This is How it Happens
short story - creative nonfiction
The ache that settles into the lower part of your abdomen won’t ever get easier to deal with. It’s always excruciating; you feel as if a clawed hand is clenching your insides, and then releasing it slowly, over and over and over again.
The week before it comes is sometimes worse than the actual bleeding itself. You’re fat and you feel like your skin doesn’t belong to you. Your clothes won’t fit right. You’ll tug at your sleeves and re-adjust the neckline of your shirt one hundred times before giving up and deciding that you’re hideous. You want to rip your hair out. Your face is puffy and swollen, the hormones are changing you, you’re a monster. You stand in the shower conjuring up potential arguments with anyone and everyone you’ve ever known. You think about the various ways you can viciously snap back if someone says something to piss you off. If you pull your desk chair in too quickly, your swollen breasts will ache and you’ll feel like you’re going to cry. You want to peel your skin off.
You are bloated and uncomfortable the week before and during. Sometimes you will bleed for four days, and sometimes it will last for nine.
A stranger with a knife is stabbing you from the front, he’s twisting the knife slowly, and then he uses another one to puncture every part of your spine. You can’t sit up straight, you have to hunch over. You keep thinking it will subside if you find the perfect position. You want to curl into yourself and hide because the pain is so fucking real and you feel like it will never end.
You were only eleven when you bled for the first time.You were on a cruise with your family and you leaked blood through your green bathing suit underneath your white shorts (you leaked through those too) and when you saw the red you were horrified. In that instant you felt like you smelled completely different.
Period blood smells like pennies and rain water and sometimes if a girl walks by you or sits close to you, you can tell if she’s on her period.
Before you started using tampons (which by now you can take out and put in drunk, in the dark, in a port-o-potty without thinking) you wore pads. Fat like diapers with a weird smell no matter what the box says the scent is, they make you feel disgusting, absolutely filthy and repulsive. They stick to the inside of your underwear and rest underneath your vagina and ass like you’re a gross, bleeding baby. If you’re in a public restroom and you have to change your pad the sound of the adhesive peeling off your underwear is so loud and horrifying it makes you hate yourself even more.
The pain is terrifying you. Tiny, evil beetles are tearing at your flesh and burying themselves inside your tissue and muscles. You’re body is on fire. The crunching and squeezing of your organs is temporary, you know this, you can tell yourself this, but when the ache returns it feels permanent. Blackness, fear, pain. Everything is spinning in the way it feels to be drunk but you're not drunk. Not at all. It’s real, the feeling is real, the ache, it’s all real. You kind of want to die but you don't want to die, not yet, it’s going to end. It has to end.
Your doctor is a man who says that your cramps are normal and you don’t say anything but there is no way what you’re feeling is normal. You’re grinding your teeth so hard to keep from crying- how can he not hear it? Your mom puts her hand on your back and moves it up and down and you feel like you’re going to crumble into a million pieces. At home you writhe in bed and scream, the pain is so unbearable. Your mom brings you a heating pad and now you have hot pain. The blood is running out of you and it’s on your shorts and your sheets, you are so fucking hot and you’re lying in your own blood but you can’t get up, it hurts too much to move. You turn over and vomit on the floor, the bile drips down your chin and your back spasms. You groan and cry and groan and cry for a week. You’re too fragile and sick and broken to go to school. Your parents look helpless.
The doctor says to go on birth control so you can at least anticipate the pain and control the length and amount of bleeding. You’re only thirteen and terrified to stick a tampon inside you.
You swallow a tiny pill every day and the bleeding is lighter, but the cramps are the same.
Imagine the crown of thorns Jesus Christ wore on his head during the crucifixion. Imagine someone wrapping a belt of thick, pointed thorns around your hips, your low back, right under your belly button. Imagine someone using both hands to press the thorns into you. This is how it feels. After a few hours of stabbing, squeezing, mind numbing agony the pain turns into a dull ache, like a heavy rock is sitting on your uterus pushing you down under the water. You keep breathing. You are sweating and your scalp is soaked and you reek but somehow, this is a little bit better.
