by Jane Doe
When school started and my period didn't, I resolved to fake it. It was too embarrassing that I was the only girl in the freshman class who had to take gym every week. Besides I hated that class the getting outfitted in the baggy green uniforms which reminded me that most of the other girls in the class had better figures than I plus the sheer sweat and strain of being physical.
Besides, the teacher gave me straight Cs no matter how enthusiastic I pretended to be. I felt I deserved the two days vacation a month from that class, so unsuitable for me. I dug out the diary that Sandra so accurately prophesied would be too troublesome to keep up to date. I flipped past the first scribbled weeks, into the empty pages and beyond. There I kept a fictitious calendar of my periods so on the gym teacher's records there would be no foul ups.
During my sham periods, I tried to look pale, complained of cramps, echoed phrases I had heard from the other girls about the right way to wash blood out of underwear, whether the wide or narrow elastic belts were the most comfortable and so forth. Occasionally I noticed when a girl wore a flared gabardine skirt, one could discern the ripple of a wide V that spread up over her hips. What if the girls reasoned
The other three weeks of my life I filled with worries about school and Dave. They didn't mix. When we were together I was full of news about the new band uniforms, (I was still in the marching unit for my ability to fill a space on the football field), the new rules for photography club members, who was going steady with whom and my petty classroom concerns.
Dave's mind was bound by broken parts on the tractor, decisions about when to cut the corn or sell the soy beans. He was also having mother troubles.
Evidently Mrs. Hawthorn did not approve of her husband giving Dave the tenant farm for the summer. She resented the loss of rent, the extra dirty clothes Dave put in her laundry, plus the fact that he now had no time to mow her big lawn or hoe the weeds out of her rose beds. She didn't like the romantic activities we engaged in. The two of them found enough to scrap about. Dave worried about the farm. He had doubts if he was making the right judgments. The tomatoes were very late and brought a low price. Every word his mother shot at him bit twice as deep. Finally their words got so tangled that Dave moved out to live a bachelor's life in the tenant house.
In cahoots, both sets of parents laid down the law that we were forbidden to go into any field together. This included the house where Dave was staying. The rule was as ridiculous as their fears. Since the night at the drive-in we had our own unspoken code of behavior. When standing to kiss, we stood carefully toe to toe, so nothing nice touched below the waist.
Dave's independence further frightened our poor parents. My folks were dropping hints left and right about the choice of college in four years. Dave's mother could only talk about the high cost of running a household. With both parents fearing so much we were tempted to act out their apprehensions. Several times we parked by the river where we had met ice skating to discuss if I should quit school to get married. It was an attractive dream, especially when I'd get a bad grade in algebra or a clique of girls would start a fight about who was teacher's pet. The idea of not learning and doing all the gardening, dishes, canning all day long did not appeal to me. Married life would be one long summer that lasted four seasons, I reasoned. The whole question of marriage became grotesque when I thought about the fact that I still hadn't had a period. I wasn't even a real woman. I was faking it. I wanted to cry.
For Dave, marriage seemed the answer to his situation. He'd be independent of his mother. He had done well with the farm. If he married, it was virtually assured that his dad would let him go on farming it. Besides, it was lonely living there with a can opener. Dave couldn't fail to notice the yawning chasm between my school and his fields.
In the next weeks, we lost so much time discussing and re discussing the pros and cons of getting married that we had no time for the kisses we needed. We dreaded the useless talking and the despair that settled in us. Each time we were together life only belched up grown-up problems.
One night we cried on each other's cheeks sobs held us together. Fear of the withoutness of us kept us wordless. The impracticability of all we discussed hung in us like weights in a clock holding us in a space of time unrealistic to our needs. Clearly we saw what we needed. I needed eight more years of school. Dave needed a wife. Like Billy Boy, he should go out and seek a wife. We tried to laugh and make it sound like fun.
We made a pact. Dave could stop coming MYF so we wouldn't be tempted afterwards to leap in the old Chevie again, yell, "go to hell" to the whole world to resume being us. No calls, no dates, no more thinking or feeling,
I learned the holes that loving and leaving pierce. In order to fill the void, I thought I only needed to find another Chevie with a place for me to straddle the gear shift. After games I put myself on the auction block by going to the restaurant where the hopeless singles went. I learned that passivity gets you nowhere and aggression puts you even further behind. How does one do something as personal as eating while trying to attract a date? I preferred mourning in private.
Less than a month later the school gossips, informed by Dave's sister – rightfully named Barb – brought their gleeful news that Dave was dating a tall, blue-eyed blonde who had graduated from a nearby school last year. To top it off, she had enormous breasts, they said. Friends like Sandra, tried to help by setting up double dates. My friends mostly forgot that I was taller than they were. Their biggest interest was still who had a car to take them and their car-less boyfriend around. On this basis, they chose my date.
