June was always my favorite month of the year, growing up. It signaled the end of another dreadful school year, where now all my time would once again be my own, ah delicious, fabulous, marvelous, glorious freedom! June also held the very best weather in Wisconsin; those perfect days in the mid-70-degrees, a gentle sun, grass still fresh bright green, flowers everywhere, clean air and blue skies with marshmallow clouds, as pretty a place or a feeling as could be anywhere.

The June of my 12th year, on the last day of 6th grade, the last day of elementary school, someone in the principal's office, an adult with some feeling of the day, put on Alice Cooper's "School's Out" through the school PA system.A roar of delight went through the school, this little school set high on a hill, overlooking nothing but farms and woods as far as one could see. The oldest kids, myself included, grinned and sang along and danced around the classroom, throwing paper into the air, watching the big black clock on the wall alllllmost touching 3PM. How they timed it, I do not know, but at the end of the record where a school bell goes off, the school clock hit three, and our school bell went off in tandem. We screamed in joy, and every child burst forward, running outside to the big yellow schoolbuses that would take us all home to stay, for the three months of summer, unstructured, devoid of pressures or plans.

Later into the month, perhaps two weeks or so, I woke slowly, late in the morning to a gleaming bright sun coming into my room, bringing the warmth of the day to me. As I stretched and moved, getting ready to rise, I became aware of a strange slight wetness. Bothered, I went to the bathroom.


I stared at the paper in my hand, and I started to shake. I. Am. Bleeding. Oh no. No no no no no. No, please, no, I don't want this. I am not ready. Please. No. I am just a kid. NO!

I sat there, panicked and sad, not knowing what really to do, but knowing what it was. The year before, the school had done its yearly Dividing Of The 5th Grade Boys And Girls, and we girls filed into the darkened gym to watch a movie about BECOMING A WOMAN. We sat in clusters and giggled in embarrassment and horror at the lameness of the movie, a relic of groovy 60s, and how sunny and cheery it was in delivering the awful message: GUESS WHAT, YOU ARE SOON GOING TO BLEED FROM YOUR VAGINA EVERY SINGLE MONTH FOR FORTY YEARS! Oh, god.

After the film, the visiting nurse handed out free "Becoming A Woman" kits from Kimberley-Clark to each of us, which we didn't really even want to touch, but were too polite to refuse. In the kits were a pad, a belt to hold the pad as this was prior to adhesive strip days, coupons for pads, and an unintentionally-hilarious booklet. This landmark of absurdity, which I think I still have packed away somewhere, featured the pretend correspondence between two young girls. They babble back and forth about school and boys and cooking until ONE DAY, one of the girls apparently gets her period. She describes it to her friend as seeing "a bright red flower in my underpants," and SHE IS THRILLED! Oh, my FUCKING GOD. This became an instant catch-phrase for us, and I have often wondered about the person who wrote it for the booklet. COME ON!!!

So I sat, cowering in the bathroom, and made some kind of makeshift pad of toilet paper, silently walked the few feet back to my bedroom, shut the door, and went to my closet, where the kit was shoved behind some winter clothing. Ah, shit. Shit shit shit. I took it back to the bathroom, tried pathetically to get the pad to fit in the belt, tried to adjust the belt so it wouldn't fall off me, tried to leave no evidence of what had occurred. I went back to my room, still scared and utterly depressed. Everything was over, all the things I liked to do like play baseball and ride my bike and run and play football and slide down the long railings at school, all gone. I had to be someone else now, right? I had Become A Woman, and that was serious stuff. I would always be held hostage by this miserable event. I sat there a long time, bleeding away and thinking, and came to another realization. Oh, man. Oh, no. I only had this one pad.

I was going to have to tell my mom. There was no getting out of it.

I made the Bataan Death March out to the kitchen, where my mom was putting away dishes. I tapped her on the shoulder, and she turned and smiled at me, but lost her smile as she saw my face, humiliated and sad.

"Mom. I'm bleeding."

"What???? Where! What happened!"

I just looked at her and didn't say anything.

"Ohhhh," she said, her face sort of crumpling in shock, reinforcing the tragedy of it all for me. All I remember next was her going into a long story about how she nearly got raped once and how very very careful I was going to have to be now. My god. Nothing about me, or that I was normal, or even the logistics of dealing with it. Just DON'T GET RAPED.

She walked with me to the bathroom, and pointed me to her giant economy-sized hot pink box of Modess Super Pads, asked me if I needed any help. I blushed hot and said no, and she left the bathroom. I got one of the pads to use, and was despondent to see that it was as big as a dog bed. I was barely five feet tall and less than one hundred pounds at the time. I put the miserable thing on, which was completely noticeable through my pants, like some menstrual surfboard with both ends poking out, further adding to my shame. EVERYONE WILL KNOW.

Later on in the afternoon, I walked out to the garage where my dad was working on the car. I started to casually talk to him, and I saw him tense up as he looked at me, couldn't look me in the eye, didn't know how to answer me. Ah, shit, I thought with a sinking feeling. My mom told him. Oh, how could things get worse. My parents discussing my period. I wanted to melt into the cement floor of the garage. I went back to my room, and cried into my pillow. I just wanted to be a little girl again. I didn't want these looks and warnings, telling me there was now something wrong with me. The scarlet B on my chest.

The next day, my best friend Margaret called. She was two years older than me, and at 14 seemed so much more confident and sure of herself in so many ways. She never seemed to worry much about what other people thought, and just went about things in such a down-to-earth way, so unlike me and my family, Worriers all.She wanted me to go with her to the little swimming beach in the next town, spend the day. I told her, quietly, that I had gotten my period, and couldn't possibly do anything like that. She laughed and said oh come on, don't be silly, just come. I thought about it, liked the sound of her happy voice, and wanted to get away from the house and the LOOKS anyway. So I told her OK, but I can't go swimming.

My mom dropped me off at the beach, and there was Margaret, already in the water. I waved to her, then sat, dejected in my shirt and jeans, on the beach, watching the fun. She came running to me, smiling, asking why I didn't wear my suit. I rolled my eyes at her. She smiled and laughed, grabbed my arms, pulled me to standing, and pulled me all the way over to the water, despite my shock and protests and resistance, and she pushed me right in. I was soaked. She laughed and splashed me as I sputtered and yelled at her,thinking about my water-soaked stupid giant pad and blood and everything it all meant.

She came over to me as I still stood, dripping water from my glasses and no doubt looking like a mad and sad wet cat, and gave me a big hug.

"Marianne! It's OK! It's no big deal! I have my period now. So what! Don't worry so much!"

I looked at her, and I understood then what she was trying to do by dragging me into the water. She knew me. After a moment, I started to smile, and then laugh, and then I pushed her ass back into the water, and she surfaced, happy that I got it.

She walked out to the beach with me, gave me her towel, her dry clothes, and a much-smaller folded-up pad. I went to the cabana, changed, thought. If Margaret wasn't freaked out, why should I be? I could still have fun. And WHY should I be ashamed?

In that one silly act, she helped me on my way to real womanhood more than she ever could've known. June was still June, I was still me, and blood is just blood.