WARNING: The following is a really, really gross story. It may even qualify as "beyond gross." It also: signifies nothing, gives you wayyyy too much information, and is told by a total idiot. Its sole redeeming trait is that it involves a scenario we've all feared before — the one where you get a tampon stuck up inside you for a treacherously, perilously long period of time — and it has a (marginally) happy ending. Read at your own risk, folks. I'll tell you if I get Toxic Shock Syndrome!
WHY I DO NOT TRUST BEAUTY:
It was a beautiful week and a beautiful weekend. It was verdant, sun-dappled, horticulture-redolent, exfoliated, affluent, groomed, merry, relaxed, pressed, aspirational, and at its beginning, even fragrant. (That would change.) It was all so dizzyingly gorgeous I could feel a low-grade panic trickle through my chest. But it was all good.
"Moe," my friend John asked. "Do you want half a Vicodin?" I did indeed.
I was at my best friend's wedding. As my heels dug into the soft mud beneath the outdoor pews, I could feel my period start. I hate my period more every time it comes. It comes a lot these days, every two or three weeks. I assume my uterus has put itself on a fast-track to complete the mandatory number of eggs required to call it quits and resign itself to waiting for death. But god, in the meantime, what a nuisance.
I could reproduce with John. He likes drugs and is writing a piece on a surgeon who conducts head transplants. Apparently the downside of a head transplant is that full-body paralysis is an unavoidable side effect. Whatever; I read a story about a perfectly mobile woman who sat on the toilet for two years, who sat on the toilet so long she became stuck; alone with her mind and the receptacle for her gross bodily functions. Yes I'm being glib! I just had half a Vicodin, but this I can say in all earnestness: I would not miss a single physical sensation involved with getting my period. I just got it. Thanks Vicodin!
The evening progressed gaily. I bought tampons and made jokes and smoked cigarettes and partook of a very open bar. At one point I leaned back into a candle and set my cardigan on fire but everyone laughed it off. At another point an old paramour showed me a picture of his 13-day-old child — so you've averted nuclear holocaust! I laughed — and told him about a recent abortion and he told me solemnly it was a shame because I'd "be a good mother" and I naturally laughed that off too. I made out with John and he told me he couldn't take me home because he felt that the girl he was dating he could actually see marrying some day, and I laughed that off — was there another option? —and apologized for my behavior and called it a night. There was no place to go, though, so I took my bleeding self to the train station to wait for a train back to the city.
Transit stations at 2 a.m. are invariably cold and populated by desperate people gone crazy from being prodded every time they fall asleep. They are what my psychographic imagines it is like to wait for death. Missing a train used to distress me gravely for these reasons, but I am old enough to know the Amtrak police have no sympathy for the distresses of my psychographic, and really, why should they. So I bought my ticket and sat calmly, curled my legs inside my hoodie for warmth, and resigned myself to five hours of misery lite. Some actually interesting things happened during those five hours, but the important part is that at some point in my fatigue I inserted a new tampon without removing the first.
The week proceeded with a routine debauchery that reflected the tone of the weekend that had begotten it. I went on a date on Sunday night, and a book party on Monday after which I ended up fucking a friend, and a bar on Tuesday after which I ended up fucking an old fuck buddy, and by Thursday night I'd washed my sheets and shaved my legs and gotten a facial and my period was still hanging around, so I went home early and decided to wait until the period had ended before attempting any more pointless copulation. I don't particularly like period sex to begin with, but this was a most foul period, heavy and brown and rotten-smelling; the sort of period that is trying to tell you something, if you believe in that sort of thing, which I don't, mostly because I am lazy. By Friday night it had still not passed and I woke Saturday morning to find, much to my chagrin, that I'd stained the sheets again. "I think it was pretty good because you said, 'That was awesome,'" sex partner d'giorno told me. I didn't remember. I ran to the bathroom to change my underwear.
By Sunday the stench had soured further. We took a long walk through the park and joked about how ill-attuned we were to things of "beauty." Beauty, how it is wasted on us. Beauty, how it fills me only with dread. "My senses are alive to three things," he said. "Stylish prose, good conversation, and the female body."
