Five years gone, and it’s August. The month my three older sisters were born into and back-to-school days for the past twenty years of my life, August won’t stop being bittersweet for me. It was on the eleventh day of August this year (2017, for posterity) that I completed my degree in English at Clemson University. And now I’m a confirmed old Bachelor, not unlike Bruce Wayne. Except I verbally wrestle bad guys to the ground and he’s a little more hands-on. And males, especially of the fictional variety, do not menstruate last time I checked. And I do (did), most recently three days before commencement exercises. For the first time in six months (Planned Parenthood has an app for tracking that, and it is a godsend!), I get my period THREE BLOODY DAYS before my graduation. It was a relief though, it was.
I respect my bodily processes deeply. As a disabled woman, sometimes I feel myself fixating on my cycle’s ebb and flow, straining at that one intact bit of womanhood that tethers me to some façade of normalcy. Seems silly when I write it out, but there it is. And I was terrified of the prospect of staring my OB-GYN full in the face as she gave me the assurance I’ve already been given and that I know as well as anyone: “Miriam, you’re damaged. Your body, well, it doesn’t want to do what it should.” There are doctors who do that, who treat you like you are your own imaginary friend, like this vessel you live in was a personal and impetuous choice. Their hands move coldly about your figure, seeming to communicate disapproval with every sterilized pinch: You knew what you were in for when you grew to be this age, as a female, in your disabled condition. Don’t come crying to me. And I don’t think it’s an intentional apathy, not always. And maybe I’m making too big a deal out of it, but maybe it’s one of those rare lucid moments. Do with it what you will.
So I did the deed. I graduated with honors from a distinguished-enough university in the presence of total strangers and loved ones (a gleeful mix of longtime friends and well-travelled family), complete with big smiles and a mad dash through the rain. We had a party, a veritable feast, and I’d wager as diverse a gathering of folks as the South Carolina foothills have ever witnessed. The entire day was set apart, verdant and rich in love. And yet. There I am, clutching at my stomach in between photo opts and drinking alcohol in lieu of eating food, because to chew would’ve hindered my ability to speak.
Whatever is good in me was being poured out to my guests, my friends and sisters and aunts and uncles. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be, I think. We are supposed to give of ourselves, our time, until we can’t anymore, until we stop getting back tenfold what we’re putting out. And in that way, in some vaguely cosmic revelation I had while being carted to my blue bus by people more conscious than myself at ten o’clock that same night, my period had become a metaphor for the passing away of the someone I had been during college. I liked that girl; she wasn’t quite herself then, but she desperately wanted to be. And she did not (could not) realize just how much pain a person can endure and still be bizarrely, uniquely happy. And I do; in fact, it’s all I know.
Cover Artwork: Raj Kamal Aich