1210 words Rachel Grey


In the summer of 1988, I sat in my friend Janel's bathroom and unwrapped a white tampon with the precision of a scientist. The bathroom was the sort that had little ceramic figurines on the back of the toilet, and the tampon was one of those Tampax ones with a blunt cardboard applicator. We stole it from my mother instead of Janel's mother because at least my mother used the kind with applicators – her mother used OB tampons that were meant for use with fingers alone, and did not seem designed for neophytes. While the sides of this tampon seemed smooth enough, cotton protruded aggressively from the end and threatened to snag on anything damp that might touch it.

It was a scary thing I was doing, but Janel and I were at that age when girls go half-mad with the taste of womanhood. Already we had embarked on self-taught biology lessons, aided by hand-held mirrors and venturing into etymology as we named the Big Lips, the Little Lips, the Sex Hole and The Pink Thing. After some study we had learned that pee didn't come from The Pink Thing but rather from a small hole at its base, a discovery I shared with my mother only to hear her say “really? I never looked that closely.” (At the time I thought she must be kidding; ten years later I learned that she got pregnant with me purely because she never checked the string on her IUD. “Who wants to feel around up there?” she said. At that moment I believed her about The Pink Thing.)

We also knew that The Pink Thing was at the heart of effective masturbation, a trick we were just learning. Despite our best efforts, so far we could only manage it by hooking our feet over the edge of hot tubs and allowing the water jets to hit just the right place. But the mysteries of The Pink Thing had nothing on the deep and womanly rite of getting our periods, which we both longed for. I'm sure we looked innocent enough that year, Janel in her braces and I with my twelve-year-old scrawniness – but in our hearts we were pagans, and all our thoughts were of sex and blood.

We were helped in our studies, if only unwittingly, by our mothers. Mine kept a variety of tampons and pads that could be secretly dissected, and Janel's mother had a long and useful row of romance novels on her bookshelf. On Sunday afternoons we would choose a book, then carefully increase the space between all the others until no gap was left on the shelf, and off we would go to read to each other from the places the books fell open when we balanced them gently on their spines. The turgid members (which tended to rise proudly from beds of amber curls) and aching nipples (which, though tormented, cried out for the masterful touch of the man with the turgid member) were often only vaguely described, but other times they offered real insights into the geometry of the act. “Look, Janel,” I remember saying one day. “If he's holding her in his arms and looking into her enraptured eyes as he thrusts powerfully, then there's no way the penis can point straight down like we thought. It must come out the front! Otherwise that would never work.” It would be a year until this insight was confirmed by an anatomy book. For some reason, though, no romance book ever mentioned much about the heroine's periods, and eventually we had to accept that they were useless on that topic.

Both of our mothers told us that having a period was uncomfortable, inconvenient, nothing to look forward to. Easy for them to say, we thought – they had gotten it already. We wanted to get it. When would we get it? And what's more, if it was so hard to deal with, shouldn't we practice so as to be ready? Both of us tried wearing pads, to see what it was like, but the thought of tampons was too much for us. Finally we got the idea: we would try out a tampon in The Poop Hole instead of The Sex Hole. The Poop Hole was far larger and would surely be easier. We would steal them from my mother, who at least used the kind with cardboard applicators.

And so a summer day found me in Janel's bathroom, looking down at the cheap blue toilet rug and the scary cotton end of the tampon. She stared at me with blatant curiosity. Carefully, I coated the cotton tip of the tampon with Vaseline; then I leaned forward, reached behind myself, and tried to relax the way I did when putting my pinky finger in the same place in the tub. For a long moment the greased tip poked frighteningly at me, and then it started to slide. It felt a little like pooping, but not.

“It's going in, it's going in,” I said, my heart beating heavily. “Okay. I'm going to push on the applicator part now. Geez, it's hard to hold onto it. But there it goes. I'm taking it out... it's out!” I showed her the white cardboard applicator, half the length it was before.

Janel had recently been reading a book that had a pirate on the cover.

“Well, what did it feel like going in? Was it, like, caressing?” she wanted to know.

“Kind of, but mostly just slippery.” I was elated at my success, but I couldn't find words to describe the internal feeling, or my awareness of the string when I shifted my weight on the seat.

We had another tampon, but Janel was too afraid to test her Poop Hole that day. If her mother found one applicator in the garbage Janel could always say that I had gotten my period, but if she found two? She would have the truth out of us, and we were sure this would mean trouble. So we carefully wrapped the applicator and the wrapper inside a wad of toilet paper and went to play Nintendo on the floor of her living room. There, although a picture of Jesus looked down on me kindly, Janel beat me at Super Mario Brothers the way she always did. So much for Jesus.

My defeat made me nervous, and I went to the bathroom again – alone this time, just in case the tampon had something unpleasant on it. I pulled it out by the string and watched it swirl away down the toilet, still white.

It was about 5:30 by then, and Janel's mother had promised bacon omelettes for us at six if only we would stay out of her way in the kitchen. We were always hungry and we wanted those omelettes, so we complied, even though we knew that in the end it would be our mothers who had to get out of our way. Leaving the house by a squeaky back door, we sat down together on the edge of the porch and looked out across the marshy pond behind the house. Janel's left foot touched my right one, companionably, and we waited for the time to pass.