No Barren Advice this week. Instead, I bring you a crimson tale of a crimson tide.
Suzanne Reisman is collecting stories about your first period for a new anthology and while my story is actually about the space between my first and second period, I am fairly certain that it's a better tale than a 21-day-first period or how I decided to dye my bang chilli red to celebrate but they turned out pink or how I absolutely hated the fact that I had my period and went out jogging immediately afterwards despite the cramps just to prove how much I didn't want to honour it (even though I also secretly did).
I fell in love due to a tampon price check.
A few weeks after getting my first period, I was sitting at the pool, reading a book and eating a peach (this was in the days before I became allergic to peaches) when I saw a girl my age shepherding around two small children as a mother's helper. We didn't know each other at all even though we went to the same middle school because we had come from two different elementary schools. We ended up spending the day sitting around the baby pool talking while the two children she was watching played.
That night, she called me to see if I wanted to go hang out at the mall the next day. We met between two stores, chauffeured to the pre-teen playdate by our respective parents. I had just recently been allowed to go to the mall by myself and the circuit I usually took involved the bookstore, the music store, and maybe hopping into Spencer's to gape at the edible underwear (how could I buy that and sneak it into the house without my parents ever finding it? And why did I even want it at age 12 except to be able to tell the other middle schoolers that I owned edible underwear. It certainly was not going to be eaten off my body any time soon).
But J, my new best friend even though she didn't know it yet and thought this was just another mall trip, wanted to run by People's Drug. While we were there, we found a new magazine called Sassy that had just come out with its first issue. We each bought a copy, declaring it our new favourite magazine and promising to use all of the regional slang terms that were printed on that "on the road" page. Before we got in line, just to be cool and since I knew my period would be arriving again soon, I nonchalantly told J that I had to pick up a box of tampons.
"A box of tampons?" she said. "You've already gotten your period?"
"Yeah," I said, pretending that my period was already as commonplace as a well-worn sweatshirt. Period? That old thing?
It was my first time buying tampons and I wanted to look cool in front of J though I was simultaneously embarrassed to be setting down a box of tampons in front of the cashier. To this day, perhaps scarred by this early experience, I am shy to set down tampons on the conveyor belt as if they are a huge announcement to everyone at the food store: People, I place things in my vagiiiiiiiina!
I gave the cashier my copy of Sassy and the box of tampons and the woman held up her hand to indicate that I should wait. A teenage boy came over to relieve the middle-aged woman at the end of her shift and I was now facing checkout with a high schooler.
He ran the box over the scanner and it made a shrill beep. He tried it again and elicited the same beep. He tried it a third time and then went to enter a few numbers on a machine. He received the same beep. He leaned into a microphone and said the words that still haunt me to this day: "price check on tampons."
His words echoed through the store and I was positive that everyone was going to start peeking down their respective aisles, shampoo bottles and toothpaste in hand, to peer at the girl who had her period at 12 and stuck things in her vagina. No one answered the boy's call for assistance so he tried it again. "Price check on tampons."
"You know, actually, I don't really need them," I said.
A manager came over--a middle-aged man--and he took the box of tampons from the boy and turned them over in his hands. "They're not ringing up?"
"No, they're not coming up on the cash register," the boy told him.
The manager turned around and bellowed over his shoulder, "Hey, Phil, go look up the price of these Tampax tampons. The regular size with the cardboard applicator. The 12 pack."
At this point, I wanted to sink into the floor and disappear, perhaps jump into a virtual car and hit the road with Sassy so I could say things like, "ain't no thing but a chicken wing" as they promised was de rigueur in Athens, Georgia. Regardless of how many times I insisted that I didn't actually need the tampons anymore and I was happy to give them my entire allowance just to make this ordeal end and could they just ring up my magazine and for the love--did they understand how much this embarrassment was going to stain me forever--the price checked continued until, diligence done, the correct price was entered into the cash register and I walked out of the store with a box of Tampax and my Sassy magazine and scarlet cheeks.
When we got out of the store, we both started laughing, and, like middle schools immemorial, we repeated the same phrase--"price check!"--for the next two hours, giggling with each time. And coming through such emotional trauma; such grave embarrassment for a middle schooler, our friendship was sealed. We were inseparable through middle school and high school, went to college together, and fell out of love our sophomore year (though she was still the person I drunk dialed on my 21st birthday in between vomiting into the toilet).
Regardless of the denouement, that friendship--and a woman's ability to bond over embarrassment--set the groundwork for all of my future friendships. And perhaps it would have been just another trip to the mall if not for the tampons; or, at the very least, the price check. And if she is reading this right now and recognizes this story, she should know how much she has always meant to me and how I still think about her every month. Or...since my periods come close together...every 21 days.