Lois Greene Stone

I knew it was "humiliation time" again as I walked into the girls' locker room and instantly smelled the strong odor of chlorine. My nose began to twitch and I rubbed it with the back of my wrist; my watch caught the base of my nostrils and felt cold.

"Wonder if my mother had to take swimming when she went to school," I muttered, placing my clothes in a scratched metal locker. I pulled on my bathing suit and went to the seats beside the pool reserved for non-swimming time. My nipples always showed through the braless tank suit provided by the New York City school system; I felt almost naked. It seemed stupid to have to change just to sit out the session.

Attendance was already being taken. I heard my name.

"In the pool, Greene," Mrs. Maggot ordered. A whistle around her neck hung from a lanyard made of twisted leather straps.

"I can't."

"Don't tell me it's blood time again. I don't believe you, Greene." She pulled on the whistle straps until the leather braid formed creases on her neck.

I hated the giggles that were coming from the rest of the class.

"Listen, Greene. You get one excuse a month. One week's bleed time. Normal is three to five days. I'm tired of hearing you tell me your cycle is 10 days. Not even an elephant bleeds that long."

I was uncomfortable enough with a thick pad under the tank suit, hoping I wouldn't leak over the sides. I disliked wearing a 'public' bathing suit but knew if my stains were on it, so were other girls'. I wondered what kind of soap the school laundry used to sterilize the suits.

"I can't go in the pool today."

"Really, Greene." Mrs. Maggot pulled at her whistle, indicating her annoyance. Her voice was sarcastic.

"I am not trying to lie to you," I defended.

"Get over here, Greene. We're going to find out once and for all if you, and you alone, in all the world, probably in all the worlds that ever were, are the longest menstruating female."

I tried to smother a sigh. I got up, wrapped my towel around my waist concealing the bulge made by the sanitary napkin affixed to the elastic belt's tiny metal hooks, and walked down the concrete steps to the pool.

"Circle her, girls." Mrs. Maggot was like the warden in a prison movie. Quickly, she yanked at the wide straps of the bathing suit and pulled it down, exposing my thin body, now naked except for the sanitary belt and napkin. "Pull the belt down." She demanded.

I was mortified. I couldn't move.

"Pull it down. Now."

I slid the elastic down my hips, then gently pulled the stained napkin away from my crotch. A few hairs fused with dried blood were stuck to the gauze covering. I tried to free them. The napkin had a foul smell. Even the special deodorant powder I'd sprinkled on it before use didn't absorb it all.

"Get dressed," Mrs. Maggot smirked. "This proves to me that you lied last week when you said you had your period."

"I had my period last week also," I said as I brought my arms through the straps of the suit.

"Don't you be sarcastic with me, Missy. I don't like people who weasel out of swimming with excuses like earaches, colds, monthly crap. Swimming is a discipline. I'll fail you if you give me any more of your lip."

Angered now, I blurted out, "Do you think I like bleeding for ten days? Do you? Who would make this up?"

"Then go see a doctor, Greene. You're abnormal."

With that, the rest of the class, who still surrounded me and their teacher, laughed uncontrollably. The word "abnormal" was the final joke.

My tears spilled as helplessly as the girls' laughter came easily. I took one stare at my teacher, broke through the barrier of human bodies, and fled to the locker room to re-dress. I wanted my mother to call my doctor. He'd just have to find a way for me not to take swimming and go through this ever again.

After leaving the locker room, I fumbled for a nickel, went to a pay phone near the lunch room, and dialed home just to hear the sound of my mother's voice.

My periods never did get much shorter, even after child-bearing. Today, I still don't like to go to pools. And, yes, each time I smell chlorine I am reminded of the days before tampons, and of a cruel and insensitive woman who blamed me for having to be released from swim class.

© Lois Greene Stone

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