I went to a small Catholic school, the kind with one hallway and one classroom per grade. I wore the stereotypically ugly Catholic school uniform: pink blouse, maroon vest, plaid skirt, knee socks.
I was painfully self-conscious.
I made a list of my physical characteristics, Good and Bad for comparison purposes. Sure, I had long eyelashes and wavy hair, but did that make up for the big knees and the hairy arms?
(Side note: over the past few months I've been doing a major de-hoarding of the contents of my house and I actually unearthed this list, so I know it's an accurate snapshot of how my mind worked back then.)
One of my greatest fears when I was thirteen was people looking at me, cataloging, I supposed, all of those bad characteristics. Doing a presentation in front of the classroom, reading out loud, even walking in front of the room, made me break out into a sweat.
Because the school was small and we only had one class of students per grade, we didn't switch classes the way kids do in larger middle schools. We switched only once, halfway through the day. The 8th graders (my grade) would stand up, form two lines at the front of the room (boys and girls) and file out of the room and cross the hall to the 7th grade room, passing the two lines of doofball 7th graders along the way.
|(Yeah. That's a lot of blood, |
but then, what do we expect?
Stephen King is a man.)
I sat in the back corner of the 8th grade class and one particular day it was time to collect our English books and line up at the front of the classroom to change classes and I stood up and pushed in my chair, and that is when it happened.
I had, what we will euphemistically call, an Accident of the Menstrual Variety.
I am not talking Stephen King's Carrie proportions of blood (side note-- did you know that Carrie is about, among other things, a girl's horror at getting her period?) but let's just say, there was blood on my chair. On the floor. Running down my legs and into my knee socks.
I froze in horror.
The lines were forming at the front of the classroom and every self-conscious nightmare I'd ever had was converging into a single point and that was Me, standing at the back of the room, clutching my desk chair, while the boys (they were the line on the outside. Of course.) stared at me.
And then they filed out of the room while I stood, still gripping my chair, afraid to look down at what I was sensing was a bloodbath, and wondering how the hell I was going to get myself out of this situation.
There wasn't a way that I could figure. At least not anything I could think of in the approximately 3 seconds before the 7th graders began to file into the room. One by one they took their seats, most not noticing me, although the one who sat in my seat, noticed, because I was standing in front of it, refusing to let him sit in it.
It was a boy, because that is the way the Universe works. I looked at him and he looked at me and I fought the urge to look down and possibly draw his eyes in that direction. By then Mr. N. was back in the room, telling everyone to get out their math books or whatever, and I had a one second thought that maybe I could keep standing there and class could go on and later I could collapse on the floor and paramedics could carry me out on a stretcher.
I can still see Mr. N.'s confused face as he loped toward me, like, Um, Jody, what's going on-- and then the flash of recognition as he grasped the problem. He took charge by sending Seatless Boy out of the room to go get Mrs. D.
God love Mrs. D.
"Let's go," she said firmly, and she pried my hands from the back of the chair and did the best thing that she possibly could've done. She walked behind me all the way out of the room.
She whisked me into the bathroom and when I fell apart, sobbing, she was uncharacteristically kind. I was a two year old bawling in front of the mirror and Mrs. D was kneeling at my feet, slipping off my shoes, rolling down my knee socks, washing off my legs with those terrible scratchy industrial brown paper towels, talking to me all the while about how I was going to be okay.
"Welcome to womanhood," she said. "This happens to everyone."
"Did it ever happen to you?" I asked.
Well, no, she admitted. And then she continued to lie to me cheerfully as she mopped me up.
No one saw.
It's not a big deal.
Some day you'll think this is funny.
Even then I knew she was only trying to make me feel better.
When my mom came to pick me up with a change of clothes (the school decided that it would probably be okay for me to take the afternoon off) Mrs. D. gave me a hug. "We girls have to stick together," she whispered.
Of all the things she said to me that day, that was the one true thing.
Too bad I didn't always remember it.