“Barry,” my cousin Mike said, “I think it’s time.” It was clear that my brother didn’t feel the same way, but he only shrugged, which Mike took as agreement. “Dave,” he said, giving the words as much gravity as he could muster, “Go get the dictionary.”
I was nine years old, and a tag-along. I’d walked in on my brother telling a story about how—during school that morning—a girl he knew got her period in the middle of French class. And I laughed like the dickens. And then they called me on it.
After I’d lugged the dictionary down from the spare room, Mike told me to look up the word period and read out the definition.
“The end of a cycle, a series of events, or a single action?”
“Keep going,” he said.
“The full pause with which a sentence closes?”
“An interval of geologic—“
“Gimme that!” He yanked the book towards him, read down the page, and pointed me towards the definition he’d found. Menstruation: the monthly discharge of blood from the uterus of nonpregnant women from puberty to menopause. “Now you know,” he said.
My lack of reaction made it fairly clear I didn’t have a clue what any of it meant. Mike and my brother were stymied, having only a sub-standard idea of what it was all about themselves. They tried their best to explain the basic mechanics of the female body to a kid who’d only recently learned that girls don’t pee out of their bums. After a few minutes more of explanation they felt like they’d done their part, and with Family Studies time over, they both went off to play street hockey.
Out of that conversation, I’d absorbed only two facts. One: after a girl has her period she can get pregnant. Two: you can get your period in French class.
Fast forward a few days. I’m in my grade four French class. I wasn’t a bad kid in general but French class brought out my inner spaz, so I’d long ago been seated in the front, well away from the other shit-disturbers. Halfway into class, we’re all working relatively quietly on some assignment or other when there’s a commotion at the back of the class. I was either deeply absorbed in my work or just not in the same dimension as everyone else; whatever the reason, I was one of the last ones to turn around. When I finally did, I saw Chelsey—a girl in my class—standing up, looking panicked, and holding close to her chest a handful of (what was later revealed as) barf. It was yellow with large white chunks. No one spoke, whether from confusion or horror. We all just watched Chelsey walk towards the door very slowly, carefully balancing the strange payload in her cupped hands.
The conclusion I immediately came to over what had happened: Chelsey had gotten her period. The full thought process that led me to said conclusion: we’re in French class which is like Period Central and right in the middle, right during class, yellow chunky stuff came out of Chelsea’s boobs and she caught it, and it was her period, and a girl’s period looks like Campbell’s Chunky Soup and it comes out of their BOOBS! Seriously.
I’m pretty sure I told all the guys at recess that Chelsey got her period, but fortunately no one knew what the hell I was talking about so my well-deserved beating never came. I’m also pretty sure that it was two or three days later before I admitted to myself it just barf.