I called my cousin up the other day and partway through our usual gab he informed me that Layla, his stepdaughter, had some very exciting news.
“Can I tell Ivan, or do you want to tell her yourself?” He asked her from his end of the living room couch.
I heard her almost teenage voice in the background, saying it was fine; he could go ahead and tell me.
“Layla got her period this morning.” He sounded proud, like she had won the science fair, or got straight As, something along those lines.
I was unsure how I should respond, but they both sounded happy on their end of the phone, so I asked to speak to Layla directly.
“Congratulations,” I told her. “It sounds like some sort of a celebration is in order. You have anything in mind?”
I couldn’t help but think back to my big day. My mom was out of town at the time, and when I called my dad upstairs to ask him what I should do, he panicked on the other side of the bathroom door. He emptied out my mom’s drawer in the other bathroom, whacked his toe on a doorjamb, swore profusely, and then tossed me a box of anal suppositories, mistaking them, I believe, for some sort of feminine hygiene product. Neither of us were proud of me, and we never mentioned the subject again.
“Can you take me to see The Corpse Bride?” Layla asked me, “And can we have popcorn?”
“That is an excellent plan,” I told her. “I’ll pick you up at 6:30. It’s a date.”
On my way over I pondered whether or not I should discuss the merits of menstruation with my young friend or not. It was obvious that this was a brave new world, and that Layla was being brought up to believe that her period was not a dirty female secret like it was when I was 12 years old, and this was a good thing. But I wondered if it would be strange for her to chat about it all with her butch relatives, or if my silence on the matter would be noted.
“So, you got your period, huh?” I asked her as she did up her seatbelt.
She nodded casually.
“Cool.” I said, feeling like a gigantic dork. “Way to go.”
And that was the end of that.
A couple of days later, I got mine. I plodded through the slush on the sidewalks to the corner store for a box of tampons. I went up both aisles twice, and couldn’t find them.
Finally the guy behind the counter asked me if I needed any help finding something.
Normally, I would just shake my head and grab a can of soup, so I didn’t have to say the word tampon to the guy behind the counter at the corner store, but this was a brave new world. I needed to get with the times, and cast off my shame and embarrassment, for the sake of young girls everywhere.
“Uh, yeah. I’m looking for tampons,” I said.
“For what?” There were two other guys waiting to buy their cigarettes, and they both looked at me.
He shook his head again and cupped one hand around his ear, signaling that he couldn’t hear me. I needed to speak up. I considered my options. I could scream out in a crowded corner store that I needed a box of tampons, or I could run for the door.
I chose the door.
The next corner store up had an ample supply, and I let out a huge breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding in. I took the box up to the counter and, for cover, a couple of other items I didn’t really need.
I don’t know why I am uncomfortable saying the word tampon out loud, or acknowledging the fact that I, like almost all estrogen-based organisms my age, get my period. Maybe it is residual Catholicism. Maybe it is because most corner store guys think I am a young man on a supply run for his girlfriend or mother. Or maybe I just don’t like to talk tampons with strangers.
“What brand is the best?” The guy behind this counter held up my tampons for the entire world to take notice of.
“I beg your pardon?” I was hoping I hadn’t heard him properly, that this was not happening to me.
“There are so many brands to choose from, and different sizes too. I never know what I should order, so I ask my lady customers which one is the best.”
There was another guy behind me in line now, holding a box of Kraft Dinner and a loaf of white bread. He raised an eyebrow.
I felt rivulets of sweat appear in my armpits. Running for yet another door at this juncture would send the message that tampons are indeed a shameful topic. This thoughtful merchant had come to me for help in serving the needs of women throughout the entire neighbourhood and it would behoove me to behave accordingly.
I took a deep breath and spoke in a calm, confident tone. “Well, I would say that it is definitely a matter of personal choice, similar to choosing the right condom for the job. A variety of sizes would obviously be a good thing, as there are many sizes of… vaginas out there.”
He nodded and leaned forward, interested.
“And as for brand, I always prefer the ones without an applicator for, you know, environmental reasons, but again I can only speak for my own…. I can only speak for myself. I guess as wide a variety as you can carry would be my answer.”
He thanked me and rang in my purchases. “Will you be needing a bag today?”
I nodded and stuffed my tampons in, out of sight for the walk home. “You gonna watch the hockey game tonight?”
He shook his head. “I don’t follow the hockey. Myself, I like cricket.”
I shrugged. The guy behind me shook his head and stepped up to the counter as I headed for the door.
“Cricket, hey?” He was still shaking his head. “Well, each to their own.”