Just a short month ago, my friend and Gynecologist told me that I wouldn’t get my period anymore. It seems that at the age of forty-two, my body has passed through menopause unnoticed in my day-to-day life. Yes, I know that this happens to every woman at some point. The trouble is that it has happened to me. And, like so many other benchmark moments in my life, I didn’t quite get the passage right. And, unlike many of the other life-markers, there is no going back.
After all, it’s not as if I had a hysterectomy and my period left to save the rest of my body from Cancer. It’s not as if I’m 55, and I took the last decade preparing. Instead, it’s just gone, and I didn’t notice its departure. I thought that the increased time between periods over the last two years was related to stress. More time passed, and I forgot that I didn’t get it. And, because sex was infrequent with my single mother status, I didn’t even worry about the P word. So, my period left, and I didn’t get to say good-bye.
When he gave me the news, I didn’t give it much thought. In fact, it made interesting, colorful conversation with my friends. “Did you hear, I’m through menopause!? Came and went like a hit and run. No symptoms to speak of, and now it’s finished.” A tee shirt arrives in the morning mail that reads, ‘This is not a hot flash, this is a power surge.’ I joke about having a party and giving out the tampons that still sit in my bathroom cabinet as party favors. “You’re so lucky, “they say one by one. “You don’t have to worry about birth control. No more sticking something up there and having to take it out.”
If I’m so lucky, why am I, just a few weeks later, feeling so alone, so filled with a sense of loss? Why do I feel as if all the things that women of my generation haven’t quite gotten right yet, scream to me as things no longer yet to come? Why does this loss make all my past losses seem so permanent, rather than practice runs for the time I get it right?
Get a grip, I tell myself. And so, I do what always has worked in the past. I have a conversation with the departed period as if it is my ex-husband. “Listen, Period, just what did you do for me anyway? You gave me cramps that entitled me to one day of throwing up and missing fun with my friends from the age of twelve to twenty. You made me miss the high school gathering at the beach, because I didn’t know how to wear Tampax and was afraid that everyone would see the belt and pad that so invaded my private space. You made me pregnant before I was mature enough to be a mother and gave me the haunting memory of that clinic — the conveyor belt of young, terrified women early one Saturday morning in 1976.”
“You showed up at the worst times imaginable. Remember that time in seventh grade when you arrived unexpectedly when I was riding Tommy Hendrix’s bike? You left your mark on his brown leather seat. Remember the look on his face and mine when we saw it, and realized that it was you? Have you ever wondered if he remembers it still?”
All these conversations with myself make me sadder. So, I turn to reason.
Having a child or a period is not the only thing that I can no longer do. I can’t join the army. The Peace Corps is out of the question. And, yes, it’s true that my backhand will never go up against the latest Chrissie Evert. I will never learn math the way my nine- year-old does, nor enjoy the increased freedom of college in the new Millennium. But, this is different. It was already part of what I am, and I didn’t want it to leave me until I was ready to see it go.
My ‘boyfriend’ told me tonight that perhaps I’m taking it so hard because it’s my first failure. At first, his comment confused me. But, he’s right. This marks of the end of something about me that I can’t hope to fix. No shrink can find the reason from my childhood and alleviate the symptom. No medical doctor can bring it back with a pill or a change in diet. My reproduction system has failed, (please no feminist judgement about how it’s not!) and no amount of reassurance from a man in my life can make me think that it doesn’t matter. Though I do not want more children, the option is gone, and worst of all, it’s from my end.
So, I sit here in the October of my life, playing old Simon and Garfunkel tunes, and trying to find some peace. I think of the wonder of having a period. The child that sleeps in the next room because of it. I give thanks that my period was a reminder that I am a woman, when my actions often made me feel I was more like a man. It’s true, that even in menopause, my life has not followed the book. Like my motherhood of broken promises and last minute Halloween costumes, I didn’t pass through menopause in the traditional manner. I didn’t plan my period’s disappearance properly or note the landscape along the way. I knew it would end, just like I knew that the man I should have had a lifetime with would leave because I wasn’t mature enough to handle his maturity. Do we all have the great love we knew about too late to fix?
But, unlike the other mishaps in the personal mayhem I call my life, maybe I can replace this monthly reminder of my womanhood with something else. Something a little more me. A new outer peace, a softer shape, or a healthier attitude publicly. Something that will tell others around me that I am proud of being a woman, regardless of whether there’s a monthly reminder telling me that’s what I am. Maybe now I will wear my womanhood like an overcoat, for the entire world to see, instead of like the womanly underclothing that a period becomes. For, in my experience, when something leaves, it’s often replaced with something a little better.
Written in 1995…