At night you have vivid thoughts about killing yourself. You imagine dragging blades down the insides of your wrists. You visualize throwing yourself off a bridge. Slamming your head into a wall over and over until your brain falls out of your ears.
If you take the pills you will want to kill yourself, but if you don’t take the pills you will feel like you are dying for at least five days. These are your choices.
A boy you like invites you to go swimming but you’re bleeding a lot and you can’t wear a massive pad with your swimsuit. You feel the tears coming and you think about making up an excuse but something pushes you towards the bathroom and you find a tampon and look at the diagrams from the pamphlet inside the box. You put your leg on the toilet seat; you’re terrified to touch your own vagina. You take a deep breath and try not to clench, not to tighten up, and you stick it in where you think it goes. It takes a few tries but suddenly everything opens up and you are completely different than you thought were before. You forget what you’re supposed to do for a second and the applicator is just sitting inside you, waiting. You slowly slowly slowly pull it out and walk around. It’s in there, you know it is, but you can’t feel it.
On a trip to France you forget if you have a tampon in or not and you dig around (you are not as disgusted by yourself now) and you can’t find the string, can’t pull anything out, so you put another one in. You spend your entire European vacation thinking you have two tampons inside you (at least).
Sometimes you end up pulling your tampon out before it’s ready, and the walls of your vagina throb in pain. You imagine a tampon with tiny fingernails dragging along your insides, so you try to gently guide it out. You feel like you’ve been punched in the gut.
A used tampon looks like a dead mouse. The stained absorbent swings back and forth as you hold the dainty string between your fingers, trying not to drop it. Like you’ve done a thousand times before, you place the bloody tampon on some toilet paper, wrap it up, and stuff it in the little silver box next to the toilet.
You will have to negotiate which applicator to use next, because you’re not done bleeding yet. Your vagina is still pulsing in pain from the early removal. You have to get the lubricated applicators, not the cardboard ones. Those times you’ve used a cardboard applicator make you instantly feel dry and like you’re chewing on a box. The instinct to clench your walls is inescapable and now you’re basically shoving a toilet paper roll up inside yourself. The lubricated ones are usually pink or blue or green and they glide up inside you but the tampons themselves are smaller and soak quicker and you usually have to change them every hour. If you stand up too fast or sneeze you will feel like a human geyser and have to sprint to the bathroom to make sure you’re not leaking all over yourself.
You can have sex on your period if the guy isn’t grossed out by it but it’s better when you put a towel down first. You try to remember to always turn the lights off, also, because if he sees blood on his dick he’s probably going to freak out, even if he tells you it’s cool.
You have sex when you’re not on your period and this time the condom breaks and you say it’s fine, it’s definitely fine, we are fine but then your period never comes. You have cramps and they are painful but these are different. The roll like a massive wave up and down your body and you squirm in your bed and bite on your knuckles because it hurts so bad and something is different, something is wrong.
You pee on a stick and two lines show up which means you are pregnant so of course you wish you had a period right now more than anything. You would trade this in for cramps for two weeks, three weeks, a year- you don’t care.
You have to get this ball of cells sucked out of you and the nurse says the sound is kind of upsetting and to try not to think about it and she hands you a tissue because your eyes are leaking. You’re glad she’s a woman but you’re scared, you have no idea what this will feel like, if it will hurt. Your hands are shaking.
You’re getting a needle stuck in your arm and you’re starting to relax but you’re still crying. It doesn’t hurt but it doesn’t feel right. You tell the doctor thank you after he’s done and he puts a hand on your arm and smiles at you like you’re his daughter and it seems like his heart is breaking just a little bit. You don’t know if he’s sad for you or this little almost baby, but he’s just doing his job. The nurse gives you a pad and some juice. She leaves you with a stack of paperwork that says you might bleed for up to two weeks and you’re not allowed to put a tampon in in case of infection and you’re truthfully, honestly, just so upset that you have to wear a pad again.