Bow-legged Cowboy

By Samantha Ten Eyck

This story ends with a 12-year-old girl trying to drive a motorcycle for the first time, who also just had her period for the first time, who also did not know how to properly insert a tampon.

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Bow-legged Cowboy

That girl was me.  My sister moved out of our house to Madison, Wisconsin, where, as she explains it to me now, she drank a lot, fell up and down stairs, out of one window, and into at least one man-hole (the type in the ground, not a man’s butt, which can’t be fallen into easily).  My brother was somewhere.  One thing about my brother is that he was really good at jumping on Olympic-sized trampolines.  But you’re reading because you want to know about that painful and funny thing that’s supposed to happen, not about how many backflip rotations my brother could do with just one high jump (a lot).

***

It was after the German foreign exchange student and before Chewy killed Piggy.  Chewy was a black mut.  Piggy was a pug.  It was after I demanded my Desiree CD back from a friend-turned-enemy and before my mother ran barefoot in the snow to lie and murmur to herself in an ice-coated hammock.

It was my first period, and it came one Saturday afternoon when my dad was working on the station wagon. (In the days of my youth, when I think of my father, I often think of two oily, hairy legs sticking out from under a wagon).

I sure as hell wasn’t going to ask my mother how to use a tampon.  Ever since she collapsed, for no good reason, outside the school she was teaching at, she was acting strange.  She stopped hugging me or saying she loved me.  She said weird things, like how she was pregnant with the messiah and that it was Al Pacino’s seed.  I don’t care how good an actor you think he is, it’s just weird.

I went to the bathroom in the east wing of the house (it was a big, mostly empty house), where my rifling couldn’t be heard.  I took out the Sam’s Club sized box of Platex tampons.  I breathed in the sweet chemical scent – the one meant to mask the earthy aroma of my new liquid womanhood.  Gross.

I’ve always secretly loved the smell of tampons.  If Barbies had veins and you could cut them open, I think they’d smell like Platex tampons.

I studied the box.  It had some pictures.  I surmised this:

  • Unwrap
  • Make sure you are inserting the rounded end, not the pointy one
  • Cram it up there
  • Go play beach volleyball in a white bikini if you don’t have an unruly teenage bush (not illustrated)

***

You see, these were tampons with applicators.  Once you get the cotton part in, you throw out the plastic helping-device.  You don’t walk around with it in unless you have a sick wish for awkward vaginal distress.

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Rebel

I put some new underpants on and tested it.  I walked around like a man trying to coyly adjust his balls.

I thought, “It has got to be easier than this.”

I walked around some more.

“Wait, women are always complaining about their period.  This is probably normal.”

I continued to think.

“My labia will be scratched by this skinny pink rod thing that keeps a string prisoner.  It will be scratched for 3-7 days every month.  This is just how it is.  I need to know what it feels like to do normal stuff.”

***

I tried not to walk like a bowlegged cowboy with a herpes flare-up out to see what my dad was doing, but I did.

He had just bought a motorcycle from my aunt.  It was a Honda Rebel.  My dad was always buying, selling, and fixing automobiles and houses.

He ran his hand over the bike and explained its features.  He asked me if I wanted to learn how to drive it.  Like, right then.

I hesitated, shifted my weight from one foot to the next to see if I could still feel the thing I was not supposed to feel.

“Sure!”

I got on it.  I half-listened to his instructions, half listened to the madness I was feeling in my pants.  I did something with the handles and the gears and the gas and as I did the bike lurched forward.  The tampon lurched too, and pain shot between my thighs.  The bike ran into our parked truck.  I got off.  I said I was sorry, that I wasn’t very good at this.

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Samantha Ten Eyck is teaching English and studying Chinese in Beijing.  She has an MFA in Poetry from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her work is published in some journals you’ve never heard of.  Available for birthday parties.

The Lock Out

By Molly Beth Griffin

It was a really embarrassingly stupid thing to do, and I did it twice. 

The first time was in high school when a friend and I drove downtown for an event at an art museum.  I felt all grownup heading off alone like that.  But I don’t even remember what the event was, because we never made it inside.  Instead, I locked the keys in the car… with the car running.  We just had to wait there, next to the car in the museum parking lot, while my mom drove in with the spare key to rescue us.  We waited, in the rain.  And the best part?  We were both wearing white t-shirts.  Awesome.  When my mom showed up we were lying on the hood of the humming car in our soaked clothes, trying to stay Imagewarm.  Maybe I wasn’t as grown-up as I thought.

So it would be bad enough to admit to doing this ONCE, but then, in college, I did it again.  I was driving some friends from our tiny college town into Iowa City for shopping and lunch and general hanging out.  And once again, I felt cool.  I felt like an adult.  I was the one with a car, I knew where I was going and I could get us there.  We were going to get Indian buffet for lunch, stock up on good food at the co-op, and browse the ped mall.  Instead, as I was fishing for change to feed the meter, I managed to lock the keys in the car with the car running, again.  It was, once again, raining.  We had to use the phone at a nearby café at least half a dozen times—nobody had cell phones in those days—and then we had to hang out there, with the running car in sight, while we waited (forever) for AAA.  Oh, the shame.  I was not the self-sufficient adult I thought I was.  I was an irresponsible kid who shouldn’t be trusted with a car.  And my friends now knew it.  The memory of it burns to this day.

And yet, friends forgive us for these things, when they are real friends.  I’m still in touch with the gal from high school who was with me for adventure #1.  We swap photos of our toddlers on Facebook.  She probably doesn’t even remember the keys incident (she won’t until I send her this blog post, anyway).  One of the friends from the college key debacle actually married me.  So maybe I looked stupider to myself than I did to the others.  Maybe I should stop feeling dumb about it.   Maybe I should let it go.  We all do stupid things, right?  Sometimes we even do stupid things more than once.  And life goes on.

