The Wedding Toast, 1990


I am from England, as is my daughter. While it is a father’s customary duty to cover his daughter’s wedding celebration, the only demand I made from a financial position, before I was going to be made a poor man, was it should be held as an ‘English style’ wedding. This was not a problem with the groom’s parents since Irish wedding celebrations are similar. Other than some minor subtleties, both parents sit at the head table with the bride and groom, and the father of the bride makes a speech. The speech is meant to be lighthearted, funny and of course truthful.



A Period of Change, 2001


The first period I got in my entire life was when I was 10 years old. The date was September 11th, 2001, the day the World Trade Center was attacked. It was a Tuesday and I had just gotten to school, and about an hour into first-block math class the telephone on the wall rang and the teacher’s aid picked it up. Shock rang white in her face and she beckoned to my teacher with a limp finger. Hanging up the phone, she whispered into his ear and suddenly his expression matched hers.

“Students, go to your lockers and get ready to go home.” He said, completely monotone. “Two planes have just crashed in New York City and your parents are coming to pick you up.”

I was ten, I didn’t fully understand what was going on. Planes crashed all the time, what was so different about these two?

The youngest sixth-grader, I walked to my locker completely unaware of what was going on. All I knew was that I was going home, which seemed nice at the time because I had belly cramps and a headache. On my way to the main office I saw my friend Stacia crying. I asked her what was wrong.



Aunt Flow Pays a Visit, 1959


I was in a hospital room, alone. A few minutes earlier, a nurse had come into my room to prep me for an emergency appendectomy. I was uncerimoniously ordered to “spread my legs” as I was being “catheterized” (a term I did not understand, but found to be painfully humiliating, physically and emotionally). Minutes later, I felt a warm, stickiness between my legs. I touched my inner thighs, and my fingers revealed blood! I knew then with utter certainty that the nurse had killed me. I was fourteen. It was 1959. Obviously, I’ve never forgotten it.

Helma Reynolds, Germany

Helma came to America as a refugee in 1951 at the age of six.



Triplets in Tennessee, 2009


I was at my grampa’s house in Tennessee for two weeks. It was just me, my grampa, and my two brothers. So there I was on a farm with all boys in the middle of nowhere. I walked into the house to go to the bathroom. While I was in the bathroom, I happened to look down and I see that my underwear is soaked in blood. I started to sorta panic! I stuffed some toilet paper in my underwear and walked into the living room. That was when I noticed that some guest had just arrived. I just stood there unable to talk, frozen in my shock. The phone rang. My brothers were stuck out in the woods because their four-wheeler had died, and they needed to be picked up. Everyone got up immediately, leaving me and the guest—a woman I barely knew—at home alone. I took the opportunity and said, “I sorta have a problem…” and she just looked at me. “Female issues,” I said to clarify.

Then she said, ” Your period?”

“Uh… yeah,” I said.

And she said, “Would you like me to tell your grampa for you?”

“Yes, please.”

She did exactly that. When my brothers got back, we all went to the barn. To my surprise, she announced it in front of everyone! That was sooo embarrassing! I remembered all of this this morning when I got into the truck and I got a really bad cramp.

—Mickey, Florida

Mickey is a triplet with two brothers.



A Text Message, 2006


It was a Wednesday night, American Idol was going to be on. My mother was laying on the couch half asleep.

I had just turned ten years old in November. I wanted my period so bad. My best friend Paedrin had gotten hers the month before, and my friend Kassy had gotten hers in December. At the age of 10 I was already a C-cup starting to get an hourglass shape. I looked the most mature out of all my friends but I still hadn’t gotten my period.

I got up to go to the bathroom and discovered a red spot on my fairy underwear. “So I guess I got my period” were the exact word I said out loud as I sat there on the toilet. When I looked under the sink to find a pad all I could find were big bulky pads that my sister liked to use that were about an inch and a half thick (seriously, that pad could have been used as a pillow!). I skipped American Idol that night. I went to my room and I text messaged my sister: “I started”. A minute later my sister calls me to congratulate me and make sure I found a pad. Suddenly, I started crying. I don’t know why. Maybe because I knew things would change. I’m not quite sure.



High Heels, 1969


When I was twelve years old, I saved up all my pocket money for a pair of dusty-pink suede shoes I admired every day, as I walked past the shoe shop on my way to and from school. I had always worn brown or black, functional, unfeminine shoes before, but something prompted me to invest in these pretty shoes. I wanted to look like a girl for the first time in my life. Before, I had always been the one in jeans and a lumpy sweater, halfway up a tree with leaves stuck in her hair!

Finally, the day came when I had just enough money saved up, and I shyly entered the shop. The only preparations I had made, apart from the money itself, hidden carefully at the bottom of my jeans pocket in an old, brown envelope, was that, inside my school shoes my feet were bare of their regulation grey socks! The shoe seller lent me a pair of pop-socks to wear, and I slipped on the beautiful shoes. First time in a one-inch heel, I felt as though I was as tall as a house, and I tottered round the shoe shop, trying to look as if I’d been born in heels.



A (not so) Great Leap Forward, 1991


“You’ll never guess what I have for you to try,” said my friend Kristy, who was sitting with me in her bedroom as I waited for my parents to pick me up from a playdate. We were only eleven years old, but I felt much older. I had grown up around my grandmother’s cigarettes and my parents’ glasses of wine, and my friend Stephanie and I had spent hours poring over her dad’s stash of porn. What else could there be?

Kristy glanced into the hallway to make sure that no adults were approaching, then pulled open a drawer, pushed aside her socks, and gently removed a clear plastic bag from its hiding place. She took out two of her treasures and dangled them temptingly before me, their pink and white paper wrappers crinkling at her touch.

Tampons.

“They’re my mother’s,” she explained, handing one to me. “She doesn’t know that I took them.”



Three Marks on the Wall


The stories in My Little Red Book present a range of menstrual restrictions, from orthodox Jewish women’s abstinence from sex to French housewives’ inability to make mayonnaise. Most of these taboos are intriguing because we never hear about them anymore. It is our grandmothers who remember these superstitions; girls my age aren’t aware they exist, never mind take them seriously. Recently, I’ve been working in Udaipur, India, where the situation is quite different. I was stunned by how many old wives’ tales are carried out by my generation. It is a world where men switch the channel if a sanitary napkin ad flashes across the screen, where most of my coworkers have never used a tampon, and where menstruating women never sleep in the same bed as their husbands. From the story Locked in a Room with Dosai, I knew that tradition could be particularly harsh, sometimes exiling women from their own homes. But I didn’t know to what extent these taboos were taken seriously today. To get the real story, I met up with two forward-thinking women whom I felt might share a more modern perspective. Here is Rutchira’s story interlaced with her friend Neha’s sidebar comments. This month’s story is presented in its original dialogue format so that you may enjoy—as I have—two women’s clashing perspectives that give voice on the ongoing debate inside every modern Indian woman.