But I’m not writing about any of those firsts. I’m writing about a first I never looked forward to experiencing—my first period. I’m pretty sure the only time in life you pine for a visit from Aunt Flo is when you think you’re preggers and don’t want to be.
I especially never wanted to get my first period at summer camp, hundreds of miles from civilization and my mom. But after archery class one hot summer day, I saw blood in my underwear. Let’s be honest: no matter how many birds and the bees talks you received and no matter how many health classes you taken, no one is ever truly prepared for her first period. I didn’t feel like a woman; I felt like an ER patient. “My vagina is bleeding and it won’t stop” ran through my mind in a loop.
I figured a little toilet paper could solve the situation and it’d be over by dinnertime. (Yes, I was bit confused on periods.) When that didn’t work and I was close to using my camp’s summer supply of toilet paper, I finally confided in a friend. By confided, I mean burst into inconsolable tears. I didn’t want my period, and I didn’t want it like this.
My friend did what any intelligent 12-year-old would do when facing a crisis: she brought in reinforcements. As a collective group of friends, everyone decided we must tell the counselors. The counselors comforted me in the best way they could, but I could tell in their eyes that they were thinking: “I came to work at camp for a tan; I’m not being paid enough for this.”After incessant begging on my part, the camp bent a big rule for me and let me call home. In my menses-induced state, I forgot that my mom was traveling in Europe with my sister. So it was my dad who answered that call and heard my sobbing. After he realized I hadn’t been kicked in the head by a horse and that I had just gotten my period, he was at the same loss of words as I was. There was definitely a lot of static on that phone call.
Let me tell you, the only thing worse than getting your period at camp is having to tell you dad about it over the phone with the male camp director listening in the same room.
For a few days, I waddled around camp in my counselor’s mattress sized pads until finally my vagina stopped bleeding. When the weekend arrived, a counselor pulled me aside and said I had a visitor—another camp no-no. She led me to the parking lot where my dad sat in his car. He had driven over three hours to deliver his daughter two things: a beautiful letter about growing up (no period mentions, thank god) and a McDonald’s extra value meal—another camp no-no.
To this day, I can still remember sitting in my dad’s car and sipping a chocolate milkshake. We didn’t say much to each other, but it was better that way. My first period was a total bitch, but it did show me how much my dad loved me even if had no idea what to say to a recently mensing daughter. And it also taught that if you don’t know what to say to someone, buying a chocolate milkshake works too.
Gwendolyn is the author of the new novel A Long Way From You.
Have you gotten your first period yet? Where were you when it happened? If you’re still waiting, do you carry pads with you just in case? Tell me everything in the comments!