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mbgriffinMolly Beth Griffin is the author of the picture book Loon Baby (Houghton Mifflin 2011) and the award winning young adult novel Silhouette of a Sparrow (Milkweed Editions 2012) which is now out in paperback.  She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University, and she teaches at the Loft Literary Center.  For more info about her books, classes, critique service, and the Picture Book Writers’ Salon please visit www.mollybethgriffin.com.

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Kiss Grotto

By Susan Montag

When I was growing up, my dad owned a junkyard. He would buy junked out cars, and then sell parts to guys who showed up at the junkyard looking for something they needed. These guys would not always have the cash to pay my dad. Fortunately for them, my father was a magnanimous man, and he would trade for whatever they had on hand right at that moment. That’s how I ended up with an eight-track tape of Kiss’s Destroyer album when I was in fifth grade.Image

We all gathered around the tape when my dad brought it home—my parents, my younger siblings and I—and we regarded it suspiciously. The illustrated album cover shows the members of Kiss stomping on a ruined city. They look like apocalyptic sex monsters, which is what I’m sure they were going for. My parents decided quickly that this tape was a bad thing, and not something our family might enjoy. However, they didn’t throw it away. Maybe they thought they would give it to someone—or perhaps trade it for something better—and it ended up alongside the Conway Twitty and Marty Robbins eight-tracks next to our stereo.

I was only ten at the time, and I was still fiercely aligned with my parents. If they liked something, it was good. If they didn’t it must be bad, so I tried also to disapprove of the Kiss tape. Whenever I had the chance, though, I secretly studied the drawing on the front. It made me feel something, a kind of excitement that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. And then, one day, when no one was home but me—I played the tape. The first notes of “Detroit Rock City” slammed into my soul. By the end of that song, the innocence of my childhood had ended, and my adolescence had begun. I loved something that my parents disliked. I loved Kiss.

By the time I was in seventh grade, I owned every Kiss album that existed.

I am a very, very loyal person, so I refused to buy—or really even listen to—any other music. It was all Kiss, all the time. Deeply scornful of all other genres, I often wore a T-shirt that stated: “Disco Sucks.” When I wore this T-shirt, random people would give me thumbs up orImage say, “Hell, yeah!” which totally reinforced my musical xenophobia.

In addition to being loyal, I also tend to be compulsive, and I decided that all four walls in my bedroom should be covered with Kiss stuff. I don’t mean that I had a lot of posters up. I mean that every square inch, floor to ceiling, was covered by a Kiss related clipping. My room became a visually stunning Kiss grotto. Upon seeing it for the first time, people would gasp, either with pleasure or shock, depending on their sensibilities.

I was about twelve or thirteen years old by this time, and my younger brother Paul was eight, which is the worst sort of age split between an older sister and a younger brother. I found him to be profoundly revolting in every way possible, and he found it hilarious to do anything that pissed me off. He often followed me around a public place, pointing and shouting, “That’s my sister!” while walking in a spastic way. I didn’t think I could hate him more deeply, but then he did the unthinkable. He came into my room and removed a small piece of my Kiss grotto and he flushed it down the toilet.

Honestly, I didn’t even notice right after it happened. The piece in question was about an inch square, and considering the massiveness of the collection, I might have gone months before I spotted that tiny bit of bare wall showing through. My not noticing, however, spoiled the fun for my brother, and he pointed out the bare spot and told me what he had done. I immediately told my mom. I thought he should have been locked in a small cage in the basement with no food for a couple weeks, but he got away with just a mild scolding. So I seethed, and I plotted my revenge.

To carry out my plan, I needed to be home alone for an extended period of time, so I waited for just that moment a few days later. My brother did not have a massive grotto of any particular theme in his bedroom, but he did have treasured items, along with a whole lot of junk. His room was a minefield of broken toys, army men, random Legos, ruined socks, marbles, baseball cards, rocks, and candy wrappers. My plan was to spare nothing. I went into the room with several huge garbage bags and I began to fill them. I took it all—down to the sheets on the bed. I even took the light bulb. And I hid it all in the shed behind the house. There was nothing left in his room to indicate his existence. Nothing. I had wiped him off the face of the earth.

I lounged nonchalantly as my family came home, and I waited. Then it came—the piercing wail of rage that can come only from the lungs of an eight-year-old boy who has discovered that everything he loves is gone. Ha! Ha ha ha! I thought.

I briefly held out when my mother demanded to know where the stuff was, but I could tell that she was seriously, seriously pissed, and that I better not mess with her. I brought the bags in. To my chagrin, after he removed the things he wanted to keep, the rest of it ended up out on the curb with the trash. My mom marveled that the room looked really nice now, without all the junk. So I had inadvertently cleaned by brother’s room. Unfortunately, he did not fail to see the humor in this.

A few months later, I turned on the radio and I heard Tom Petty singing “Don’t Do Me Like ImageThat.” There was a quirkiness to his voice that intrigued me. I felt a momentary pang of guilt for liking the song, but it didn’t last long. Shortly thereafter, I began to dismantle the grotto and to buy other music—Tom Petty, Phil Collins, Supertramp, Manford Man’s Earth Band. The Kiss spell was broken. It was time for me to move on.

Today my musical tastes trend more toward Bluegrass than heavy metal, but I have to admit, the first few notes of “Detroit Rock City” still get to me a little, every time.

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Susan Montag teaches writing at Alexandria Technical & Community College, and is the author of Finding the Way: A Tao for Down-to-Earth People. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University and is the parent of two almost-grown-up children, whom she currently lives with, along with her husband and her seven cats.