The Period Calendar

Amy Sibley

Amy Sibley

I don’t know much about the man who gave his last name to my father. I don’t know what he looked like; if he had dark hair or light, whether he was short or tall, or what color his eyes were. It didn’t matter. He wasn’t a blood relation. He’s considered a moot point and didn’t contribute to any of our current existences. When my grandmother became pregnant with my father in 1950 she told the married man she was dating at the time that it was his. Mr. Sibley decided to take responsibility and so left his wife to be with my grandmother and help raise my father. For years he did just that. Though they never married, my father was given his last name. When my dad turned five, this man learned that he was sterile; incapable of having children. The tow-headed little boy that he had been raising as his own was in fact not his. Being in possession of this information, knowing that my grandmother had lied to him, broken up his marriage, and deceived him into raising someone else’s bastard child, was enough to send him into an ever-constant rage. He beat both my grandmother and my father for a time, then growing tired, finally left.

My grandmother would eventually marry a man named Phil, the man I grew up knowing as ‘Grandpa’, and the father of my dad’s two younger half-sisters. When I was nine, she died of a heart attack. Her death was explained to me as her heart had exploded. In my 9-year-old mind I actually envisioned her heart physically exploding.

The day of her death she received a phone call from a woman named Sharna. She lived in Northern California, was 45, five years older than my father, had two children, and was recently divorced. She was calling because she wanted to speak to the woman who had given her up for adoption. No one had known. My grandmother had kept this a secret that she nearly took to the grave. At 16, she’d had a baby girl. , She was sent off to have the baby and give it up for adoption. With the loss of my grandmother we gained three new family members, my Aunt Sharna and her two children. In gaining this puzzle piece of my grandmother’s life, it was cemented in my father’s mind what he had always believed to be true of his mother: she’d been a slut.

I got my first period when I was twelve, halfway through the seventh grade. It was a cold, dreary day in mid-February, and seemed rather fitting. When I went into the bathroom that morning and pulled down my pants I was assaulted by the sight of a dark red stain caked onto my underwear. I deduced that it had to be one of two things. Either I had started my period or I was dying. Of course I knew that this sudden loss of blood had nothing to do with an impending death, but I didn’t want to believe it. So, I called my mom into the bathroom and asked, “what’s this?” as if there’d be some other completely benign reason and then we’d throw our heads back and laugh at my ridiculousness. Then I’d go on with my carefree childish ways laughing about how worked up I’d gotten over thinking I had started my period.

I wanted someone to blame for this. I’d heard somewhere that women’s cycles were often connected to the cycles of other women around them. I took this literally to mean if one woman started her period, then the lady sitting next to her might also start her period. I couldn’t help but picture a bus full of women all starting their periods, one right after the other, just like dominoes going down.

When one of the girls I’d gone to elementary school with started her period, her mother had a party for her.

A period party.

With cake.

I didn’t go to the party, yet couldn’t erase the picture my imagination had created; a white cake with a bloodied maxi pad made of red fondant and her mother asking me, “would you like a corner piece or the middle?”

I begged my mom not to tell anyone, especially my father, and she just laughed, but I couldn’t understand what was so funny. Despite being 45 degrees and foggy out, I grabbed a lawn chair, a flannel jacket, and my headphones and headed to the backyard; my safe haven. I planted the chair in a corner of the yard and proceeded to sit out there for hours, the music blaring through my headphones, staring in the face of what felt like despair. My mother came outside as I sat in my depressed mediation to tell me it was time to come in for dinner. We were getting take-out and she wanted me to go with my father to get it.  “Go tell your Dad. Then you guys can go pick up dinner”

“Uh… I don’t think so.”

“He needs to know. You should tell him.”

“No way! Why does he need to know? I’m not telling him.” I was not backing down on this one. I sat in the chair, and stared her down, refusing to get up.

She stared right back, “Be inside in ten minutes.”
I really believed I had won. I thought that going forward not another soul was going to know that I had become a woman, and most importantly my father was not going to know.

As my father and I drove to the restaurant I told him about something a boy in class said. A kid I barely knew, but a story funny enough to warrant retelling. He briefly looked away from the road as he fixated his eyes directly on me. Carefully he spoke, “Well… now you have to be careful don’t you.” I could feel the blood surging towards my face, and I realized in those ten minutes I had taken to come inside that my mother had betrayed me and told him everything.

The same day my period started I was introduced to what can only be described as the “Period Calendar.” It didn’t actually have a name, but that’s what it amounted to. The period calendar wasn’t a special, set-aside calendar, that only served the purpose of tracking my period, it was nothing more than a plain old, nonthreatening, ‘I Love Lucy’ calendar that hung in the kitchen.

There we stood in front of the calendar as my mother, with her pen in hand, put an “X” on that day. From there she then showed me how she kept track of when the next period would come.

“You count out 28 days and mark the 28th day. Then you can expect your period will start within a couple of days before or after that date.” I quickly learned to hope for an early start to my period. The sooner the better, as this headed off the dance we would otherwise engage in.

A few days before it was due to start my mother would ask me, “Have you started yet?” She might ask while we were both in the kitchen at the same time, or she’d do it when we were in the car on the way to grocery store. She made sure to never ask when my father was present. If I said no, she would wait and ask again later that day, maybe before bed. Or she’d be there the next day when I’d walk in the house after school, the question racing to get out of her mouth. The closer it got to the date where that “X” sat mockingly on the calendar, the more nervous I would get. In a good month, my period would start a day or two before it was supposed to. She’d make a new “X” and count off 28 more days, and for 26 of those I could relax again. In a bad month, it wouldn’t start on the day it was “supposed” to and might start a couple days later, leading to a palpable fog that hung in the air and that had the stink of fear, shame, and worry.

