I am fourteen and today, John, Lucas, and Sean, all members of a local band everyone believes will be famous, are visiting. We are in my room and John wants to pierce his eyebrow and my nose. I burn the pin with a match and hand it to him.
“Thanks,” he says, walking to the full-length mirror.
We gather round, leaning in as he presses the pin into the flesh above his eye.
“Ugh,” he says. “It’s so thick.”
“Of course it is,” says Lucas. He’s the tallest, with long, fine hair already dappled with flecks of gray. “A pin is not the best way to do this.”
“Whatever, dude,” replies John, pushing harder.
Blood oozes from the brow and I grab a sock from the edge of my bed and hand it to him. Without glancing, he wipes the blood, which continues to flow.
“Dude,” says Sean.
John pushes harder. “It’s almost there,” he says. Blood forms separate trails down his face, dripping into his eye.
“Let me try,” Lucas takes the pin and presses until a hard snapping sounds, like a lid clapping onto glass.
“Yes! Bro, thanks!” The left side of John’s face is covered in blood, safety pin dangling above the eye.
“Your turn,” says Lucas, meeting my gaze. “Any more pins?”
An hour later, everyone retreats to Sean’s. Lucas and I have been flirting since he pierced my nose, and as people discuss rides and plans, he leans towards me. “Can I stay?”
I suppress a smile and nod. The age difference is larger than any of the people I’ve slept with, and this, for some reason, makes the excitement even greater. I am worthy of the attention of this twenty-three-year-old, with a child of his own, who I know very little about.
He wants to hear my poetry. His mother is a poet and his father a successful musician. He graduated from a private high school that sends students to exotic places like Bali and Italy. He tells me of these places, saying I’d, “be beautiful in Italy,” because setting matters. I read to him from the green screen of my Apple.
“It’s beautiful,” he tells me. I am sitting in the chair in front of my computer, and he’s standing behind me, all six-foot-one of him, broad shoulders and wavy brown hair.
“You really think so?”
“I can’t believe you write like this.”
I turn to him. “Why?” My face is at his chest.
“You’re an old soul.”
“Age doesn’t really matter, does it?” I’m asking about writing, about life, but mostly I’m asking about sex. With him.
His eyes widen. “You’re wise way beyond your years.”
I smile and sit on the bed. He follows, taking the space beside me. He will kiss me. When his band plays, they pack the house with screaming, grinding teens. They make magic and get all the attention, and now, all of this attention is on me. There is purpose in his wanting, in his noticing, in knowing that other girls want him. I am not a groupie, I am the girl he has chosen.
He kisses me and we have sex. I am fourteen and he is twenty-three and has a child. He has a child, we have sex, don’t use a condom, and none of this matters, I tell myself, because his wanting is more important than the world. I tell myself this, but still hear the voice, this hammering, over and over: he is twenty-three, has a child, and you’re not using a condom.
A month passes before something terribly wrong happens. I’m on my period and there’s more blood than I’ve ever seen, anywhere, except maybe when I first got it. I was so terrified and ashamed, I hid the bloody underwear between my mattress and box spring. Every month, I kept doing that, letting the underwear increase in crackly, flattened brown piles until my mother found out, insisting she was delighted to see her, “baby is a woman.”
I am so dizzy, the black pictures of eyes and candles I’ve painted on the large wall in my room grow blurry as I try to press myself to stand. Once on my feet, the world goes black and I fall.
I am not making this up, but wonder if I am. I can’t be this sick but can’t stand. If I try, I’ll fall again, and this time hit my head. Stabbing pain shoots through my back body, radiating in waves from beneath my belly button. I am sick, getting sicker, have to tell my mother. I crawl towards her bedroom, painted, wooden plank flooring freezing beneath my knees and palms.
“What, exactly, are you doing?” My mother asks in a lighthearted, half-teasing tone.
“It hurts really, really bad,” I say. “I can’t get up.”
Her face falls, concern replacing nonchalance. “Oh my god,” she kneels. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t get up, it hurts too much.” I clutch my stomach.
“Do you need to vomit?” The hand she places on my shoulder is cold.
“It’s my period.”
“We’ve got to go. Now.”
“I can’t stand,” I say.
She reaches beneath my armpit and tugs. “Just straighten your legs. Lean on me.”
Pain rips my insides as I lean heavily on her.
“I know what this is.” My mother holds me up as we walk towards the sliding glass doors. “I’ve had this.”
I can’t understand what she’s saying. I am a ball of fire eating my own body from the insides. I can’t see straight. Everything is blurry and tinged with black spots and red hues. I don’t respond because I can’t.
The car ride is hellish, every bump careening through me like a thousand tiny blades. I can’t look out the window because the light is bright, as sharp as the pain that is constant now: a steady drone that peaks before leveling to a baseline of heat. I brace myself against the door, squeezing my eyes and holding still, hardly able to breathe.
When we get there, I realize I know this woman, the doctor who helps my mother sort out, “female problems.” My mother has never been one to talk about anything personal or private, the closest thing she’s ever had to a sex-ed conversation consisting of her handing me a copy of “Our Bodies, Our Selves… For Girls” the pink-hued companion gift to my brother’s blue “For Boys” version. I realize, amidst the waves, that I’m having, “female problems,” and need this doctor.
We don’t wait long, and I can’t sit. Bending forward exacerbates the pain, so I stand and try not to cry, because I’m not a kid, and can’t cry like that.
“Lean here, like this,” says the doctor. She presses her hip against the stainless steel table.
I follow her order and it helps, but cold steel seeps through my jeans and into my skin.
