All through my childhood, my dad got transferred often. He also got frustrated often. Between getting transferred and getting frustrated we moved around a lot. I was born in Kimberley and moved houses three times before the first really BIG move to Harrismith, where I started Sub A and ended Sub B. It was a bitterly cold change from Kimberley, my mom was terribly unhappy and before I started Standard 1 we were living in Bloemfontein.
I remember I liked the house we moved into that time. It was in a suburb slightly outside Bloem and I attended a school where my teacher was pretty as a peach and my classmates much friendlier than I expected. I made my first good friend there – she helped me convince my mom that the knee-high snow-white socks with their little frills at the top were really not suitable for a girl my age. Together we rather wore the shorter, thinner version, which we rolled down over our ankles, hers tanned and sport, mine pale and weak. She was beautiful and for years after I believed that she was the most intelligent person I would ever meet. But alas, my time with her was only three terms long.
For the next few years we moved many times and always at the most inconvenient times. My best defense was always to find the nearest bathroom and hide in its empty hugging quietness, until the worst was over. One such move was from the tiny rural town of Dordrecht, where there weren’t kids in every grade and where I was in the combined Std 4 and 5 class, to Cradock, with its many pristine green-and-white tuishuise (glorified B&B’s), long clean streets lined with tall trees either side and a school that seemed just the right size. As I stepped over the threshold of one of the out-buildings of the large, old house we moved into, a chill ran down my spine as I told my mom, without a doubt in my mind, that I had been having dreams about exactly that house, to the finest details, for months before. She didn’t even attempt disbelief; my precognition was no surprise any more.
On the day that the van arrived with all our earthly belongings – not diminishing but rather multiplying with each new house in an attempt to make it a home, I suppose – I had the most dreadful cramps from early morning. A persistent, dull, aching, burning sensation very low down in between my hips, as well as cramps almost rhythmic in their intensity and recurrence. The pain numbed my thighs and made it impossible for me to help much with carrying things or packing anything out, if that were going to be the move I stopped hiding in a bath. I remember going to the toilet and just sitting on it for so long, my legs not able to make me get up.
For some reason I looked into the space between my body and the water and saw a thick, dark, sticky drop of something slide its way out. I wiped myself carefully and brought back a handful of bloodstained toilet paper. Ok. There it was. My mom, mentally very ill with Post Natal Depression had told me about what menstruating entailed when I was about six and didn’t need to know it yet. We probably never discussed it again, apart from her mentioning to me about a year prior to the day it actually happened, that there was a tiny box of tampons ready in the bathroom cupboard for my first period. She seemed to be looking forward to it with a weird kind of possessiveness, like having my first period would make me hers even more.
There I was, on an unfamiliar toilet, in an unfamiliar house, in a new town yet again, with the much needed tampons definitely NOT in the bathroom cupboard, but somewhere in a box, with who knows what else. I really didn’t have a clue where to start looking, since I never helped packing anything in or out, so my predicament was great. I would actually have to announce it to my mom – the guest she had been expecting for over a year had finally arrived – in order for her to help me find the damn tampons. I bunched up some toilet paper, secured it into my panties and pulled up my jeans. I found sudden strength in my legs and hurried outside to where my mom was, thank goodness, standing alone, a little separate from my dad giving instructions to the men carrying our stuff. I looked her right in the eyes, so that I wouldn’t have to repeat myself and possibly be heard by someone else, and said, “I’ve started bleeding and I need the tampons. Any idea where I can find them?”
She looked happy at first, then worried about me for a few seconds, about my aching body, then I saw her eyes light up with the glad recognition of a specific piece of stored information. She turned, dug her hand into a box close by and pulled out the little box with a satisfied smile. I was relieved and grateful and hurried back into the house. She followed with quick footsteps, wanting to know if I was sure I knew what to do. I said that most of the girls in my class (previous class, that was) had already been having periods for ages and that I was quite ready to do what had to be done. I suspect she was right outside the toilet door nonetheless as I carefully unwrapped the minute tampon for light flow, wondering if it would actually stop any of the thick, heavy blood from dripping down my legs. I inserted it with one smooth secure movement, flushed the toilet with its content of some more stained toilet paper, washed my hands and disposed of the almost invisible clingwrap-kind-of-covering, hid the box of Lillets in what was going to be my bedroom, in the deepest corner of a cupboard which I very soon filled with clothes, and faced my mom with a victorious smile. I wanted her to know everything was fine, I was fine, we didn’t need to talk about it at all.
I can’t remember that we ever did. It was my choice. Long before she needed to she threw me with a whole lot of intimate details about periods, among other things, so when it actually happened, no words were needed. It was my first period and it was mine alone. With the help of many painpills I got through it relatively effortlessly. Years later when I was diagnosed with Endometriosis, like so many other women, we did what we had to do (my partner and I) and I had a Mirena inserted. Problem solved, temporarily.