I watched the video about menstruation in 5th grade. A female school administrator took all the girls out of class and herded us to the resource trailer. We all sat, expectant and giggly, in small chairs waiting for mysteries of the world to be revealed. It was our turn to watch the video our older sisters and friends had told us about in whispers at sleepovers and on the bus. The video was actually a cartoon uterus who walked us through that time of the month, giggling herself when she shed her lining. The end warned us our bodies would change; the final scene featured a stick figure transforming before our eyes. Convex and concave lines expanding and shrinking with the promise of beauty in the form of breasts and hips sandwiching a small waist.
For months, I prayed for my period to come, checking my underwear excitedly at every bathroom trip, jealous when I heard other girls had started theirs. I wanted to be a woman too. Eventually, it came; bright red blood stained the dainty pink roses on the crotch of my panties. My body slowly began to change. I became the after version of the stick figure: large breasts and hips I couldn’t fit into the juniors-sized jeans. I was becoming a woman, and I spent days happy to be inside my body.
They said that puberty would feel awkward. Maybe I was a late bloomer, and that wasn’t puberty, it was preberty. The school administrator told us after she shut off the video it was natural to feel awkward about our bodies in high school, but no one tells you about the hate you have for your body in your mid-twenties. Puberty is now at 27. My body changed, just when I thought I had learned it.
My gynecologist asks me about my period.
“Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not. And when it is there, it’s kinda painful.”
I don’t tell her somedays fiery pain exploding from my pelvis leaves me lying in my bed all day, gulping down handfuls of Advil so I can make it to work. My boss doesn’t believe it’s possible for me to be that sick every month. I tell him my period is really bad, but he shakes his hands in front of his face, mouth skewed in disgust, and I see some of the other women in the office roll their eyes.
“Sometimes it takes a couple months for the benefits of birth control to kick in,” the doctor says, folding my file closed.
My new birth control sucks, and I don’t tell her I have stopped taking it. On top of the pain in my pelvis not dulling, I’ve noticed that my stomach presses tightly against my shirt, and I have ripped the lining of coats trying to get my shoulders to fit like they used to. I see a body I don’t know anymore. The same happiness I felt when I first saw my blood-soaked panties doesn’t overtake me anymore. Instead, I run to the store for a new bottle of Advil and try to be caught up on work.
Although my pain is familiar, my body is not. My body and I are separate, but we are both angry. We are in a dead-end relationship, maybe we’ve out grown each other. I tried to read more body-positivity articles and books with pictures of fat women on the cover wearing bright, revealing clothes, but every chapter titled “Love Yourself” or “You Are in Your Own Way” made me feel worse. There should be a chapter titled, “How to Tolerate Yourself While a Red Stretch Mark Rips Across Your Stomach” which comes after the section, “None of My Clothes Fit and Every Store I Visit Doesn’t Seem to Know What an Actual Human is Shaped Like.”
Sex used to be easy, and more frequent. My hips hurt now, and I am sore for days after. I told my gynecologist I bleed during sex, but my test results came back normal. I repeat what she said to me – normal -- while men clean my blood off their stomach and hips. They don’t believe me and all I can do is agree with them; no one has believed me for a long time. I’m not sure I believe myself anymore.
“Sex can change as you get older,” my gynecologist told me. But no one told me about sex in the beginning, how am I supposed to know? Sex Ed came from Seventeen and Cosmo, and friends. I learned I liked getting head when my first boyfriend went down on me in his car behind the movie theatre. But Cosmo or Seventeen never taught me how sex changes when you have a 60-hour work-week, and you’ve gained thirty pounds in four months.
I’ve found someone patient and kind, who tucks his hand between my hip and belly when we sleep. When I tell him about my pain, he responds, “It will be okay,” which irritates me, even though I don’t tell him that. I don’t believe it will be okay, and a pressure expands in my chest when I think I will have to live in this body I don’t understand for the rest of my life. My relationship with myself is failing. We go to bed angry every night, and I mostly receive the silent treatment from her until she is angry enough. Learning to love him was easy, and he asks no questions when I ask him to pick-up heavy-duty pads from Walmart.
