Though it’s hard to predict which of your antics will prove to be long-lasting in memory, some stories just follow you around. And some of these stories are easier to bet on than others in terms of longevity, such as: if you leave a used tampon in a dude’s shower when you’re 15, chances are that word is going to get around. And keep getting around. Maybe forever.
So it goes, at least, in my case. Two decades after the offending event, I have become reacquainted yet again with a story that is apparently still trailing me. One of my friends recently met a mutual acquaintance, upon which point he was immediately asked about “the story.” The tampon story. I am, apparently, still that girl who apparently once left a bloody tampon in a dude’s shower in college for revenge because I was so distraught over him.
Problem is, that is not the real story. The real story is that I was in high school, not college. I was 15. The real story is that one day I left a last-day cycle used tampon in the shower of an apartment where four dudes lived, dudes I was friends with, and that I left it there as a joke, not for revenge, but for sassy punk rock hijinks and mockery.
Totally different story, right? But story A is the one that lasted, the one in which I am a sad, lovelorn crazy person, a woman scorned, a quantifiable nutcase. In story B, the real one, I am a 15-year-old ne’er-do-well who is—sure—maybe gross, maybe stunted, but who nevertheless thought it would be hilariously provocative to leave a not-that-gross-tampon-as-tampons-go in a shower at my friends’ apartment to make a point. Point being: Periods are not that gross. Or, rather, they are. But, like, fucking deal with it. (I was 15, ok? I hadn’t sorted it all out yet.)
The dudes in question were all college-age but mostly college-averse. They lived in an apartment they named The Rock. Or maybe by now it was the Batcave. They used to mock each other, write and perform these little skits for weekly Skit Night that often existed solely to mock each other more, and played a record trivia game that required guessing various obscure factoids about whatever got thrown on the turntable.
I had enormous affection for them, and to me it was a place to drink beer, smoke weed, escape high school bullshit, and soak in the free education of not just music trivia but also what older dudes were like. They were funny and nice to me and not gross about it, aside from their disturbing affection for jokes about how gross periods are.
Those jokes were a long-running back-and-forth taunting—the more skeeved out they acted about menstruation, the more I talked about it. We both provoked each other, upped the stakes, and the more graphically I described my periods, the more they recoiled. And I delighted. Never rinse, always repeat. It was a mutual education.
But the provocative prankster in me couldn’t resist the opportunity to, how shall I say, drive the point home of making them have to deal with periods eventually. And as someone with a burgeoning adolescent provocative personality—the kind that liked mischief, giving people shit, especially dudes, whose blustering bravado I found (find?) equal parts attractive and repulsive—I was obviously just the teenager for the job.
It wasn’t premeditated. One afternoon I went to take a piss and change my tampon, and I realized I could just hang it up around the shower nozzle instead of throw it in the trash. There’s a good chance they didn’t even have a bathroom trashcan, which very well may have been the genesis for doing it anyway (I did a lot of bong hits in college; shit gets hazy). Things were already pretty crust punk in there.
Point being: It would be a bold but funny joke, they would all have to stare at the byproduct of my reproductive cycle, it would be hilarious and gross, someone would take it down, and we would all move on, after they, of course, admitted being bested by a teenage girl in the gross-out period brackets. And, scene.
Instead, no one wanted to take it down out of crippling repulsion. Allegedly, it was left there for months—while the roommates CONTINUED TO SHOWER AROUND IT—until another dude, ostensibly the only man in the bunch, finally went in in a Hazmat suit and cleared it out.
That’s the story. But after I graduated high school and moved to a nearby town for college, I learned it had traveled ahead of me. I would meet new people who already knew about me. I was the girl who hung up a bloody tampon in the shower. Except it wasn’t funny (or even gross-funny), it was psychotic. I’d done it for revenge. Over a guy.
I kept hearing the fake story as the years went on. I tried to clarify the real facts of the act—last-day period is not even bloody, it’s BROWN-ISH, you guys—but it was no use. I did some due diligence and traced the story back to one girl I had known in high school who had also moved to this nearby town for college, a girl who apparently could not resist telling everyone she knew what I had supposedly done, but why she had manipulated the facts of the incident was beyond me. Still is. And I suppose it doesn’t really matter anyway, does it?
Perception has a way of becoming fact, and besides, I’ll admit, her story is a better one by salacious standards. The idea of a teenage girl so broken-hearted, so off-kilter that her best distraught act is to toss a bloody tampon into a shower is much more compelling than the real one—that an immature teenager with an ornery disposition went for a certain strand of feminist fuck-you to some affable but ignorant dudes who’d made one too many period jokes.
Later, when I heard that L7 singer Donita Sparks took out her tampon and tossed it into the crowd at the Reading Festival in 1992, I felt a surge of pride and kinship with the gross sisterhood. To be clear, I’m no feminist hero for making a couple dudes grimace through four months of unhygienic showers, but hey, maybe they got used to that tampon. Maybe as the days wore on they considered it, took it in, breathed its essence, and on some level I normalized the female experience for them. They would all go on to continue dating, and eventually even marry other women, ostensibly each with a unique period all her own. I can’t help but think my single discarded tampon moved the needle a little bit in favor of accepting women’s bodies in all their strange, contradictory glory.
Viewed in that light, being thought of as a reckless nutjob is a small price to pay, all said. Though some people really should get some new stories to tell, eh? Preferably their own. Preferably factual ones.
What story won’t escape you?
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.