When I was 13 years old, Aunt Flow came for a visit. I sat on a cold toilet seat, urinating like any other day, but when I wiped there was a bloody mess. I knew what this signified. I had come of age. I was a WOMAN. And Mami would finally teach me about the birds and the bees.
At least that’s what I thought.
You see, my Dominican momma had no desire to sit me down and explain the facts of life. Instead, she ran to the bathroom, yelped with excitement, brought me a maxi pad, and rushed me to bed where I laid for hours, legs lifted and resting on top of three fluffy pillows. It was as if I were pregnant without having ever had sex. I never had an orgasm, yet there was Mami, massaging my lower back as if I had contractions. What followed was a list of do’s and dont’s now that I was a mujer.
This included the following:
- When you’re on your period, you CANNOT hold babies. If you do, le da pujo, which is when babies make pushing sounds like they’re constipated. And you don’t want to be responsible for making a baby miserable, do you?!
- When you have your period, you CANNOT dye your hair! If you do, you will have mal desaroño. What’s mal desaroño? I asked Mami. She glared at me and shouted, “It’s just bad for you!”
- When you have your period, you CANNOT wash your hair. If you do, you will have mal desaroño. But what if my hair is dirty for a week? I asked Mami. “A dirty head has never killed anyone…but mal desaroño has!” She barked.
- When you have your period, you CANNOT swim in a pool. If you do, your period will stop. And if you go in the ocean, preparate for a shark attack!
- When you have your period, you CANNOT paint your nails. Mal desaroño is a bitch! I thought.
- You’re going to feel really weak. Women lose a lot of blood when they’re menstruating. And since you’re anemic, you can’t afford to lose blood!
- Eating lemons will stop your period! But I don’t eat lemons, I whispered. And don’t you start when you’re on your periodo!
- I know you still don’t drink cerveza or ron but you will one day. And when you do, you CANNOT drink when you’re on your period. It will thin out your blood and you will bleed…A LOT! You can’t afford to lose any more blood. You have anemia!
Once we finished our one-sided talk, I realized I’d have to teach myself about this new phase in my life. I couldn’t blame Mami. No one spoke to her about sex or womanhood; they simply gave her a broom and a frying pan and send her to the kitchen. It didn’t change much as I matured. Till this day Mami screams when I walk out of the bathroom with a maxi pad in one hand and my hair dripping wet. But what am I going to do? She’s my Dominican mother who still rubs my temples with Vivaporu and prepares te de jenhibre when I am under the weather.
My only hope is to be half the woman she is when my daughter calls me for me from a cold toilet seat.