When I was 13, I had my first run-in with Lady Rosie. I remember my first impression of her – calculative and merciless, an insidious force who took over more space in my life than I bargained for. She led my path to the odd title I would wear for a long time to come –‘ a Woman’.
I cringed and awkwardly slid away when my family seemed happy about the fact that I could now spiral into spasms of cramps in my stomach. I shuddered at the thought that this ordeal was not merely once in a lifetime, but once every 4 weeks. What did I ever do to anyone to deserve this? Why was I not lucky enough to be a boy? These questions would continue to fester in my brain for years to come.
It all started on an inconspicuous morning when I was in the 8th standard. It was a Monday, which meant it was an all-white-uniform day. The universe has great timing and an even better sense of humor it seems.
So while being the innocent lamb that I was, I ignored the sudden twist of my intestine and the jab that I felt – like a single, pointed finger was poking a hole in my stomach. I wrote it off as hunger since it was 12 pm and I was stuck in a physics lab with a stupid pendulum. It only seemed highly likely. But as the pendulum swung and swung slowly and laboriously, I started feeling the claws of death closing in on my insides. Something was terribly wrong! And I was just about to walk to restroom to find out…and…
Cue: LUNCH BELL (Resounding ring of freedom!)
I dropped everything as it was, to run back to class and get my lunch. All the way there, I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that I was getting some curious glances my way. Some wore a look of hushed shock while glancing at me nervously. Normally, I would have taken a second to check if I was dressed funny or if there where ink marks on my uniform. But with food just seconds away from my reach, the world ceased to exist.
All through lunch, the stares continued, accompanied by pointed fingers. This went on for 2 more periods (haha) till I finally lost it. “What’s up with everyone huh?” I asked the girl sitting next to me. She then spoke the words that changed my life forever.
“Your skirt is stained with blood.”
The next hour was a blurr of phone calls to home and an ayyah trying to help me wash my skirt and my embarrassing explanation to my class teacher. I felt victimized because I didn’t like negative attention just like any other 13 year old. I didn’t want people to recognize me in the corridor in days to come because of THIS.
At that time, I had newly acquired an internet connection and yet had zero idea about menstrual cycles. You see – my mother and father are neo-moderns, the product of conservative parents who desire to break away from old-school thinking, but didn’t know how. None of them broached the subject with me, maybe they were just as awkward as I was. So believe me when I tell you this, I felt the real terror of the question I asked myself in that moment – “Am I dying?”
Of course I didn’t die – I’m writing this aren’t I? But die of shock I did, when my mother put this on me last minute. I accused her of being ill-prepared and making me look uncool. I made her feel guilty and capitalized on her guilt in the form of candy and more time on the computer.
She did of course look genuinely sorry and sheepish and tried in the most obscure and less embarrassing way to describe the process. I didn’t know what was more embarrassing – the bad day at school or watching her stutter in discomfort. I don’t blame her though, she was brought up in an extremely orthodox family where instructions were given and children asked no questions. Maybe in between whispers exchanged across classrooms, she had gotten to know. And maybe she hoped, I’d learn it the same way. Maybe she hoped that I noticed the ads on TV and looked them up on my computer.
But I hadn’t. And years since then I have still felt EXTREMELY uncomfortable discussing or thinking about menstruation. I realized this was the case because my foray into adulthood wasn’t smooth. It was accompanied with the harrowing experience of being unprepared. Many kids forget it and shirk it off. I took it to be a mark of bad luck and self- indictment. As illogical as it may be, children tend to feel things deeper than adults do. At 10, or 12 or 13, we’re still kids and our path into adolescence should be comfortable and smooth. It should instill confidence about your femininity and not make you ashamed about it.
Mine made me terrified and uneasy about periods. I lied and lied to tuition teachers and neighborhood friends about strange fevers I’d catch for just a week, about leg cramps and other diseases unheard of. I think everyone knew. But each of the dishonest five days was a series of palpitations for me. I was convinced I had to hide it by all means – I mean my parents were skittish and almost weirdly aloof about it. They were secretive and hush-hush, so I learnt by imitation.
Almost a decade since then, I’ve had to go through the uncomfortable scenarios of asking a boyfriend, a male friend, and my father to buy me sanitary napkins. I found my friends were more willing to do it compared to my father who responded with horror. I knew then, that it was a problem not with us but rather with the way we were conditioned. Thanks to these harrowing experiences of many monthly fails and red alerts though, I’ve now become quite used to the drill and I no longer find it embarrassing.
But there are children blooming into adults every day and there needs to be someone to tell them about their bodies and console their fears of bleeding to death. A whole generation could be saved from unprecedented public horrors and weird days at school because trust me – I thought the only thing worse than a zombie invasion was having a monster eating my guts out!
Author: Amrutha Varshini
I am a student of Journalism but I’d rather go by the tag of being a “struggling writer”. I use the word ‘struggling’ because I have to make time for my writing between hours of internet and music (which are daily rituals). I also appreciate books, movies and anime and will discuss absolutely anything discussion worthy and discussion un-worthy.
Editor: Divya Rosaline