I started bleeding when I was eleven. I panicked. It’s your period. It happens, mom told me, then gave me pads to stick in my panties. Information beyond that was scant: don’t flush them down the toilet and don’t waste them because they’re expensive.
I went to Natalie’s house for the summer shortly thereafter. I was unsure and reluctant to tell anyone so I didn’t. Mom didn’t give me pads to take with me and didn’t tell Aunt. Nat hadn’t started yet. I wasn’t gonna ask Aunt for pads. They barely had enough to live on with two more mouths to feed; I didn’t dare burden her with this.
It wasn’t until later when I started living with Nat and fam that she introduced me to tampons. She was unapologetic about changing them in our bedroom right in front of me. They were the ones without the applicators so she had to really push them in which had me gaping in curiosity and astonishment. I found that casual boldness refreshing and galvanizing compared to mom’s puritanicalism who, when I asked about tampons, gave me such a scathing look that suggested I’d asked her if she was a whore. I got the impression from mom that a period was something to be embarrassed and ashamed about; that something was wrong with me; that we shouldn’t really talk about it unless we absolutely had to. There had been no discussions in school about this affliction—this curse as mom called it; not when I started; apparently I was an early bleeder so there wasn’t really anyone to talk to about it. In the ensuing years, I learned very little about a woman’s body and our periods. There was a discussion on those antiquated contraptions that awkwardly hold pads sans undies—a belt or something so bizarre looking I thought they’d put it on wrong. The entire subject was sharply dismissed and any knowledge I collected was on my own. Since there was no internet, the info I did get was scant and unreliable.
Later, when I started the red wave at Nat’s house the following summer, I used my clean new socks as pads and dropped them in the outhouse afterward. Sixteen separate socks did me for the entire summer. Towards the end, I went without on my feet. I mostly wore cheap Kmart flip-flops and went barefoot anyways. I was a light bleeder starting out so nothing embarrassing happened when I went unprotected while swimming; it was a dirty brown creek after all and not a pool so I assumed there were far worse things floating in it. I concealed my so-called curse. I lied about losing all my socks when I got home, which earned me the typical enraged incoherent lecture from mom.
Mom was the passive aggressive, emotionally manipulative and narcissistic parent that started all of her sentences with I this and I that, which ultimately ended with her blaming me and my brother for how awful a person she was. We lived in a constant state of confusion over her nonsensical behavior and those odd lectures that made us feel like constant shit; that we could never make right her being so awful. I eventually wised up to her machinations once mature enough to realize how fucked up she was—that and therapy. I don’t know if my brother ever did.
Natalie—never a prude around me—wasn’t impulsive, capricious or as rebellious as I was. Reserved, her edges shifted underneath the guise of limits; cautionary aspects of her personality that I found fascinating, but ultimately far too tame. It didn’t surprise me when much later she became so… domesticated; a kind of soulless indoctrinated domestication that disgusted me; an automaton loyal to the patriarchy and submerged in an oppressive religious Christian subset that gave women little freedoms and treated them like doormats—much more so than the typical. I only saw this later—afterward, so I admit, I was probably biased from my anger and emotion where nuance failed to form more empathetic logic. I thought her pure and authentic before that. Events happened and I never looked at her the same again. I still don’t. The first betrayals are always the hardest and most damaging, especially when you’re already broken.
There’s an old Polaroid photo—the one with the hard backs—from the early 70s of me and Nat in diapers playing together in one of those plastic pools at mawmaw’s house. That photo hurt me. I almost burned it so many times. I kept it around to remind myself; a memorial to what I went through and lost; one of those never again tokens; the practice of looking, remembering and the ceaseless never again mantra; a shibboleth I regularly failed in practice. Like so many of my relationships. I mentally shrugged off the resilience of picking myself off the floor after so many failures, dismissing and categorizing it in the it me pile of so what.
With that memory came a host of others. They flashed in front of me purposely like I was programmed to relive them in detail repeatedly in real time with all the feels—the love, trust, reverence—the betrayal. She was my best friend and cousin and we had shared everything. How many relationships had I based on that? How many of those relationships ended in betrayal?
The memories of those shared experiences leaked all over my nice clean contempt and disdain. Then and now, those memories, and the emotions surrounding them, challenged me. I wondered if this experiment was meant to change them or me? But it wasn’t about me. It never was. It was about all of us, and our humanity that filtered out as we got older; that left us as shells of who we formerly were and are.