When I was a Freshman in high school I was part of a little clique consisting of four other girls and myself. We weren’t one of those groups that everyone wanted to be a part of; more like a bunch of ragtag girls that had gravitated to one another. Over the summer we didn’t see as much of Amanda, but when we came back to school in the fall we found out Amanda had been plenty busy. Although girls in my school were always getting pregnant, she was the first of my friends. Several months into her pregnancy she had a baby shower. I was only 15, which meant I couldn’t drive myself, so I needed a ride to her house. Somehow it turned into a family affair, as we all piled into our little Geo Prism. It was a foggy night in early winter as my dad drove and my mom sat in the front passenger seat. I was in the back seat with a small present on my lap. It was dark, cold, and quiet.

“Can you turn the radio on?” I asked

“You don’t need the radio,” my dad replied gruffly. The fifteen-minute drive was silent and long. We pulled up to the modest home, the grass dried out from the hot summer we’d had earlier that year, and a few balloons tied to the mailbox to indicate we had reached the festivities.

My dad shut off the engine, and my mom looked around the car, “Well we’re here!” she exclaimed, in case there was any confusion. My dad turned around and faced me in the back seat as I fiddled to get my seatbelt unhooked.

“Ok have fun!” my mom interjected again, trying to hurry me out of the car.

My father just ignored her and continued to look at me, finally saying, “We’ll be back in a few hours…And. Don’t. Ever. Let. This. Be. You.”

Seventeen years later, at the age of 32, on a Thursday, five months into a new job, I found myself in the single-stall  bathroom of the tiny three-person office I worked in, peeing on a stick and setting the timer on my cell phone to three minutes. I shuffled the few feet between the sink where the phone timer was slowly ticking down, and then shuffled back over to where I’d placed the pee stick. Hovering gingerly over the stick, I watched one line pop up, afraid to even wish that the second one didn’t pop up. My fate rested in that timer. If I could make it to the final buzzer with no second line, I was in the clear. There was a shaking coming up from within my body that was out of my conscious control.  My breath had been getting increasingly shallow and felt as though it was swirling only in and out of my mouth, failing to make it’s way into my lungs.

In one innocent, passing thought, I knew I must have forgotten to take one of my birth control pills. But I’d missed the occasional pill before without incident. It was with that second seemingly innocent, passing thought that I then knew it was likely I had forgotten at least two in a row. This realization solidified in my mind at the worst possible time; at the very beginning my forty-five minute commute home. There was nothing I could do with this thought. It was just going to have to come along for the ride. I stumbled into the house, tripping over myself, my purse, and the cat to get to the bedroom where I tore open the packet of pills. Sure enough, there I stood staring at pills untouched since Wednesday.

From that first day I got my period, the subtle game of interrogation surrounding the period calendar faded into the background as just something we did, despite not losing my virginity until I was seventeen. Standing in that office bathroom with a pregnancy test I wondered if everything was about to come to a head. As the alarm cried out, announcing the end of the three minutes, I stood with the test in hand and confirmed only the one line was there. I stared hard for two more minutes just to be sure. I wasn’t pregnant. I could feel a coolness flow through my body. It was air. I was breathing again. I looked at myself staring out from the mirror and I could see the normal flush of blood filling my skin with color. Who needed a period calendar? Tempting fate and coming out on the other side unscathed was a far more effective means of tricking yourself into believing you were in control. And as such things go, that evening when I was out to dinner with a friend, my period started. I wanted to run out onto the street, assault a stranger with my hugs and kisses, shove a cigar into their hand and scream to the world “I’m having a period!”

7 Comments

  1. Amy,
    There are so many great moments in this story. In the beginning, we’re surprised (as well as your family) to learn of your grandmother’s daughter (on the day of her death nonetheless!) An then the period party! Or driving with your parents to the baby shower.
    This is a sentimental, yet humourous piece.
    Thanks for sharing it with us.
    Erin

  2. It’s amazing to see how delicately, but honestly, you treat the ways that women internalize guilt, shame and fear of sex–and how culturally it comes out in the tracking of our periods. Brave, brave writing.

  3. Thank you Allie and Erin for your comments! It definitely was not an easy piece to write, but sometimes those end up being the most rewarding. Thank you to Spry for giving me the opportunity to share this essay with others!

  4. You said it wasn’t an easy piece but you make it appear so.

    I dare say every woman who’s read this has gone through that moment or day or days of feeling like her blood’s got pins in it. Can’t imagine a mother being so pushy about a daughter starting her period. Bloody annoying already!

    The humour really gets us, especially in the last line. Your pace is well done.

    What the heck did your family think when they read “She’d been a slut”? Crikey! That took courage on your part. Good on ya.

    Cheers to a grand read.

  5. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments Nichole. I am so glad it is a piece that other women can relate to, that means so much to me!

  6. “She’d been a slut”–this is hilarious. The final lines of each section are really memorable–you stopped writing at the exact right times…

  7. Thanks so much! I am glad the humor comes through.

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  1. Publications, Awards, and Lists | One Word at a Time - […] “Period Calendar” – Spry Literary Journal, Issue 1, January 2013. […]

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