By Lassiter Jamison
"How do you use those?” my brother asked quietly, pointing to the pad I had hidden in my semi-closed palm. I looked down hoping to find something different there and shrugged with my eyes still locked on the light green flowers adorning the package. I worried about staining my pants or my aunt’s mattress with blood. She was upset at me for it the day before, saying that her girls weren’t so messy. It was true. I couldn’t imagine either of my cousins staining anything. They had pure white names; Brittany and Chelsea, and cheerleader smiles though I didn’t know if either of them were on a team. I, in comparison, felt dour and skittish. Messy. I didn’t want to be a girl, but I wanted to be pretty. “How does it get the blood out?” Paris continued his questioning, leaning over the back of the couch where he slept while my dad laid on the floor with his basketball cap over his eyes. I shivered and rubbed the back of my foot against a mosquito bite on my ankle. Me and my brother slept in the same room at home. In recent years he’d started playing xbox with his friends from school, taunting them with; That’s so gay that’s so gay what’re you, a fag? Ayyooo, Ayyooo chill with that! While I stayed silent in the bottom bunk growing gayer and more resentful. I shrugged. “You don’t know?” asked my dad, revealing he was awake. We both looked at him instead of each other, hollowing ourselves out to listen to whatever he had to say. Whenever my dad spoke it was long and coiling. Simple questions could keep you rooted to the spot for hours as the topic changed and changed and changed with only an occasional ‘uh-huh’ or ‘right’ from you to fuel it. He took the cap off and placed it backwards on his bald head, squinting and grinning in our direction. After a beat, Paris shook his head, but dad was already talking again. “Son, you can’t just ask a girl about that. C’mon, she doesn’t wanna talk about that. Right, Booka?” I nodded though neither he nor Paris were looking at me anymore. My dad sat up to lean against the other couch in the room. It was an odd room divided into two areas. The carpeted living room where we slept and a games space where the carpet stopped and became near-frozen white tiles. The space behind the couches was cavernous in the dark of the moment. There was a pool table somewhere back there. And a dart board and weights growing dusty in the corner. “You see- here. Bring it here, Ma.” He held out a hand and I stayed frozen until he looked at me. “Bring it here.” he repeated softly, and I did, placing my pad in the palm of his hand. He nodded and I took an awkward step back as he unpeeled the plastic and unfurled the length of cloth in his hand. He gestured for Paris to move closer, and he did, leaning down to get a better look. “This sticky side- you see it? You stick it on the panties and this cloth here soaks up all the blood.” My stomach lurched and something in me separated. It was more than the normal daydreamy not-there I often retreated to whenever I was forced to listen to my dad. It felt like I was watching the moment happen, like I could be anywhere in the room. I remember a part of me being behind it all, in the dark space where the pool table sat. My feet were cold. I grit my teeth together as a cramp knotted itself into my side. “There’s enough blood for all of it?” my brother asked incredulously. “How much blood do you think there is?” my dad asked. Paris shrugged. “Like when you get a cut.” My dad laughed, setting my pad down on his lap. I looked at the space it had been before forcing my eyes downward. I remembered - maybe not in that moment but over the years of remembering that moment - opening the door to my dad’s bathroom/study and seeing him naked. The memory is contextless, only a few seconds long and inserts itself into this period memory as if I wrongfully taped over something for just a few moments before realizing my mistake. My dad laughed, setting my pad down on his lap and I remember(ed) that he had a cock between his legs while I had a blood-soaked cloth between mine. “Oh there’s a lot more than when you get a cut.” he said and then told him that girls bleed all day every day for a week every month. “All day, even at night?” Paris asked, dawning horror bleeding into his hushed voice. My dad nodded. “That’s right.” he confirmed, looking at me to nod along with him. I tilted my ear towards my shoulder, feeling my chest tighten as my brother’s eyes fell on me with pity so sincere I was surprised we didn’t both burst into tears. Him with guilt for being unaware of my affliction and me with sorrow for what I was. The divide between us was that of a boy and a girl. Here another memory tries to surface but my mind clicks helplessly, lingering on the empty moment and my little brother’s brown eyes until the stutter vanishes and we’re allowed to continue. “Here, Ma.” my dad said, handing me back the pad. It stuck to my palm and I struggled to come back to myself. My flat feet stumbled across the cold tile and onto the stiff carpet. I made it halfway in, phantom limbs akimbo. I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror while the tips of my fingers were blushing with blood and thought that I did look messy. There was dirt under my nails - I had mosquito bites - my acne hurt. I looked unhappy in a sunken way. I felt it too, like there was something heavy in my bones. I was androgynously ugly, I decided. I washed my hands. At the bottom of the basement steps my dad bumped into me on his way up. His blue eyes squinted down at me and I felt myself being ugly and heavy. I leaned against the banister to give him room, staring at the dark space behind him. “Don’t stay up too late.” he told me. I nodded. “And hey, stop with the woe-is-me face, ok?” he said. I didn’t have to look at him to hear the smile in his words. Coagulated blood slowly fought its way out of me and I adjusted my hips to help it along. I nodded. He paused as if he wanted to say more but decided it wasn’t worth it, wishing me a goodnight before climbing up the creaky stairs and out of my sight. I looked at my brother through the banister. He was playing something on his Nintendo, and I remembered when we used to play together. When we were flat chested and sexless and the body was only used for verbs and sleep. We used to play out conversations between Naruto characters before we fell asleep with him on the top bunk and me on the bottom. “Lee kicks Shikamaru.” “Hinata punches Sakura.” “Neji kisses Gaara.” “Why?” Paris asked after a moment of silence. “Because he’s in love with him.” I said. We stopped playing after that. In my little basement room, I laid in bed and waited for my dad to check in on me. The stairs creaked, then the door, then the floor, then silence. After I was sure he’d gone to bed I pulled my phone out from under my pillow and read fanfiction for hours. The men in it were beautiful and suffering and for those hours I pretended I was one of them. I pretended that my pain was being poisoned, being shot, stabbed, penetrated for the first time. Anything was preferable to a period.
Read Issue 18