Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Red Tide

Red tide is a common name for a phenomenon also known as an algal bloom, an event in which algae accumulate rapidly in the water column resulting in discoloration of the surface water. Toxicity varies.

I should post a warning. The following contains graphic scenes of …

Fuck it. Take your chances. This is non-fiction. The sensitive should abstain.


Last week, I went to the urologist. That’s too much information already, isn’t it? Bear with me. It gets worse.

I went to the urologist for a vague complaint my doctor felt needed further investigation. I had my period, and cramps, and almost cancelled. The doctor was booked out a month in advance, though, and I thought I’d better just go and get it over with.

After handing in a urine sample, the nurse told me I needed to undress for a pelvic exam. “I have my period,” I told her and she shook her head with a motherly smile.

“The doctor doesn’t mind. He won’t be using a speculum. Just hop up on the table and it will be over in a jiff.”

“I have a tampon in,” I told her. I was embarrassed. Mortified, actually.

“You can just toss that out. I think I have some more here in this drawer.” She pulled out a monster sized Tampax with a triumphant flourish, laid an absorbent white paper cloth over the end of the table, and left me to it.

I pulled out my tampon and wrapped it in paper towels. Blood soaked through them instantly. I shoved the bundle deep into their trash can. There was a drop of blood on the floor. I did my best to wipe it up with a tissue. I got up on the table before pulling off my panties the rest of the way, and wadded them up behind me for security.

The doctor was knocking before I’d finished pulling the sheet over me. The nurse came in with him, standing over me comfortingly as I lay back and put my feet in the stirrups. The doctor’s gloved finger entered me easily and felt around. He pulled out less carefully than he’d entered, and it hurt my sore insides. I caught a glimpse of his bloody glove before he deftly turned it inside out and threw it away. Probably the whole exam took 30 seconds.

The nurse put out a box of baby wipes as she left the room. There was less mess than I’d feared, though the trash can held gaudy splotches of red. I got dressed. “Come back in two weeks to discuss your test results,” the doctor told me.

These details are not relevant: I drove to work only to find I’d soaked through the giant tampon and pad. I drove home again to change my pants. I spent the rest of the day in bed with cramps.

This one is: I’ve been dreading going back next week. I don’t want to see that man again.


It came to me in the shower last night: The memory of my stepfather’s face, painted red with my menses.

I was 15. I can’t recall how it happened that my mother didn’t come along on our weekend trip to Cape Cod. Howard had arranged it somehow, engineered her disappointment and my delight. We'd daydreamed of going away together. I wanted losing my virginity to be special, not furtive. When we arrived at the converted mansion that was to be our hotel, we checked in as honeymooners.

We stashed our luggage in the antiques-filled room and headed out for an early dinner. When we got back to the room, with plans for massages and a movie and... that act...  my period started, days early. It was even heavier then than it is now, and the cramps were unbearable. Advil didn’t touch it. Howard went to down to the bar and then out to a liquor store to find me Kaluha and a box of milk. He put his warm hands on my stomach and hummed songs for me until I was able to relax again. Was I happy to be there with him, I wonder? I can’t remember any feeling beyond the physical.

He'd been waiting for this night. For my finally being willing to let him inside me. I wanted him to do it, because he’d done it before. He talked about being gentle. He had theories about technique. And I wanted it done, so I wouldn’t have worry anymore about his satisfaction with our sexual encounters. In my mind, having sex meant I'd be freed from obligations. I wouldn’t have to handle that throbbing, purple-tipped protuberance that seemed to always need satisfaction. I wouldn’t have to look at it, or to feel its too-thin-skinned smoothness against my tongue. With intercourse he could hide it inside me, and take his pleasure while I closed my eyes and tried to smile.

Both of us thus eager, we waited for the Advil and Tylenol and alcohol to do their work. When I began to relax, Howard brought towels from the bathroom to put underneath me, and smoothly pulled down my underwear and red-sodden pad. I was propped on down pillows against a carved, Art Deco headboard. The musky smell of my blood was thick in my nose. Howard licked me. Looking up, lips grotesquely red, he told me he liked the way I tasted. “The towels,” I said. “The hotel-”.

“They’re used to it,” he told me, and went back to lapping against my clit. He pressed his little finger into me slowly. “Now I know why they call it a flow,” he said. "It looks like a river." He was smiling delightedly, face covered in gore.

He finally wiped his face and arranged his body over me. His first thrust slipped up against my belly. His second felt like he’d hit a wall inside me. The third, knife-like, penetrated. He held me tightly as he thrust. Our stomachs slid wetly, sticky with blood and his sweat.

Afterwards, wiped clean again, my wounded body bundled back into layers of padded underwear, Howard pulled my head onto his shoulder. “How do you feel?” he asked.

“Fine,” I told him. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want him touching me. I thought of the mound of bloody towels and washcloths on the bathroom floor.

“It’s normal, you know,” he told me, “For a girl to feel upset after her first time. Angry, even.” I felt disgust, for our bodies, for the act, and most of all for myself. I wanted to sleep in the other bed, despite the soiled sheets. I didn’t want to be weak. I didn’t want to cry and let him think this moment meant something.

“I’m not mad,” I said, and kissed his cheek.


The next day over breakfast the hotel gave us sad news. A red tide had come in, and it was not safe to swim. There were dead fish along the shore, and it smelled of rot. We walked through the village, every quaint New England building filled with tasteless tee shirts and sea shell art for sale. Howard bought me a pair of cheap sunglasses and we ate dinner at one of those old-fashioned seafood and steak places where there are never any surprises.


All this came back to me in the shower, a composite flash of memory and the clear congruence of images: his red lips, the doctor’s bloodied glove. I hadn't told anyone about that trip. I hadn't thought of the disgust I felt, and how I sometimes feel it still.

I don’t live in the past. I’m not a victim or a cripple. I’ve paid my dues in therapy and bad relationships and tears. I’ve found my way to celebrate sexuality in myself and others. It’s just--every now and then--some moments creeps out of the past and demands to be seen again.

The doctor, though.... I don't think I'll be seeing him again. He can give me my diagnosis over the phone.


little monkey said...

As the possessor of my own creeping moments, I say to you, "Brava". Very affecting post.

Lady Grinning Soul said...

This is really quite something. Seems like it needed to be written. I hope it helps. It really is… wow. Just beautifully and painfully honest.

roxie said...

Thank you for sharing, stories like this need to be told. I have learned the hard way we are only as sick ad our secrets. Kudos.

Sexie Sadie~ said...

Love you sweetie! You are beautiful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing this. Keep on with the healing.


lil said...

I understand.

Jessica Hirst / Palmer Fishman said...

I'm so sorry you went through this, and so glad that you've reclaimed your sexuality in such a positive way...thank you for sharing.