Patricia Ethelwyn Howell is based at the University of Delaware. A freelance writer for 18 years, she has been published in 60 periodicals. Driven mad by an inner urge to communicate, she seeks to tell people what she feels, interprets and sees in the world she lives in. She is interested in ecology, the restructuring of society, and how myth and history affects what we think and do today. She has a BA in English.
Volume 2, November 1996
Name's Bertha, Bertha deBlues as blue as the chalk Mz. Hineacher pressed against the blackboard when homeroom recited the grammar rules outloud. Ole ShiverMan was playing the bones that day making us all restless, slightly crazy, and looking for company.
Harry the Horrible started it by drumming his fingers against the desk - rock & roll band wannabe, almost sang about the peculiarities of conjunctions [little yipyaps, tripping over other people's heels]. Grabby Gwen grinned like a Cheshire Cat, and started chanting coordinating adverbs, almost made me fall from my chair laughing. 'sided to chew the bone on the articles instead. Like lemmings running to the hill we all did it. Sounded like crows waking up. That little blue chalk broke into a thousand pieces. Poor Mz. Hineacher.
Ain't no wonder though, school's too clang boring. Drilling us like a woodpecker on his tree. Know your Q's, and dot 'em i's little darlings. More like Stuffing a fat lady in a girdle the way they tried to rule and regulate us at Freakmount High. Never taught us to think, though. Ya got that at the Town Library, if you had half a mind to.
I learned about menstruation there - curled up like a cat in a wicker chair, making a mountain outta the books on the floor in front of me. The Bleeding Time is what I like to call menstruation. Sure read enuf about it. Read until the pigs came home from the local dance. Don't 'member much of what I read. Like trying to count the hairs on a dog, can't keep track of each one, but ya know the hound by name [can't forget 'em drown if you dare brown eyes].
They call 'em cycles. Sure enuf of 'em. Seasons. Being born. Growing ole. Dying. The tides a'coming. The tides a'going. Sister Moon's moods. Bleeding women fit right in! We're part of Nature, creating until our tongues hang out. Sumpin to be proud of, I reckon.
Trouble is menfolk got scared which made 'em mad. Nothing a man hates more than being scared. They tried to kick the stuffing out of Nature and out of women. Yank that rabbit outta the hat. Stomp 'em drums to bits. And called menstruation dirty. Made us believe we're bad, kase we bleed.
Tina was never bad, just big. Tina the Tank. Shoot, in sixth grade she coulda passed for twelfth. Built like a brick outhouse [anyone who builds the house ya do your bizness in out of brick was fixing to stay]. Never forgot when she and I played warriors in the woods. We tried to act grownup, when we finally got our periods - but we kept busting out of jail, giggling, don't you know. Finally decided this period bizness and having to act like ladies was a trick the adults were playing on us to make us mind. Gonna have nothing to do with it! No ma'am!
That one day ... Standing in the grass, deep in the woods, shoot even a sniffing hound woulda passed us by. Both Tina and I were bleeding. That's what gave us the idea [Tank discovered this spot in the woods]. We left our clothes under one of the bushes, smeared the blood across our faces. Up & down our tummies. Arms. You name it, we touched it. I swear on Sister Moon it's true! Breaking off branches from the trees, we screamed. Danced. Spun round & round. Getting ready for the hunt, I reckon. Kept it up 'til we fell to the ground bone tired. Dang it all if we didn't start giggling once more!
After that whenever we saw each other in the halls, we'd smile, nod, and be on our way.
When I think on the hound dog howlings - menstruation makes women weak, so ya gotta protect 'em kase they can't do much, frail, good-for-nothing lapdogs running in the alleys. Dirty, Dirty, Dirty, - dang it all, such foolishness makes me wanna spit!
Protect me and I'll kick ya in the knees. Jack Rabbit.
Oh for the woods and Tina. Give me the Tank any day! Some folks mean well with their remedies. Wack you on the head until you forget you have a period! Hmph. It's like knifing someone in the back, then stitching up the wound. If we weren't taught to hate our bodies... Good girls are silent, not seen.
