Period Piece

Painting by Maya Fielder

  As my older sister went into labor with her first child, I began my best period.
At the moment my blood came bright and painful–she struggled to deliver her son into the world.
My sister and I have always lived in tandem.
Growing up, she was the beautiful child. I, in glasses, a bowl cut, and hand-me-downs, the paradox. She was outgoing, charming, stunning. I was quiet, awkward, lost in my own head. Born one year and nine months apart, we lived in different ages. It’s not that she is wise for her years, though she is. It’s her self-possession, her awareness, the way she carries her shoulders.
Things I never bothered trying to copy.
Our sisterhood was nothing if not tooth and nail fighting, biting and scratching; our history is a proud calamity.
Intertwined, we fought and pushed. We were jealous of each other; we were jealous for each other.
She was, is, beautiful, she was fierce, the world loved her in ways I longed to be loved, but she was my sister. She knows me at my rawest, in my anger hitting walls and screaming curses. She brings out my nasty pettiness, my stubborn, jaw-clenching, unbending childishness, and I return the favor.
My sister and I are mirrors reflecting unseen sideways angles of each other.
The first time my period tore its way through my guts, my sister was asleep in the same room.
Midnight in a stranger’s house, in a city I do not remember the name of, traveling with our father on a business trip. We were far from home, and I cried in the foreign bathroom. I have never been good at new things.
I shook her awake and she, angry, threw a tampon towards me.
I had never seen one before, had never held one in my hands, never been told that my body could make these shades of crimson, never been told that these were not colors of shame, colors to be hidden, colors of something that should not be shown.
That night my sister pushed me beneath the flickering lights of the bathroom and coached me through my first encounter with my body.
Years after, I looked at myself for the first time. It happened almost by accident. Alone with a mirror in a dim room. It was an accident; it was not supposed to happen. There I was, purple and opening. This violet hue hidden from me all my life, this color so surprising I could not imagine it on a body. A thing that I did not know could exist. It was scandalous, it was dirty. It was something close to divinity.
We are taught to hate our bodies so that we may never learn what they are, so we may never know the soft pulsing power that lives in us.
I want to be jealous of women the way god is jealous of humans.
In ancient Syriac poetry, wombs are written about as gateways, passages that transform. The divine spirit passes through the womb and becomes human. When the time comes, the poet Ephrem writes, paradise will open its womb and take us back inside.
I do not pray to god but I pray to the divine ugly things inside of me that I will live and pass through the womb of paradise and be transformed, bold and fierce like the blood between my legs.
The womb is a thing both hidden and revealed. The womb is not a metaphor. It is aching in my belly and staining all my sheets. It is a connection to to the moon, to the tides, to other women, and something I am told to be ashamed of, to keep to myself.
I have to be honest. When I wake in a man’s bed and feel the stickiness on my thighs, and know I have tarnished his once crisp sheets with my irreverent blood, I am proud. It is not a marking of territory; I am not that feral.
I like to show off. I am alive and I am a bloody mess, and I will not hide it or keep it secret.
There were bad years when I didn’t want to exist. There were bad years when I didn’t eat, when I wanted to be less, when I tried to disappear. Those bloodless years come back to me in nightmares, and I remember hot days when I sat sweating, imposing impossible rules and living by dead numbers on scales. More than three years without blood, years without color, without spark, circumscribed by sickness.
A day in October my underwear was stained red and I in the bathroom stall stared at it like a stranger. Despite the years of nothing, years of an occasional rusty smear against my thighs, there was a bright streak as if Nike herself had swept through me and slashed victory through my body. It was a triumph. A new covenant in my blood, a dedication to some holy thing I had tried for years to smother, a sacramental testament proving that I am fighting and I am bleeding and I am alive.
When my belly aches and my anxiety peaks and the blood comes sharp, it is a carnival.
My sister and I have always lived in tandem. I missed her wedding. She missed my graduation. We fight, connected, pushing and pulling like the moon and the tides. She rejoices in her newborn son, I rejoice in the crimson that stains every month like a promise. She is a power, a stability that I will never be. I am the flowing forth, unbound, anxious movement that she will never hold.
As my sister went into labor and her son learned how to breathe, I celebrated the victories marked in my blood.
My period is mine and it brightens the days of my life.
On the day my sister went into labor, I began my best period.
Our bodies, ours, always ours, always uncontrollable.
Our bodies, your body: the birthplace of revolt, revolution, a passage for divinity.


Madeline Kinkel headshot
Madeline Kinkel was born in Iowa. She attended Reed College, where she majored in Russian language and literature. She has worked in Baku, Azerbaijan and St. Petersburg, Russia, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree. She is a scorpio.


Accompanying Art: “Gilded City” by Maya Fielder

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