creative nonfiction by Alex Brown
In the commercial, a preteen girl paints glittering red nail polish on a sanitary pad with careful strokes, upset that she’s the last of her friends to get her period, craving the locker-room clout. She shows her mom, who proceeds to throw a celebration of menstruation to humiliate her daughter for lying so blatantly. The commercial is titled “First Moon Party.” It’s a tampon commercial.
I don’t remember when my own mother decided to throw me a coming-of-age party, or moon party. I do remember that she agreed I could get my ears pierced when I got my first period. I twisted blue jewel studs (I never wanted dangly earrings) around in my earlobes, soaked cotton balls in antiseptic wash from Claire’s, and cleaned the piercings, imagining the skin healing into tiny, perfect holes in the smooth and rounded fashion of a Barbie doll’s nexus.
My period came on Memorial Day weekend, just after we had gone on a canoeing trip. It wasn’t a perfect round dot, or anything I had imagined it to be. The American Girl Guide to the Care and Keeping of You had multi-page illustrations of each stage of a girl’s growing breasts (I looked at that page often), and advice on shaving your armpits (do it while the conditioner settles in your hair), but no indication, at least that I had memorized, about what your first period would look like.
My mom offered exuberant congratulations and pulled open a drawer in the back of the bathroom closet. On top of the chest of drawers sat several bottles of perfume, which she had stopped wearing after I was born (preemie lungs). Below, I found that the drawer itself held all the pads and tampons that had sat idly since her hysterectomy (preemie body). I was her only child; she had saved them for me all this time.
We had hosted many neighborhood parties in our house, for New Years’ and Halloween and birthdays, and at first the moon party felt no different. Our house welcomed gatherings. It was Victorian, or at least that’s what we called it; certainly old and not overly extravagant, a fixer-upper that my parents had purchased (before the recession) with big plans in mind. Seven (seven!) bedrooms for the three of us, a spiral staircase I sometimes pictured sauntering down in a prom dress (or watching another girl saunter down in a prom dress), French sliding doors, hardwood floors, a fireplace. It was a beautiful home to grow up in.
My mom, an advocate of eco-friendliness and sustainability, tried to get me to use the cloth pads they sold at our local food co-op. It wasn’t that I was against sustainability (I celebrated Earth Day gladly each year, even if I took thirty-minute showers) or weirded out by the idea of washing my own blood out of the fabric -- it was that the reusable pad company was called Party In My Pants.
In sixth grade I liked to fit in and avoid mortification as much as possible, at least as much as a perpetually mortified sixth-grader can. I went to lock-in parties (for ages eleven through fifteen only) at the roller-skating rink and watched other kids (literal children) dance to “Pop, Lock, and Drop It.” I read Twilight and listened to Top 40 radio not because I necessarily loved it, but because I really wanted to be like everybody else. And so I forwent Party In My Pants.
Meanwhile, at the literal party for the figurative party in my pants, we all sat in a circle on our giant oriental rug. I must have played indie music (Death Cab for Cutie, The Shins) off of my iPod Nano (green) and tried to hide in my room with my friends (to no avail). It had been decided that the women who had gotten their first periods (the true Adults) would wear red, and the rest of the attendees, my friends and the children of the Adults, would wear white, affecting an untouched holiness of angels, or something more primal.
The Adults were telling us pure youths the stories of their own first periods. One friend, as a girl, had solemnly told her brother that she was very sick and dying; she was bleeding and didn’t know why. Another accidentally kept the wrapper on when she first tried to use a tampon.
My own friends listened to these stories in chagrin. “This is really awkward,” one of them whispered.
One family friend, a children’s musician by trade who had a penchant for striped socks and made hats with jingle-bell cat ears on them, shared her belief that menstruation is a form of nonviolent blood sacrifice, that it is special to release blood in a nonviolent way. She had once painted an image of the moon phases and accented the painting with her own period blood. She gifted me a handmade candle around which she had tied a small image of the painting with a piece of red yarn. The dark earthiness of blood brought the ancient world into our modern one.
It was time for the most ritualistic part of the celebration. We gathered in the backyard, which was really a strip of grass with a flower garden that my mother had elaborately designed and planted, blooming in the fullness of June. Honeysuckle bushes climbed a cement wall, which overlooked an empty parking lot, a community theatre, and the public library. I once dreamt that the parking lot filled with water and became a river, and my mother had cradled a cherubic, joyful child in her arms.
My friends in white stood on one side, the Adults in red on the other. One of my friends in white held a crocheted stuffed rabbit that my aunt had made for me when I was born. It was made of soft tan yarn and was shedding its wispy cotton filling. She passed the crocheted bunny to me, and I held it briefly, and then passed it to my mother. I knew, then, that I would never see it again. The children grabbed one of my hands, and the adults the other, and they fought gently over my body. I rolled in the river-rapid of arms towards my mother.