With experience, I could estimate the success rate of my evening by judging the girl who asked me to make it a foursome. I sometimes felt my world was turning into a zoo. Instead of observing the animals from the safety of the other side of the bars, I had to get into the car with the beast and spend one evening fighting him off to identify his breed.
All the boys who attracted me were going with other girls, who were prettier, shorter, cuter or sexier than I. So I instituted a program.
I went to the city for my hair cuts instead of doing it with my manicure scissors myself. I went on a strict diet hoping for a flat as a board stomach to match my chest. I took sewing in home economics because the corduroy skirt and vest didn't fit either. I had to make my own clothes as the garments in the shops were all too short.
Like before, when Ron had blotted himself out of my life with his laughter at my poem to his kisses, I tried to throw myself into church and school work. The difference was, now, I knew from what I was running. I also knew in which direction I wanted to run again. The one where there was no loneliness.
The frantic pace of church, school and boy searching began to extract its toll. I started having lots of stomach aches, no appetite, but plenty of irritability. I was sure my period would start to give me some solace as to my femininity. When the pains went on and nausea set in, mother got scared. She started asking me what Dave and I "did" when we were together. I knew what was worrying her. I knew she had no need for that worry, but I was still smarting from her reply that she'd tell me about sex when she felt I needed it, so I answered her with, "Oh, we looked to see if black soot disease was in the corn, or if the soy beans were ready to be combined."
It took her one day to get me an appointment with the old country doctor who was local instead of arranging a trip to Bloomington where our family doctor was. I had to go during my lunch hour. I went alone. I sat in his old-fashioned waiting room thinking if he didn't hurry up I'd miss my next class. When I was judging the distance to the door, wondering if he would miss me if I left now, he opened the door to his office. I couldn't hear anyone else in the building, an annex to his house, so I was relieved when he sat down behind a large desk, folded his hands as he looked at me. He asked me my symptoms. I told him. His first question was, "When was your last period?"
"I've never had one." I said in a even dead tone so the hours of anxiety about it wouldn't show.
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
Did he mean two months ago or now? I chose now. "No."
I tried to give him the look of disgust that I used on mother when she suggested... but the tears welled up, swam into my glance to wash away the effect. Not trusting my voice, I shook my head.
"Never, no? Then what is it?
Tears squirted out of my eyes and rolled down my cheeks while I contorted my face to keep it from crumpling into a me without a mask. He left his cluttered desk to come, with crackling starch coat and old man's breathing around to my chair. I stiffened as he leaned over, took my right hand in his to look at my wrist. My uneasiness about his intentions was slowing my tear fall. He took my left hand, turned it over, palm up to compare the left wrist to the right one. Then he squeezed my fingers to the palm of my right hand to make a fist while he looked at the side of my little finger. Opening my hand again to relax it, he pointed to the lines crossing under my palms over my wrist.
"See these? They are called the bracelets of health. The Greeks knew their importance. If the line is straight and broad, as yours is, that means that all the organs you need for having a period, and later, children, are very healthy. If these lines were thin or made a loop into your palm, then we would begin to check you out. With lines like yours, you have a strength down there that other women will envy. Maybe because they are being so well constructed, it takes them a little longer than the fast jobies."
I began a crooked smile. "Then I'm not a freak yet?"
"No," he chuckled. "How old are you? Almost fifteen? It could easily be another whole year, but, it'll come when it is ready, and when you are ready for it."
About the boyfriend problem, look here, right under your little finger there is a deep line. See it? That's your marriage line. Your hands don't lie. Right in your palm is some man for you. It may take awhile until he comes along, but don't doubt that he is coming someday. In the meantime, stop trying to push nature around. You'll just wear yourself out and get ulcers like nervous, old ladies. I want you to drink a small glass of milk every four hours for a week and take the white granules I'll give you. If your period hasn't started in six months, come by again so we can see what is being lazy down there.
I left, hoping I felt better, but was not too sure. At home mother met me at the door. "What did the doctor say?"
"He said I had a man in the palm of my hand and I should wait six months. I should drink lots of milk and take these packets of something." I walked past her dropped chin to go to my room so I could lie down to think.
Dimly, through my thoughts, I heard her talking with half a conversation on the phone.
"What was your diagnosis? Oh, I see. Is she? We should then, un-uh, un-uh. Okay. And she's not ... That's good news. Thank you, Doctor."
Copyright © the Estate of Jane Doe 2010