That's because he has never gotten a fucking period, I thought.
He was going on a date with a 22-year-old, he felt compelled to offer. Good. 22-year-old menstrual blood does not smell like this. It smells bad, sure, but it is at least mostly red. Don't lose your affinity for the female body. You have plenty of time to knock one up and watch it morph into something totally alien, then splatter out a whole mass of fluids and split open to yield one of those babies you are so fond of eyeing warily on the streets of Park Slope, as well as some inadvertent fecal matter.
I went home alone with my odors. He joked that he hoped I didn't get pregnant and bring about some "My Two Dads" scenario with dude #2. Ha ha ha, I thought. In My Two Dads, the mom got to be dead. I would not get that luxury.
By Monday it occurred to me it might be a bacterial infection, which I'd deserve, or some other sort of sexually transmitted disease, which I would also deserve, and that I ought to make an appointment with a gynecologist, which was true even before I started emitting the thin brown fluid of stench. The flow had slowed to a chronic drip — Drip! there's an STD named after that, right? — but the blood itself had gotten somehow older and fouler. On Tuesday I asked Anna for a day off to go to the gynecologist, grousing for a moment on my symptoms.
ANNA: you don't have a tampon stuck up there do you?
ANNA: like an old one?
I think my mind had entertained this notion, though somehow I expected that gravity, intent as it was on imposing its will on the rest of me, would have expelled the thing by now. But no, on further reflection, it made sense. I didn't work on the rest of me like I performed Kegels. There wasn't a whole lot else I could do, sitting on the couch all day. I pondered buying lube and rubber gloves and a six-pack of beer and attempting to dig it out right then. But it had been there nine days, and the primaries were on. I bought only beer. I drank two and a half. I fell asleep. The next morning I awoke. And smelled.
MOE: i think i actually must have a tampon stuck up me
MOE: yeah after crappy hour i'm going to get some gloves on and get this shit out
ANNA: oh god
I could not locate gloves, but after cutting my fingernails and coating my fingers in the Vaseline I'd purchased at the deli along with my egg sandwich, I located the tampon. Anna advised that I squat on the floor like one of those natural childbirth La Leche people, and it worked. It was there. It was far. I had never reached that far. It was gross-far, nearing the anus zone far. The tampon was soaked. I dripped on the floor. It was thick and brown and foul. I wanted to say it smelled sort of like Vegemite tastes, but that's too kind. I wanted to say it reaked of August at the Pearl River Harbor, where I'd lived as a kid and where my brother had sworn he'd seen a dead body floating. It was so much worse, though. The only odor I really felt was equivalent was a Cantonese street food called "stinky tofu," a fermented tofu renowned for smelling like rotting fish meets sewage meets Black Death. (Hong Kong motto: why worry how foul something seems when you put it inside you if you know you'll manage to make it nastier on its way out?) Every droplet on the floor seemed to unleash the stench of a mile long stretch of stinky tofu stalls, and every few minutes it would be too much to bear and I'd have to wash my hands and spray more Glade start over again. I had managed to pick out a few strands of cotton, but I couldn't grasp hold of it. I imagined what sort of household implement might facilitate such an extraction: tweezers? Ew.
While cursing the gentleness of our anti-antibacterial Whole Foods soap, I devised a way around my lack of latex gloves. Condoms! Finally, a use for them.
I stuck one on my finger and one on my thumb and did my best to rub off the lube. Dooce came on the TV. I had been meaning to watch, but whatever. Progress seemed imminent, and six condoms later, it was. The tampon emerged, grayish brown and bloated like a corpse in the harbor. I carried it, fingers still in condoms, toward the toilet.
"It's a good thing you don't have a dog!" Anna said brightly when I relayed the news.
"Dogs always like to find this stuff and carry it around."
"Oh my God Anna, you think I would just throw that out? No, I flushed it. I flushed it THREE TIMES actually."
"Oh right, I forgot your policy on that," she said.