“What’s happening?” she asks my mother.
“Female problems,” my mother replies. “She may have endometriosis. I had it when I was her age.”
What my mother is saying, and this sterile room, bring me back to elementary school when another doctor gave examinations behind a white sheet in the nurse’s office. This doctor was pale-skinned, blue-eyed, and wore black-rimmed glasses. His hands were thick and covered in age spots. He used them to pull my pants and underwear away from the skin of my belly and peer inside. Then, fat fingers ventured into my panties and pressed against my tiny vagina, and pushed up and in. They were as cold as the stainless steel bed in the room of the “female problem” doctor here, now.
This doctor examines me through her own black-rimmed wire glasses, blue eyes calculating. “What does it feel like?”
“It hurts,” I manage.
“I’m going to need to look.”
“But she’s bleeding,” my mother says.
“I’m bleeding,” I repeat.
“Mom…” she addresses my mother, “you’re going to need to leave.”
“Oh,” my mother glances at me, worry lining her face. “Okay.”
I am left alone to change into a paper gown. I struggle with my jeans and shoes, feeling judged and isolated, with a sense this woman, this doctor, holds no empathy for the pain that has, thank god, begun to dissipate. I wonder about “endometriosis” and what it has to do with female problems. I know what I’ve used this part of my body for, how filthy it is, beyond the blood. Filthy from men too old, men who have said they love me for me and not this fragile package.
What will the doctor discover? What will she share with my mother?
A knock at the door startles as I lay on my back. “How are you feeling?” the doctor asks.
“A little better.”
She nods, face a grimace as she snaps on a pair of translucent gloves. “Have you ever had a pap smear?”
“What’s a pap smear?”
She doesn’t answer but dons a mask. I wonder what she’s protecting herself from. “I’m going to have to use this,” she holds up something metallic, like a large eyelash curler. “I’m going to have to look inside. Go ahead and bend your knees.”
I bend them.
“Spread your legs a little more,” she instructs, pressing.
I look up, my mind back in the dark room where I lost my virginity as I stare at the corner and float above my body, looking down at myself, mostly naked, all cold. I brace against the shock of metal in my too-slick insides. A cry erupts.
“It’s okay.” The doctor’s voice is as cold as the room. “Oh, I see,” she says. “This is way too much blood.” She places two fingers inside of me and runs them in a circle. “Waaaaay too much blood,” she repeats as if scolding.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
She doesn’t tell me there’s no reason to be sorry. She doesn’t say anything. She prods a little more, and the pain comes in waves again. Waves I hide from her. Waves I will do my best to hide from my mother.
“Okay,” she says, finally, snapping off blood-soaked gloves. “Sit up.”
I close my knees. “But the blood…,”
She dismisses my concern. “I have some questions,” she says.
I say nothing, a child held to clean erasers after school, sitting at the edge of the table. “When was the last time you had sex?”
Maybe she won’t tell my mother. Maybe I can lie. Maybe she won’t be able to tell it’s a lie. I am sick, and there’s too much blood, and she is a doctor, and I need to be fixed. I have to let her fix me. “About a month ago,” I lie. But just a little. Lucas and I have had sex multiple times in the last week.
She regards me, fluorescent light glinting off those glasses.
“I mean, it’s only been a couple of times, ever,” I continue to lie, making an excuse for myself. For this thing I’ve done, that has hurt me, that is doing something awful to my body.
“And did you use protection?” Her voice is flat.
I nod but can’t look at her. I have never used protection with Lucas, even though Lucas has a baby. Lucas is a father. With a baby. And I don’t use protection with him.
She stands there, arms crossed, for a long time. “Get dressed,” she says. “There’s a pad for you in the bathroom.”
Mymother is back in the room once my clothes are on, and we wait for the doctor. I don’t know what she’ll say. I don’t know what my diagnosis is. I can barely breathe, even though the pain is so muted by this new fear, I can’t feel it anymore.
What will the doctor tell her? Just the problem? Or the source?
The door opens and the doctor leans against the counter. “The last time she had sex was a month ago,” she begins, just like that, like she’s talking about the weather or her plans for dinner. “So I’m pretty sure this is not endometriosis we’re dealing with here, though we won’t rule that out.”
My mother’s face goes an off-white color, almost gray, she doesn’t look at me. Why won’t she look at me? I need her anger so I can brace against it. Instead, she says nothing.
“Miscarriage is possible, though she says she used protection.”
She doesn’t believe me. I can hear it in her voice.
“But you need to monitor her periods. If this happens again, we can do more tests.”
My mother does not look at me or speak to me on the way to the car, inside the car, and for miles and miles. I stare out the window and squeeze my hands between my knees, praying for the car ride to end in silence, that she missed what the doctor said, or took the whole sex thing as some kind of metaphor for puberty, or that she’ll do anything but remain quiet, forcing the tension to hang in front of my throat.
A block away from home, she finally breaks the terrible silence. “What you do in your own personal time,” she begins. “Is your own personal business. I have my own personal business, and you have yours. I don’t want to talk about my personal stuff with you, and I don’t want you to talk about your personal life with me.”
We are almost at the house.
“Understood?” she asks as we pull into the long driveway.
My palms are wet and sticky, breathing shallow. I don’t know what to say.
“You don’t have to say anything,” she says. “As I said, I don’t want to know. Just don’t tell me.” She opens the door to the Honda and steps one foot out, pausing, looking down.
“Okay,” I reply. “That’s fine.” And then, because I can’t believe this is finished, that this is over, actually over, just like that, I repeat, “okay,” one more time.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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