Maybe I was just tired of bleeding, I say to my husband the morning after my hysterectomy. He has brought me toast and weak tea. I am lying in our bed petting our cat Schrödinger.
Jess, he says, it was bit a more than that. He puts down the breakfast tray next to the cat and heads back downstairs.
He is probably right, I say to Schrödinger. Quint is usually right. Still and all, I never did care much for the bleeding. It didn’t help that I started so much earlier than my friends. I was barely nine and got my first period at recess. I wasn’t even aware that girls bled. It was my dumb luck that Richard Atwell’s dad was a gynecologist and Richard announced to the whole fourth grade that I had started menstruating.
Reflecting back on all of it now, it strikes me as terribly sad that I was always so ashamed of my body, the swelling and the hair and the blood. I was supposed to be tightlipped – what an expression. What a metaphor. Mom handed me a Wal-Mart shopping bag with boxes of Kotex and I could have made better sense out of being handed the Dead Sea Scrolls. You’re a smart girl, Jessica; read the directions on the box, my mother said. No further instruction. I suffered embarrassing accidents almost monthly for the rest of that school year. It wasn’t until summer, at Girl Scout sleepover camp, when Jenny Hill brought a calendar with her that I understood I did not have to wait in agonizing horror for the next blood to come. The red dot on July 16th marked her last period and the green dot roughly four weeks later signified her next. Planning, she said. Later that will be important when I am married and planning on babies, Jenny confided. Jenny Hill was catholic but her mother was an obstetrician.
It was so simple really. I was good at planning. Upon returning home from camp, I told Mom I needed a calendar and a box of markers. I never had another accident again. I certainly didn’t embrace bleeding and I didn’t relish the idea of having babies but I found a new power. I started planning my escape. I mapped myself a future, brighter and less bloody, far away from a home littered with empty vodka bottles and cigarette butts. My planning took me to Quiz Bowls and forensic debates and quickly enough to an academic scholarship from a lovely school where the girls wore pearls and the boys had roman numerals after their surnames.
It was at said school that I met Quinton. How odd that I began to bleed, unexpectedly, unplanned the night we met. I probably should’ve realized then that the cavity of me had begun its slow fester but at 21 what could I have known? I was as clueless then as I had been at 9, hanging upside down from the monkey bars in soiled shorts.
Later, after graduations and first jobs, and LSATs and law school and engagement and a hasty marriage and an ectopic pregnancy, later after the D&C, we would hear the word cancer. The word uterine. Hysterectomy. Hyster. Hysterical. I had always loved etymology but this was a bit too on the nose for me. I was stoic. I took it all in with more recognition than realization. While Quinton drove us home, weeping silently hunched over the steering wheel, undoubtedly mentally bidding goodbye to long-desired tow-headed toddlers, I pressed the seat warmer button. I began planning my bloodless future.
A version of this story was first published in Sledgehammer Lit in April 2021.