Throw Back Thursday and Cardboard Tampons

I read Are You There God, It’s Me, Maragret in second grade. I was the reason moms want that book banned from school libraries. I was way too young to read it and way too curious to put it down when the themes didn’t relate to me. Boys, periods, dark movie theaters- these were things that I was GOING to want, so I better read up. My mom never really censored what I read* and I’m sure she didn’t think anything of a Judy Blume. I also read A LOT so it’s not like the poor woman could keep up anyway.
Well, that book made me want my period. It made me want to be grown up. The word “sexy” comes to mind, but that wasn’t it… more like “womanly.” I wanted curves and to be able complain about cramps. I wondered what it would feel like to have a boy “up my sweater” because I really had no idea what that even meant. The fact that I started going to an inner city elementary school in fourth grade did not help my fascination. We were always being told about where we could and couldn’t be touched and who to tell. In fifth grade we had a sex ed presentation where we were basically just told we were going to have periods. This wasn’t shocking news to anyone. In fact, the one and only anonymous question that was pulled out of the box was “what does it feel like when a penis goes inside you?” We all knew who wrote it, and she blushed deeply. The counselor just said something like “that’s not what we’re talking about today” and went on to show us what I thought were diapers in our “preparation kits.” I wore the travel size deodorant too soon.

I had health again in sixth grade (we had moved to a more rural area by then) and I learned what a wet dream was in all technicality. I learned it was embarrassing by the way the boys laughed and avoided eye contact. By this time, girls around me were getting their periods and I was sure mine would come. In seventh grade I shaved my legs without my mom knowing and only got permission to actually shave because I made her feel my armpit hair and it grossed her out. I would sneak the make up my mom didn’t wear to school and try to look grown up. I don’t know why I had such a desire to look and feel older than I was. I wasn’t treated particularly childish or adult-like in my childhood. I think I just liked the drama of all of it. The looming unknown, the props and the make-up.

By eighth grade sex ed, I was hyper aware of my lacking blood flow and my lacking chest. My best friend had huge knockers that she seemed to hate when it was just us but love when boys were looking at them. I wanted boys to look at me but I wasn’t sure of all the reasons why. I felt left behind.

In ninth grade, I was pretty sure I was the last girl who didn’t get her period over the summer. It was horrible. We had ANOTHER sex ed presentation given by the seniors at our high school. I’m sure they thought we would listen to the older and wiser students. They were right. There was a lot of “Abstinence is best, BUT…” and a stereotypical banana/condom demonstration. Everyone was silent. Everyone was paying attention. This information was relevant to everyone but me. I had been pining for my period since second grade, and now felt like everyone was saying “on your left” as they lapped me. These new props were obsolete in my scene. I didn’t need condoms! I needed a pad! I was still mortified by the idea of a tampon so you can imagine what I thought about bananas.

My period finally came over Thanksgiving. We were visiting my aunt and uncle and I was so excited that it was finally happening. I played it cool. My mom didn’t think this was something to celebrate- she hated that I’d have to worry about it. My aunt only had overnight pads under her sink so I waddled around uncomfortably. Somehow, though, I still felt cool.

When I got back to school I was excited to tell anyone who would listen but also a little embarrassed that it had taken me so long. I mentioned it to my friend Michelle during math class. Michelle was pretty, but not overly popular. Like, she was too pretty to be popular. She wasn’t pretty because she wore Abercrombie & Fitch and had acrylic nails. She was REAL pretty and I think it intimidated everybody. But she was friendly and excited about my news.

“Have you discovered the amazing invention called the tampon?” She asked me too loud, our teacher was writing formulas on the white board.

“No! I’m afraid!” I whispered so she would follow my lead.

She pulled out a Kotex and handed it to me. She asked if I knew how to use it and I played dumb (like hadn’t read the instructions I’d found in my moms box countless times). She explained it to me in vague detail and when I put it in my backpack snapped at me that sitting in a pad was “gross” and I needed to go to the bathroom NOW.

I obeyed. I inserted it the way I had seen in cartoon drawings. The applicator was made of cardboard and that threw me off- it wasn’t plastic and smooth and pink like my moms. For the first time, I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. I pulled out what came out- the smaller round tube and threw it in the little trash can (I could finally use the little trash can!) and went back to class.

After 5 minutes, I was in pain. Uncomfortable was a mild way to describe it. I shifted in my seat to try and relieve the pressure. Michelle turned around. “Isn’t it great?!” She whispered this time. “You can’t even feel it right?” I grimaced a smile and nodded in agreement.

Later that day I had gym class. GYM CLASS. We had to RUN. It was horrible. I felt like someone kept punching me in the vagina.

When I had somehow survived and was changing in the locker room, Michelle announced that I had gotten my period and I remember a lot of congratulations. She made a big deal out of the fact that SHE had introduced me to the tampon. All the girls nodded in appreciation for “the amazing invention” and delved into their own stories and favorite brands. At one point, they started talking about how much they hated the cardboard ones and my ears perked up.
“Like, I hate how the cardboard can get stuck up there!”

It was then that I realized I was supposed to pull out BOTH pieces of cardboard and not just one. I ran into the stall and gave myself the greatest relief I had felt so far in my 14 years.

I think I told my mom about it when I got home and she admonished me for being afraid of tampons at all and shuttered when I told her what I had used was cardboard.

“Never put anything up there that isn’t pink” she told me. If she was making a reference to penises, I didn’t get it. After all, I had only just gotten my period.

*The only book I remember her telling me I couldn’t read was A Stranger Beside me by Ann Rule. It was about Ted Bundy and the fact that it was restricted only fueled my desire to swallow it. She relented when I was 16 and ever since, I have not been able to pass a construction site without running and horrifically rude to especially friendly and attractive strangers. I am still to young to have read that book.