I visit my mother and we take our coffee to walk around her garden. She kneels before some shrubbery that falls over the other flowers it is next to while small vine hands begin to pull themselves up the fence behind it. She sets her mug in the damp dirt, wet from her morning water. I look at her body for what feels like the first time. Her body is a comfort to me. A stomach upon which I remember resting my head, arms and a chest which pull me into an embrace. Her shirt hangs from her shoulders now. I think again about the stick figure in the video, concave and convex lines.
I ask how she has been feeling.
“Good. The doctor said my incisions look great, and in a couple weeks I’ll go back for the final CT Scan to make sure they got it all. They seem confident we caught it early enough.” She shrugs, collecting the crispy dead leaves from the undergrowth. “I feel good, too.”
I want to ask why she isn’t angry. I am angry enough for the both of us.
“What’s that?” I ask when she pulls at parts of the plant, her fingers dark with soil, ripping roots from the earth.
“Virginia Creeper,” she says, mouth pursing when she pulls another root. I stop my questions for a while and sip my coffee as she makes a small pile of woody roots and green leaves next to her. Eventually, she stands. “Got some of this from your Aunt, and it has grown so fast I can’t keep up with it, and I think it is starting to kill some of my other flowers – too much shade.”
“So why don’t you just get rid of it?”
She picks her coffee from the ground, and before she stands, she holds some of the green leaves, which looks more like a caress than an inspection. “I think I may have to. It’s a little unruly.” She smiles, still.
Her garden takes up the whole backyard, flowers of all different heights, shapes and sizes sit in their beds, soaking up the sun. I feel the sun on my own face, turning my head towards it like the petals.
“Does it even bloom?”
“Yes, it has some small green buds.”
“That’s it? After all that work you don’t even get a flower from it?” I turn my back from the plant, and she follows.
“This plant isn’t known for its bloom. The after bloom is the most beautiful part, when the leaves turn different shades of red.”
She moves towards a large wooden barrel on the far side of the garden. Tulips shoot out of the dirt like arrows but the bulbs sag to the side, petals fallen on the dirt below. She gives the bulbs of the flowers a quick tug, decapitating them, so only the green stems remain.
“It is, but it’s for the best. I mean, when you think about it, bodies change. God knows mine did, even before this surgery.” She looks down at her flat chest, “We have to carry a lot, Iris, our bodies, I mean.”
My face tenses up, and I will myself not to cry, even as the tears burn my eyes. Mom sighs, “Oh baby,” and strokes my hair while she hugs me. I may have outgrown all my clothes, but my mom’s arms seem to fit around me like they always have.
We stand like that for a while, and I try to feel every point where our bodies connect. After a while, I pull away. Mom collects her piles of clippings and carries them past the shed.
I return to the decapitated tulip heads, fingering the slightly wilted petals with my tear-soaked fingers. The petals are smooth and delicate, but tired. I look around the garden, stalks and stems and petals surround me; I don’t want to be a fucking flower. I drop the tulip head, and touch the cold, wet soil instead.
I’ve heard of women who bleed into their gardens, claiming the blood made their plants flourish. My fingers press into the dirt thinking of my toes deep in dark ground, blood dripping down my legs. I press deeper into the soil.
“Baby, you did always love the dirt.” Mom laughs and it makes me smile. “I always thought, that’s my girl, she knows nothing good can come from bad dirt.” Approaching me from behind, she gives my shoulder a gentle squeeze.
I sink my fingers into the soil deeper, fingers moving like worms in the cold earth.
Linzy Garcia is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Nevada, Reno in Fiction. In both short and long forms, she explores women’s pleasure, shame, and experience. A border child of Nevada and California, Linzy now lives in Reno, NV.