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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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