The other ten- and eleven-year-olds knew. It revealed itself on the backside of my favorite white and yellow sundress, the one with the sunflowers that my mother bought for my birthday. Unmistakable reddish-brown spots unleashed tiny giggles from across the room as I strutted to the chalkboard with my head cocked high because I knew the answer to some question.
I wore my dress as often as the southern temperatures allowed, but soon it would be thrown away with the rest of the rags. Because I did not know yet to soak it in cold water, not hot, to get the bloodstains out.
I didn’t feel the pains of my womanhood immediately. I often didn’t even know when that time was drawing near. My mother saw it every time. She often told me that my period was coming because I had a big attitude on those days.
Maybe that’s why the girl whose name I don’t remember pushed me down as we were walking home from school. Because I had an attitude the size of a grown woman. A grown black woman. As I lay face-down on the ground, I felt sour rivers swell up in my eyes. I ordered them not to fall, but they were disobedient tears.
The girl whose name I don’t remember towered over me, arms folded, mouth twisted in a misshapen grin, waiting for my tantrum. Perhaps I had such tantrums before. She once told me that I had pretty teeth for such a dark-skinned girl. I thought she had an ugly way for a light-skinned one. No words were spoken that day. Just an overdue flaming glance, another one returned in retaliation, an exasperated shove, and me, faced down and humiliated, stuck between moments and wanting to be sometime or someplace else.
My sister, one minute my senior, was also there. Usually poised for defense, today she was a cool oak. She shielded me from the heat of curious onlookers. Before my imagination and my embarrassment could take flight, she knelt softly beside me, her voice inches from my ear. Through a whisper she asked me – or told me – I know you are not going to cry in front of her.
My sister grabbed me by the forearm and stood me up taller than I had ever been before. I perked my head in the air as though no one was watching, as though the stain wasn’t there, as though there was no such thing as pain on my hands and my knees and my heart. Do not look back, she instructed. We walked the last block home arm-in-arm and in silence as the tears retreated. I never cried in front of anyone again.
Nia Michelle David is a writer and mother, born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. She writes in a variety of genres – particularly short stories and creative non-fiction. When she is not creating, she enjoys spending time with her daughters and learning to play the guitar.