When I got my first period, I was convinced I was dying. According to My Little Red Book, a compilation of first-person, first-period essays, this is actually pretty common!
Six of the contributors to My Little Red Book*, edited by eighteen-year-old Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, were convinced that the streaming of blood from their vajayjays heralded certain death — which makes me feel a little less neurotic. Making me feel more neurotic are several stories of intrepid girls who managed to stuff tampons up themselves right away, whereas I spent an entire day crying and yelling, "I can't do it! They look like missiles!"
Perhaps the best story in the book is Ellen Devine's "Hot Dog on a String." Devine writes:
Between moisturizing her legs and blow-drying her hair, my mother paused, placed her right foot upon the toilet seat, reached between her legs and removed a hot dog on a string. [...] It was not the possibility that my mother might occasionally store foodstuffs in her lady parts that shook me. Hot dogs were ubiquitous in my childhood. As far as I could tell they were used for everything from meaty filler in macaroni and cheese to 3-D eyes and noses on the paper snowmen we made during craft time at daycare. It was entirely conceivable that they might also be capable of serving some function in a vagina, though I had little sense of what functions a hot dog or a vagina might have. Similarly, the concept of placing foreign objects into one's orifices was not unfamiliar, as I had a friend who delighted in sticking marbles in his nose. The source of my apprehension and the reason I felt so shaken, was that my mother had inadvertently revealed that there was something I did not know about her.
Even if you do have a rough idea of the functions of hot dogs and vaginas, periods can be mysterious. Which is one reason why some girls dread their periods, some girls crave them, some girls think they're not normal until they get their periods, and some fear they're abnormal when they do get them. My Little Red Book takes a little of that mystery away, replacing it with humor and information — not just about tampons, but also about how girls in Kenya, New Zealand, Brooklyn, and Oklahoma reacted to their first visit from Aunt Flo. The book would make a good addition to a first-period kit — if I'd had it when I was fourteen-and-a-half, I would have felt like way less of a weirdo.