boring bullshit stood in the way. I got blood on the cart at Target while trying to decide between universal remotes. I left a rusty smudge on a light-blue chair at the DMV and tried to clean it off inconspicuously with an eyeglass wipe. The neighbor kid asked if I spilled juice on my pants while trying to sell me shitty Cub Scout popcorn. I went to see The Shape of Water and left The Shape of Sloughed-Off Endometrial Cells behind in my seat.
I wanted to chew my fucking wrists open because I spent two months soaked in my own insides. I started taking the pill to try and staunch the flow, but the side effects were comically terrible, and the cruelest part of the whole thing was that they didn’t even fucking work. I spent most days prostrate to stop an unyielding crimson tide, and the birth control begat acid reflux begat two esophageal ulcers begat vaginal and oral thrush, and by the way, I never stopped bleeding, not even for a second, and there were weeks at a time when I had to take Diflucan to kill the yeast in my vagina while rubbing on Nystatin cream to kill it in my armpits and dripping fiery oil of oregano into the mucus membrane under my tongue (I was so itchy and delirious from near-constant blood loss that I resorted to natural remedies out of sheer desperation) to kill the yeast living and multiplying on my tongue, and I guess what I’m actually saying is that, sure, I move this body around, but I’m not actually in charge of it, and I have no idea and no control over anything that happens within it, and why are people so terrified of the impending rule of our robot overlords when we have no idea where our pancreases are? I have spent years held hostage by the whims of a small, pear-shaped sex organ located somewhere between my butt and where pee comes out that I can’t see and have never had plans to even make use of. Why does no one talk about how weird it is to be so beholden to the dispositions of our intestines and our throats?
The doctors never really know anything either. I mean, dude knows more than I do for sure, but I’ve had three transvaginal ultrasounds and a battery of blood work and diagnostic tests, and every single time, he shrugs like, “Welp, I dunno! I guess you’re just a heavy bleeder!” while my uterus sloshes around, sounding like a dishwasher, and I feel liquid seeping through four layers of protective padding. I finally just asked him if we could take a blowtorch to the entire apparatus, and after making sure for the millionth time that I really don’t want to have a baby (in this oozing state, I don’t even want to eat a bean burrito let alone make a fetus), he was like, “Sure, okay!”
I’m scheduled to have surgery on this gooey, unpredictable blood bag in a few weeks, and I have never been more excited for anything in my godforsaken life. I’m looking forward to living life like I’m in a tampon commercial: the reckless wearing of white linen pants, jumping into a crystal-clear pool while a camera zooms in on my spotless mons pubis as I balance at the edge of the diving board, soaking up puddles of blue food coloring with a plug of absorbent cotton, laughing wistfully with other emotionally balanced women over salad. I cannot wait for my carefree new life filled with earnest conversations atop light-colored couches, complicated yoga positions, and carefree swimming in shark-infested bodies of water.