Or not. Right now, I didn’t really care.
Nat expressed little emotion. I tried not to observe her too closely, but curious, I watched her. It’s not every day that someone drops a twist like the one I just delivered. Besides the gaping hole that pronounced itself when I first told them, she didn’t emote so much as a whine nor whimper. She wasn’t paralyzed with shock; apathetic, she scrubbed any and all affect. It was creepy. I wondered if there was a flaw in her creation? Then again, she was a woman; we’re socially programmed to de-emote on a regular basis. I dismissed it and admitted the only flaw was the one driving us to hide those emotions in the first place.
Tinta and Bian showed little surprise when I walked through the gate with my deplorable posse. My posse, however, toddled through hesitantly then stood staring agape; all except Nat.
The command deck was what I described as modernized steampunk—modernized being relative in light of the current date versus the origin date and locations. Slick black and dark grey surroundings while pale orange, blue and pink lights bounced around the air expressly. If they looked closely, the lights were symbols and controls purposely designed to navigate the ship and any necessary tech needed.
I’m taking them to the observation deck and introducing them to Niko’s documentaries, I told Tinta and Bian. Follow me. I started out of the room. When I didn’t hear them behind me, I stopped and turned: If you want to know about the future, follow me, I informed them annoyed. I walked out. They followed.
The observation deck was like an Imax-sized window-type viewing screen. I instructed Truth, the ship, to show the twenty-first century documentaries. The ship did nothing. Earth loomed large and sat like a grey rundown building in front of us. I decided to gift them with more dramatic exposition: The building of hostility and burning of anger along with the rumbles of war drums beat hard as the hate and rhetoric escalated long ago. When the bodies of people we loved started falling, we rioted; anarchy became the new protest and civil war fell in line behind it. Sit and watch and bleed, I informed them almost gleefully, smirking wishing on them the angst of what they wrought.
Where are you going, Cody demanded. Was he mad or scared. Or both. Sit down, wait here. Don’t touch anything, I ordered and walked out.
The nanite-infused mist sanitized me from all the twenty-first century crap that infected me in the last 24 hours more so than the armband that scarcely protected me while on planet. Several months ago—was it months?—I talked Niko into letting Bian transport a butt-load of water on board so we could turn up the mist on their shower system, which wasn’t really a shower. Not truly. More like a very light mist and not even that. Bian used a nanite filtration system to clean the water of any contaminants. Transportation was quantum teleportation. Bian realized she could configure a system whereby refilling was automatic. Niko tried it and never went back. She stood for an hour under the mist appreciating the pressure and nature of the water as it streamed over her body. I found her there along with Tinta and Bian watching. The pale colors cast her soft and sculpted features as something majestic and ethereal. The expression of wonder on her face remained as the water traveled over her.
I declined the subsequent dry and walked through the room wet and nude enjoying the cleanliness and being drippy without all the polluted grossness. I stood doing nothing when Niko arrived. She barely glanced over my pale wet body. You brought them on board, she leveled at me matter-of-factly standing inches from my face. Hands on hips, my reply curt: Yes. Why, she queries. I believe some in-their-face truths will turn them; I expressed this somewhat hesitantly. Has in their-face truths ever worked before now, blandly articulating what I thought on earlier. I sighed a no, answering honestly. You’re authenticity weakens you, she declared blithely. Dejection and defeat: It’s the only thing I have left, I tell her. I see a spark of hesitation before it quickly disappears. I don’t know what else to do; shoulders slumped: I’m tired, I replied. She laughed; the sound harsh and stoked of ire; an ironic burn: So what.
Stoned and snarky, she let out another harsh laugh as Cody walked into the room, her eyes riding his body like a storm then settled back on mine only a more subtle slower peruse. My body reacted.
Cody stopped abruptly, averting his eyes, when he realized I was naked. Those eyes landed on Niko. His body went tight like a wire. The visual exchange between them was new, but so was this, wasn’t it? I wondered what machinations our goddess had brought to pass. Had this been our first foray into this type of confrontation, or no? Had I gone this route before? Then how did it end? I searched my memories for insight but found only voids. I continued to watch Cody and Niko, their body language as thin as a pin head; drawn and fixed ready to fire. I tittered somewhat hesitantly: We’ve done this before, haven’t we? The sneaky side-eye confirmed it. She walked out without a word.
© 2018-2019 Pamela Gay Mullins