Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Missing Aunt Flo

I first made the acquaintance of my Aunt Flo at the age of eleven. Oh, I'd heard rumors about her...my mother's furtive, awkward and obviously embarrassed attempt to explain who she was, after I'd asked about the content of the Kotex boxes in my parents' closet. I figured, at the time, that she wasn't someone I really cared to meet anyway.

But then one summer day I decided to ride my bike over to my mom's sister and brother, who owned a farm several miles away. I'd been feeling strange, twinge-y sensations in my gut all morning but thought they were due to something I'd eaten. Imagine my surprise and alarm when I arrived at my aunt and uncle's place and found that I was bleeding profusely, right through my pants. I remember my aunt's kindly but flustered explanation of what was going on, and the unusually quiet ride home in their truck with my poor bachelor uncle. I remember my mother's less-than-reassuring observation that "This is just the beginning -- your life is going to get a lot harder," and my father's obvious discomfort in being around me, something I was not used to at all; he treated me, his heretofore li'l buddy, as if I'd just been irradiated. And I remember being taken, that day, to the store to procure my own box of Kotex.

Uh-oh. That's what I thought, curled up in bed that evening, weeping, knees clutched against my cramping abdomen, feeling blood pulsing out of me with each contraction. Uh-oh. Uh-oh. Uh-oh.

So that's how I got to know Aunt Flo. And yet, after this most unpromising introduction, her visits soon became run-of-the-mill. I insisted on purchasing tampons (thank you,Teen magazine) despite my mother's skepticism ("I could never use those..."), which diminished the ick factor quite a bit; and I started learning the rhythms of her visits: things like her punctuality; her tendency to show up during the dark of the moon, and at night; her quirks, like cramps only every other month. And soon I'd gotten to the point of being able to discuss Aunt Flo with my peers, and discover that most of us were all experiencing the same things. We spoke knowingly of being "on the rag," swapping war stories and Midol.

A few years and many chest-pounding, running-with-the-wolves feminist authors later I'd not only accepted Aunt Flo's monthly visitations, but celebrated them as manifestations of female power. I knew that the cultural squeamishness and downright contempt aimed at Aunt Flo in various cultures over the centuries -- the separation of menstruating women from the rest of the community, the ritual uncleanliness, the petty humiliations -- had their basis in a primal male fear of this phenomenon -- of bleeding without wound, of bleeding elicited by the moon, of the mysterious forces ruling female sexuality and fertility, beyond the capacity of prescientific societies to comprehend. Oh, the boys may have framed the issue in terms of their disgust -- but we women knew, down in our bones, that they were actually scared witless by Aunt Flo's feminine mojo. Yeah, yeah, yeah -- we'll sequester ourselves over in the red tent so we don't adulterate your masculine purity [nudge-wink] with our polluting [nudge-wink] "unclean" [nudge-wink] presence. [Whoo-hoo! The red tent!]

It was just about the time that I had finally truly embraced Aunt Flo as a sisterfriend that she began a pattern of erratic behavior. If I were under a lot of stress or not taking care of myself, she'd maybe skip a month, then come back and linger for two weeks. Once she appeared to move in with no intention of ever leaving, necessitating my having to have her surgically evicted. (A process that my then-gynecologist described as involving "maybe a moderate amount of discomfort," which is something like saying that being repeatedly run over by a cement truck involves a moderate amount of discomfort.)

These days Aunt Flo is likely to stop in for just a day or two -- barely a visit. Sometimes she just kind of hangs around the doorway, bags in hand: Maybe I'll just go to a motel this time, honey. And -- I kind of miss her. I mean, I know she can be messy and inconvenient, and I've often treated her like the crazy relative we all try to avoid sitting next to at holiday dinners...but after 35 years we have a history, Aunt Flo and I. And it actually makes me a little sad when she doesn't show up. I'm anxious that one day she'll leave and not come back; that she'll find herself a nice little condo in Florida and stay there. I -- I'm not ready for that. Not yet.

So, Aunt Flo, if you're reading this -- I have a snuggly afghan and a cup of tea waiting for you. Potato chips. Chocolate. Advil and a heating pad, even, if you're in an owly mood. Seriously -- I want you to come over. Don't be a stranger.


KathyR said...

Nice piece. Questing Parson sent me.

I'm 45 and Aunt Flo has been beating me with a stick every month for several years now. Cramping, hemmoraging. It's ghastly. I've been telling myself that it's kind of an evolutionary acceptance thing. It has become this awful so that I will be glad when it's gone.

Beth said...

Oh, gosh. This is going to sound really stupid, coming from a 27-year-old woman, but I had forgotten about Aunt Flo. My son and I are just finishing up our extended visit from Cousin Lacy the lactation milkmaid, so I assume she'll be back pretty soon. I wonder whether she'll be the same, post-partum

Sheryl said...

I can understand that anxiety. Aunt Flo went a little flaky on me about a year ago myself. Turns out she was just responding to Uncle Thy's (short for Thyroid) depresstion. Now that he's in a better mood, she's a little more normal. Still, it would be nice if she's visit on her monthly schedule again.

Swandive said...

Awwww. Thanks for the afternoon delight reading. So wonderful. I can't say that me and flo have the same relationship - she's kinda rough with me, month after month, and she seems to be really close with ms. moods, because no matter what I do, they rule in my body once a month.
Brilliant. Bless you.

RuthRE said...

you know you can borrow my aunt anytime :)

ding said...

i remember the time in college when Hugo (Aunt Flo with a sex change) visited for a *whole year* and made me think i had some weird ovarial thing going on. doctor just looked at me, my wacked out hair and crazy eyes and said, 'senior year stress. go on the pill.'

and now,for the last week or so, Hugo has intermittently teased me with his presence - so that i can't fully trust myself to wear my really great white bootcut jeans, yet!! damn Hugo!

but thanks for this. the best post about Aunt Flo ever.

Sally said...

I am not too sure I look back with fondness over Aunt Flos visits, but it was a bit of a shock when she left for good prematurely following a time of great stress, declaring she'd had enough and that was that!
I guess I am still getting used to the fact that she has gone.

Rainbow Pastor said...

Aunt Flo and I have an uncertain relationship; sometimes we have a great visit, and sometimes it's a screaming match. Sometimes she doesn't bother to come; sometimes she comes early. Sometimes she brings her close friend, MS Mood. Sometimes she's, um, generous, and other times stingy.

I just don't know about her anymore.

Right now, I'm feeling so awful from other stuff, I wish she had decided on the hotel. But no--and she didn't bring chicken soup, either.

Sue said...

What a great post!!

Aunt Flo moved in with me so long that I was sure she was staying forever, but like you I had a surgical procedure and now she barely makes an appearance. Do I miss her? Yes, I have to say that I do miss her, just a bit.

Mostly what I miss is that feeling on day two or three when all the bloat has gone away and you feel downright thin compared to a few days earlier.

Lorna said...

Great post.

Grief can make auntie pack her bags. She didn't visit me for about a year after my dad died (9 years ago) Now she visits regularly again.

Rev Dr Mom said...

Aunt Flo made herself so unpleasant the last few years she visited that I didn't miss her at all when she didn't come back. I think that was her way of making sure I'd didn't mourn her when seh left for good. She surprised me a couple of months ago with a short drop-in visit, but I don't expect to see her again, and you know, it's okay.

Ladybug6472 said...

My good ol' Aunt Flo hasn't been to see me for 20 years and I haven't missed her erratic crazy self one bit. She and I were very close for 35 years and I say good riddance. Relatives like that I don't need!