MIRIAM: Sandy kept delicate glass-blown unicorns on her dresser. The walls of her room were covered in horse posters, and her white metal-framed daybed was adorned with a life-size unicorn print. To me, another twelve-year-old, this was heaven. Beside her very own bedroom and its luxuries, the turmoil of a barely functioning family overwhelmed their effect.
With eagerness, I would walk to her house, my best friend’s house, and hop up onto the porch, knock, and stand there. I knew Sandy was inside covering her stoned and naked father with a blanket and scooting his pipe underneath the furniture.
When Sandy opened the door, her dad would gurgle a greeting and we’d bee-line to the sanctuary of her bedroom. The unicorns never broke here in her house. At my house, only grown ups had delicate things, largely because rowdy boys ruled. I was envious.
When her mother filed for divorce, Sandy’s world was devastated. I remember that day, and the way it was punctuated by menarche. She told me as we sat on her unicorn comforter, and then she left for the bathroom. When she called out to me, I passed her mother, holding her newborn in the hallway. Sandy sat on the toilet, staring at her underpants. I peered over and helped her identify the almost-black, caked stain as the blood of her first period. She stared at the blood like a wounded soul.
Out of all the details of her life and our friendship, this moment stands out the most, thirty years later. It had weight, as if the entire universe had shifted within her body and beneath her feet.
Sandy’s extended family was active in a local evangelical church. Her Meemaw and Pawpaw lived the next town over, and I would tag along to all sorts of places with Sandy: to her grandparents’, to her cousins’ lake house, to all-night adult binges where we would babysit children in a bedroom while the parents partied.
I wish I could say this was a story about how my Young Women lessons remarkably changed Sandy’s life through me. Yet, it has taken me years to recognize the needs she had at the time. We did not talk over these traumatic changes in her life beyond the brief pronouncement of their existence. It was what it was. I didn’t realize I should tell my parents about sleepovers turned into babysitting for adult parties, or about being driven around by adults who cradled a carafe of wine. Only as I grew into an adult did it register that I should’ve told.
For me, church was where the innermost importance of things was discussed in detail. Music left a powerful imprint on my teenage soul:
“Yes, I am of worth of infinite worth,
I’ll be all He wants me to be!
I will praise Him, I will serve Him,
I will grow in His love,
and fulfill my divine destiny!”
By sixteen, I had walked hundreds of miles on sidewalks with sun at my back, watching my shadowy silhouette. The shadows always made my legs seem so long. Finally, as a teen, we had a full-length mirror in our house. That’s when I learned that my legs weren’t so long and my hips were wider than the shadows said. I became conscious of the impossibility of ever being magazine-ad or mall-mannequin beautiful.
After I moved to the next town and away from Sandy, I pre-empted the inevitable rejection from my new school peers by rejecting them first. My friends were few, and I intentionally shrunk the potential of my social life into a very small sphere.
But I learned to thank God for my toes, knees, and everything else; I, literally and spiritually embraced me as I was. I started telling myself that I was somebody. I chose to see other people as people, too, even if I still kept my circle to a minimum. I grew new friendships as I moved beyond the instinctive tribal politics I learned early on. I learned the worth of others and that they merited my protection and nourishment. My new friends and I found sanctuary with each other.
I recall my days with Sandy as naive, and I wish I could go back in time and give her more comfort in her suffering. We’ve met periodically. In our twenties, she recounted her decision to never bring children into the world. A decade later, we met over Mexican food and exchanged news. I still didn’t have the clarity to affirm and validate her. I couldn’t turn back the page. Only in the last five years have I understood this about us.
Becoming a mother made me see how environment can fundamentally influence us, for the good or bad. It also helped me see others, to expand my recognition of individuals apart from those I knew personally. It taught me how we all experience untold suffering in the human condition. When my newborns whined and flexed their bodies to empty their bowels, I realized that this really was a painful, physical struggle for them, that it most likely had been for me and everyone else; our body senses being assaulted by their own functions, the pain of growth.
When my oldest daughter approached puberty, I saw flashes of being there with Sandy. I thought about the new experience of pads and cramps and hot baths to relieve those cramps. All my older daughters and I talked about it, how the uterine lining would shed itself, how it was there to provide nourishment to fertilized eggs, how our bodies would repeat this process every month for the decades that followed, how this is how it was for women. My focus was on full disclosure and on education for my daughters.
Finally, when the first blood of my daughter’s menarche came, I was unexpectedly taken aback by waves and waves of pure joy. This blood, my blood, my mother’s blood, her mother’s, Sandy’s, and her mother’s, and her’s, and on and on, across the world at that moment and back, back, back throughout time including the very first women, it all jelled and sealed humanity together. Rich, spilt blood punctuated all the months when human life grew in sealed and protected wombs, enlarging and developing, nourished by our blood or our mothers’ blood.
In our house, menarche has become a cause for celebration, not just the inconvenient condition we had to tolerate. We talk about it, we make red velvet cake and fill ourselves up with its frosted sponginess.
We talk about everything. I’ve told my girls about Sandy, about her own teen traumas, and how they can find support in our home and with each other by sharing their experiences, acknowledging them as real and important. What reached through to my teenage soul were mostly songs so I ensure my daughters have music, too–but also conversation. We line the inside of our home with kindness and respect and communicating. We celebrate and commiserate. I hope they are nourished.
Writing this, I finally understand how the me of today wishes I could reach Sandy and give her the essence of that Young Women value, that which I did not have to give then, how the me of today can see now what I did not see then: our worth. Now that I know better and try to do better, I yearn to go back and repair, but Sandy and I live continents apart. She is a caring, responsible adult. She’s made peace with her father, she’s found a loving companion. I hope she is nourished. I think I am ready to reach out and try to do all I can to be sure that she is nourished, that she feels and knows her own worth. I know my voice isn’t much, but I want to try because, just like all women are bound by blood and just as all humanity is bound by us, the need continues and so does our power to meet them, in each other.
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*“I am of Infinite Worth,” by Janice Kapp Perry
6 Replies to “Claiming Individual Worth”
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Love this. I have teenage daughters and I really appreciate positive framings around menstruation. They are totally freaked out and hating it, which is normal, but I hope I can offer them an additional lens to view it.
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This is beautiful. Thank you so much. I have a toddler daughter and sometimes feel overwhelmed with all I want/need to teach her. This helped put my life in perspective today, thank you.
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This was really haunting. Really beautiful. I feel like with real sisterhood we start to experience real healing, something that was taken from our mothers and grandmothers that we decided to take back.
Being a woman with all of its body function, is to be celebrated. And in that celebration, we mourn.
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I love the idea of taking stock of the month, of discarding and replenishing whatever touches us, spiritually and physically…sometimes even holing up for an evening or a day when needed and being very still.