Saturday, June 20, 2009
I looked down and saw a small stain on my cartoon-printed underwear. Panic rushed over my body. What is this? Am I dying? I yanked up my pajama bottoms and sprinted towards my Unie’s room for help. I stopped at her door, waited for her to look up, and said in a small, scared voice, “Unie? Something’s wrong.”
At ten years old, I didn’t know what it meant to have a period. All I knew was that my mom would buy gigantic Kotex pads would wrap them neatly in tissue before depositing them into the wastebasket. The year before I started my period, in fourth grade, the girls had a day of “Sexual Health Education.” My parents checked the “NO, I do not consent” box on my form. My um-ma and ap-pah grew up after the Korean War, when there was certainly no such thing as Sex Ed. The letter from my elementary school explained the purpose of Sex Ed, but my parents spoke limited English and they only needed to understand one word: SEX. So, while all the girls learned about periods, pads, and puberty, I sat with the boys and watched “Big Ben”, a movie about a brown bear.
The morning that my period first started, my sister handed me one of my mom’s bulgy pads and showed me how to use it. I secretly wondered why there was no “belt” as my only exposure to periods and pads was from an outdated version of “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” in which Margaret and her friends yearn for their periods and practice fastening belts to a pad. I also wondered, How often should I change my pad? How should I take a shower? How long my period would last? Why did I have it? And most importantly, How could I keep everyone from seeing the outline of this bulgy, extra-long, overnight Kotex from the back of my Bongo shorts? This was my introduction to my period: many questions and no answers.
My um-ma didn’t find out that I had started my period until three days later. I didn’t know how to say “period” in Korean. In true tradition, she simply asked me if I had started my mehn-su. I had no idea what mehn-su meant but from my um-ma’s tone, I could guess that she was talking about my period. I slowly nodded my head and she yelled in exasperation, “You’re so young! Why are you starting so soon?!” I clearly did not have the answer, so I silently added it to my growing list of questions about my period.
It wasn’t until sixth grade, when I slyly moved the checkmark from the NO box to the YES box, that I finally got some answers.
in My Little Red Book