This piece originally appeared in Quail Bell magazine.
Two years have passed since my last menstrual period, and I'm done with bleeding forever.
This ought to fill me with joy. Though my period occurred at regular intervals for forty-two years, its arrival always seemed to catch me by surprise. Often, a stream of blood would suddenly tumble into my underpants while I was strolling through a department store, entertaining a new lover, or working at a desk on an important project. I'd feel that telltale rush, and the accompanying fear that I would leave a trail of blood marking my passage, like Gretel with her bread crumbs. Want to know where to find me? Follow the droplets.
More often than not, I discovered that I was without tampons. Though this situation could usually be rectified with little effort, time was of the essence. Even if I was fortunate enough to find myself within a couple of blocks of a store, I still had to stroll down the aisles to the feminine hygiene section, conveniently located adjacent to the disposable diapers. Those darn women were just like babies-always dripping! Then, jiggling nervously, I stood in the check-out line, under the watchful eye of the cashier, clutching my solitary purchase in one sweaty hand. Male or female, the clerks had seen it all before. They rang up my sale impassively, then shoved it into a bag without a second glance.
Every time I went to the store, I faced the same conundrum-how big of a box should I buy? Would this be a forty tampon period? Probably not, but who knew for sure? Did I even have enough money for that jumbo box, or would I have to purchase a pack of ten? There was no way I could conserve my flow so it could be absorbed by ten tampons. That worked out to 2.5 tampons per day. I'd have to supplement with toilet paper again. Maybe I needed a better-paying job.
Tampons dominated the aisle, flanked by clusters of pads and panty liners. Usually, I eschewed pads, since I didn't like to feel a bulky wad, coated with a mixture of wet and dried blood, chafing against my lady parts. Liners seemed inadequate for my flow, which often resembled a scene from “The Shining.” Ideally, I could use tampons and liners at the same time, so escaping trickles would have a cushioned place to land, securely held in place by sticky plastic strips. But this indulgence would cost twice as much, and money was often scarce. So, on especially heavy days, I made do with a super-plus tampon and a wadded-up length of toilet paper.
Cute underwear was for other women, ones who possessed the mysterious skill of bleeding without making a mess. Thongs hadn't come into style yet, but would have been unthinkable. Often, when I purchased a pair of panties, I would stare, enraptured, at its unsullied crotch, wondering how long it would take me to destroy it. For reasons too mysterious for me to fathom, some pairs lasted longer than others. Eventually, however, every piece of underwear I possessed sported a brown crotch. Sometimes the stain was so large and unsightly that I had to dispose of a pair of panties long before its alloted time, and this always filled me with remorse. Why couldn't I remember to soak my soiled undergarments before washing? I was lazy. I just threw my panties into the machine with the rest of my laundry.
One might surmise that, after years of such agony, I would be delighted to see my period go. The crone years are synonymous with wisdom. The word “crone” conjures an image of a wizened elder dispensing sage advice while gazing deep into others' souls with her sharp, knowing eyes. Throughout my twenties and thirties, I remained confident that I would kick ass when I became an older woman. I was in no special hurry to get there, however.
Menopause was a physical and emotional roller-coaster, with two-week-long periods that arrived only a few days apart, months of bloodlessness followed by sudden flooding, and endless bouts of spotting. My hormones waxed and waned like a teenager's, often galloping out of control and wreaking havoc with my relationships. I was prone to tantrums and fits of pique, and displayed a shocking ignorance of how my actions affected others. It was like puberty all over again, except my joints ached.
At one point, I went eleven months without bleeding. Then my period arrived suddenly, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Since menopause isn't complete until a year has passed without menses, I had to set the clock all over again. I don't remember my last period. There was nothing extraordinary about it. It peaked, dwindled, and disappeared from my life forever.
I'd be lying if I said I never felt a sense of loss. For forty-two years, I was ruled by a cycle that I couldn't understand. I always ovulated smack-dab between periods, and those times were fraught with drama, often questionable sexual escapades, and other bouts of wild adventure. I possessed no awareness of how my cycle affected my behavior. Does a fish know it's swimming in water?
Once the bleeding ceased for good, a certain silence prevailed. For the first time since adolescence, I could look at attractive men without my libido instantly kicking into gear. This was such a sharp departure from my usual state of affairs that I was astonished and humbled. I'd spent most of my adulthood in a state of erotic upheaval. I had always possessed a strong sexual drive, and I knew how to use it. However, I had no inkling of how much of it was attributable to my monthly cycle. All that sturm and drang was tied directly to my hormonal undulations. And yet, the passion had seemed so vitally important at the time.
My sex drive is still present, but it no longer contains the extreme peaks and valleys that kept it in the driver's seat for so many years. Sometimes I miss the roller-coaster of passion, but mostly I'm enjoying the peace and quiet. For the first time since early adulthood, I can spend hours quietly writing, doing yoga, or just relaxing, without wondering what is happening on the other side of town. I guess this counts as crone wisdom. And, on top of that, I'm saving a fortune in tampons.
Leah Mueller is an indie writer from Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of two chapbooks, “Queen of Dorksville” (Crisis Chronicles Press) and “Political Apnea” (Locofo Chaps) and two books, “Allergic to Everything” (Writing Knights Press) and “The Underside of the Snake” (Red Ferret Press). Her work has been published in Blunderbuss, Memoryhouse, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Origins Journal, Your Impossible Voice, Remixt, and many anthologies. She was a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival, and a runner-up in the 2012 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry contest.