Excerpt from chapter 19 of Picture Puzzle
My cousin, Karen who was 14 was away visiting a relative in Wheeling, but Linda, who was 12, was home. I didn’t know her well. We hadn’t seen each other much. Linda seemed so much more worldly that any girl I had ever met—even Darla Benson who wanted people to believe she knew the world better than she knew Red Stick. With all her nice belongings, I was afraid Linda would be snobby like Darla, but she wasn’t. She took me to her room that she didn’t have to share with anybody, not even her sister. I couldn’t imagine what she’d think if someone told her she’d have to share with a little brother.
“You’ll sleep here with me tonight,” she said, I wasn’t sure that I’d ever want to share a bed with anyone again, but I instantly liked the room. Linda had a canopy bed with a frilly bedspread and pillows. The spread, pillows curtains, rugs and wallpaper were all shades of lavender and white. Her room was cool and inviting and there was a bathroom just down the hall. “Before we go to bed, you can take a bubble bath, if you want to,” she told me. My skin began to crawl. It hadn’t been so long ago that having a bubble bath in that setting would have been the ultimate experience. “Or you can have a shower.”
I had never had a shower. I had no idea how a shower worked. I had never seen pictures of people in showers like I had seen in bubble baths, but I thought it might be a welcome change from all those bubble baths I’d taken lately.
Linda had a stack of teen magazines by her bed. I flipped through the pages which were not nearly so educational as the Geographic had been but were informative in their own way. There were ads for pimple creams and pictures of dresses. There was one ad that puzzled me. It was for sanitary napkins. Now, the only napkins I knew of were the paper ones I’d used in restaurants the few times we’d been to one. The picture of the box in the ad matched boxes I’d seen on the top shelf in Gruber’s store. It was blue with a flower on the side. I’d been with Mom on a couple occasions when she’d bought a box. It then occurred to me that none of the napkins had shown up on the table. We didn’t use napkins at home. So what was Mom doing buying that box?
I decided that Linda would know about napkins. I had to ask. “Do you ever buy these?” I asked showing her the ad.
“No, I don’t, but Mom and Karen do.”
“What do you buy?”
“I don’t need them yet. I might soon, I’m nearly old enough.”
“Does Uncle Larry use them?”
She gave me a funny look. “No,” she said screwing up her face.
I figured Uncle Larry must be a very neat eater. But then we never seemed to need napkins at home. Nobody I knew used napkins at home. I decided that people get sloppy when they eat in public. Sanitary napkins? Well, restaurants would have to be extra clean. It all made sense.
“You don’t have your period yet, do you?” Linda asked. “You don’t even know about it, do you?” Oh no, more secret knowledge was about to be thrust on me.
“My what?” I knew about commas and question marks and periods, but I hadn’t realized that I was supposed to get one of my own. Seemed all very unlikely to me.
“Maybe you better tell me about that one,” I said putting aside the magazine so I could give her my full attention.
“Well,” Linda said, warming up to her subject. “I’ve known for over a year now. But then I am older than you. Mom told Karen and me about it at the same time. It was just before Karen started hers.”
I waited, slightly confused, and hoped she wouldn’t take a lot of prompting before I had the whole picture.
“Your period is when you start bleeding out your bottom, you know, where you go to the bathroom. That’s why you need those pads.” She waved her hand toward the magazine that lay open between us on the bed. “so you don’t stain your clothes.”
The whole idea seemed messy and disgusting to me. I didn’t want to bleed. A person could die from uncontrolled bleeding. I pictured Mrs. Handley’s blood all over the playground by the hot dog stand. I couldn’t recall ever seeing blood on any other woman.
“I saw a woman all bloody not too long ago. Her husband beat her and she lost a baby. Does a woman loose a baby every time she bleeds?”
Linda screwed up her face, rubbed at the end of her nose, and scratched under her jaw. “I never heard of that. But I know that’s when you can start having babies if you’re not careful.” I knew I didn’t want to bleed at all, ever, and I wasn’t so sure about having babies any time soon.
“How do you keep from having a baby?”
“Don’t get married. Married women have babies because their husbands put their things in where the blood comes out.” The idea got even more disgusting. That was the place Annabel had put her finger.
“Isn’t that messy?”
“He doesn’t do it while she’s bleeding. You only get your period a few days each month. Mom says that’s a good time to rest, paint your nails, eat chocolate, and just let your husband appreciate how nice it is to be married to you. The rest of the time he can get in there any time he wants.”
“But what if people do that who aren’t married?”
“Only bad girls would do that. Mom says they get what they deserve. Also, some bad men might try to force you, but you’re supposed to fight like your life depended on it.” I wished that I’d had that information sooner. I wondered what Linda would think that bad women can try to force those acts on another girl, too. I thought she would be shocked beyond repair and decided not to tell her.
Linda was going on with her knowledge of adult relations. “My friend, Arlene, says her mom told her when your husband gets on top of you, you’re supposed to wiggle around under him. Men like that, you know. Anyway, it’s supposed to be a beautiful, sacred experience when you did it with a husband you love.”
Sacred, huh? Now God had entered the picture. That must be why people get married in churches. Annabel hadn’t been married in a church. No wonder she and Cecil were having problems. I still wasn’t sure about any of the new information. “Do you want to …to bleed?” I asked somewhat shyly.
Linda shrugged. “Can’t be helped. It’s going to happen no matter what. It’s called becoming a woman.”
I remembered Delbert Ray saying I would turn into a woman someday and become mysterious. So even Delbert Ray knew about this business. I wasn’t sure that he should—not being a married man. I felt kind of strange having Delbert Ray know about my body and—oh, my gosh—about Mom’s too. Suddenly it all became clear. What I had seen in my parent’s bedroom, the nights with Annabel, and then hearing her with Cecil. Mom gaining weight. Daddy had put a baby in her. Mr. Handley had put one in his wife and then beat it out of her. Even Cecil had put one in Annabel. What I had tried to do with Delbert Ray. He could have put a baby in me. It was all part of a picture. It all fit together in some part of being an adult. It could be good or painful or terrifying and sometimes bad. It all depended on the people involved and how they felt about each other. This was big? It needed more study.
“Have you ever played like that—like men and women do?”
“No. That’s disgusting.”
I knew then that sharing a bed with Linda would be all right. I also knew it wouldn’t be right to tell her about Annabel. “I’d like to take a shower, now,” I told her.