Jaine Hannath

Rites of Passage

What a mess! Blood soaked panties lie in a twisted roll at my feet. Red smears stain my legs from thigh to knee and the white toilet seat carries the mottled impression of my buttocks. I pull the last piece of toilet paper off the roll. No way is it going to mop up this mess!

So much blood, yet I am not dying, not even feeling ill. I am mortified! What is my body doing? I’ve experienced childbirth and a miscarriage with less blood than this! Listlessly I sit back on the toilet and let my menstrual blood flow free and turn the water pink.

The voices of my brothers drone on outside the bathroom, suddenly drowned out by a loud crack of laughter. We are here for a party after all, yet I am totally distraught, feeling like an eleven-year-old girl again.
Kevin, my brother, best friend, and tormentor sat in the front passenger seat of my father’s Humber Hawk while I lounged in the back. We had been to the London Motor Show, and now, close to home, we waited in the darkened car park as my dad ran into the pub ‘to see a man about a dog’. From the sofa-like back seat I could just make out the silhouette of Kevin’s spiked hair standing up, defiant and resolute after a quick-home haircut. We ate plain crisps, drank lemonade from the bottle and told each other scary stories. A day out with Dad – without our mother or five younger siblings! Just the three of us!

The occasional car crawled in, yellow headlights sweeping like searchlights, illuminating beads of moisture on the dark bodies of parked cars. Dad came running back towards the car, his warm breath forming pockets of misty air. I shifted on the back seat, feeling wet and sticky around my bum and sure I had spilt lemonade on myself.

It was late when Kevin and I, over-excited, barged into the kitchen. Like conquistadors replete from adventure, pioneers having forged new frontiers, We: my brother, father and me, We were safely home from London!

Angry and discontent at our late return, Mam stood solid with her arms akimbo. For once Kevin and I didn’t care! Too much adventure, junk food and lemonade had made us wild! We danced and pranced on the scuffed vinyl tiles between the deep freezer and the Flatly clothes-drier – kicking up our legs and laughing.

‘Do it again,’ my mother said looking at me, as exhausted we finally slowed down. Happy to have mother’s attention, even under her mordant eye, I danced once again and then sped off to the bathroom to empty my bursting bladder.

With one tug I pulled my elasticised cotton trousers down below my undeveloped hips, then with relief perched on the cold toilet seat. I looked down and saw blood. Lots of it! It had seeped through my panties, soaked the trousers, and then, like a Gestalt inkblot, spread across the seat of my pants.

What was happening to me? I had survived ‘the Curse’. I had ‘had My Period’ just the previous month. I thought I was dying as my mother covered her chagrin at my premature downfall with a nefarious laugh. I was shocked and also ashamed to be bleeding from ‘down there’. Traumatic as the experience was, the bleeding had stopped and I had gone back to being a Tom Boy – not knowing that in 28 days, it would return.

Why was it back again? Surely something so terrible only happened once in a lifetime? A shadow passed over my soul. My mother had seen the blood as I danced with uncharacteristic abandon in the kitchen that night. She had gloated over it.
That was my first and last day as the young Artemis at play and I would never again feel such joyous abandon. I had moved from girl-child to womanhood with my father and brother as my guides through an unacknowledged rite of passage. A passage through a never-to-be-repeated-or-forgotten road trip, where my father, for the last time, held no distinction between my brother and me.

That night I learned that the blood would come back – to date, four hundred and thirty-one times. Yet today, thirty-seven years later and sitting on a stranger’s toilet, I am again strangely devastated by its arrival and feel sure should my mother learn of it she would, again, surely relish my distress.

I had been emotionally exposed and then emotionally abandoned at eleven years old and I feel exposed and alone again now at a West coast holiday home as I prepare to celebrate my parents’ Fiftieth wedding anniversary.

I call for Helen, Kevin’s wife, shouting above the music and social chit chat – ‘Helen. Helen help me!’

Like a determined sheep dog Helen soon rounds up the women. She busies herself, finding toilet paper, soap and towels. I am served hot sweet tea in a Wimpy coffee mug.

My sister Julie, just recovered from a hysterectomy, sits Baubo-like on the mosaic step of the shower stall and I laugh as she bravely shares her menstrual misdemeanors. Like the biblical gifts of Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh, my nieces present a plethora of pads, panty liners, tampons, painkillers and other feminine protection. My youngest sister Sarah thrusts a box of super tampons into my hand. Her husband has dug them out of the glove compartment of their bakkie for me.

There is no shame – only love, laughter and support.

Jessie, my own daughter is pregnant. Thanks to ‘the curse’, to life’s ebb and flow, by the next full moon I will be a grandmother. From Mother to Crone – another rite of passage. One that demands acknowledgment – a shedding of skins. In this case, my uterus lining!

Eventually I go outside.

‘What took you so long?’ Dad asks.

‘Oh, I had to see a man about a dog,’ I reply. Holding a glass of wine I sit on the low stone wall, sunlight on my neck and a warm breeze ruffling my skirt.

My mother, ever garrulous, stops talking and squints at me against the sun. With a grin I raise my glass; ‘Cheers Mam, to you!’


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