Women got the rhythm. Men don't. We should fluff up our feathers, kick the grain outta the bins and peck out their eyes! Be proud. Bet ya wouldn't hurt so much when you bleed. Inner hate twists your innards. I, for one, ain't fixing to be a pretzel.
Lucky Lokey wouldn't let that happen, either. Some say Lokey's Ma was beaten to death by her husband's rosary beads. He use to wander through town, rubbing his rosary beads, muttering his prayers and throwing water on whatever looked damned to 'dbl. 'Minded me of a hairball the cat coughed up - white hair stuck out all over the equator. Never forgot Mr. Chester taking Lokey's father into court for throwing water at 'im. Enuf was enuf. Sure was sorry for Lokey, though, having to live with this wanna-be-a-preacher man, but she could dodge that flying water. Until she started to bleed.
Was like taking a 2 by 4 to her father. Realizing Lokey was, now, a woman, drove whatever doggone sense he had out the window. Ever seen an ostrich run? (Clumsy). He locked Lokey in the hall closet. Through the key hole she could hear 'im muttering in the hall. He wasn't gonna let any she-devil get 'im with her witchdoings.
Lokey always referred to his crazy fits as "daddy wants to be god again." Since he was it as far as parents go, Lokey was able to put up with 'im, but being locked up in the closet was the ball that broke the glass. When he let Lokey out the next day, fixing to drag her into the bathroom to scrub the blood out, she bit 'im. Ran outta the house. I hear tell she lived with her aunt after that. When folks asked why she was called Lucky Lokey she'd spit on the ground and say
'I'm alive ain't I?"
Trust your inner voices. When they whisper, wrong Wrong WRONG, believe 'em. If what the boss tells ya makes ya sick, it ain't the truth. Reckon I found my voices thru what I read. Learned how, sitting on my Pa's knees as we read the newspaper together. Sometimes I held the magnifying glass for 'im, his eyesight not being so good, Pa hated doctors and high bills so he made do without. Don't blame 'im. Doctors make a whole lot of money from womenfolks' aches and pains.
Ever try asking a doctor a straight question? Like trying to shoot an arrow at the bullseye blindfolded.
Mz. Grouvier, the town librarian, didn't mind answering my questions. In my mind, she was a tall elegant horse, with her thick black glasses, and long thick hair. T'was a horse's tail swishing, musta been, hadda been. Mz. Grouvier was my friend. Always tried to find the books I needed.
Sure needed her that day I first started my period. Ole Man Sun musta been feeling mean, felt like someone took some gravel and rubbed out my mind. 'Sides, my stomach hurt. Therefore, when I sat down on the toilet to do my bizness and found blood on my undies, well, bow wow and oink, scrap me off that ceiling, if you can.
With my undies still down 'round my ankles I stumbled out of the bathroom screaming for Ma. When she came running out of the kitchen and saw my undies, she turned colors, mostly red.
"Bertha ya either pull 'em up or take 'em off," she snapped.
Falling to the floor I ripped 'em trying to get 'em off (Graceful as a three-legged white dog, named Lefty, but that's another story.). Jumping up I thrust my bloody undies under Ma's nose.
"I'm dying," I screamed.
Ma became a ghost, slugged me, and ran back into the kitchen.
If I had been a cat the shock woulda made my fur walk off. Hiding behind the kitchen door, I peeked through the crack. Ma was sitting at the table, head in hands, crying,
"I'm not ready for this," just like a broken record.
Well, what would you had done? Me, I buried my undies in the garden and ran to the Town Library. After letting me Niagara Falls her shoulder Mz. Grouvier gave me a few books to read. Reckon that saved me.
So don't you let anyone blindfold ya to what's real or what's not. They can drill you in grammar, but they can't teach you to think. That's up to you (and between you and me, honey, I'd rather be proud of my bleeding, than ashamed. Blood's thicker than water, so they say).