By Marlene Adelstein
We were about to renovate our bathroom, a total gut job, so in preparation, I began to empty out the vanity. Into the garbage went wands of gloppy mascara, old lipstick stubs, and ancient condom packages. In the back of one drawer, I found a blue cardboard box that I hadn’t touched in a while and I felt a surprising surge of wistfulness. It was a box of tampons, for God’s sake, and I was teary-eyed! It had been well over a year since I’d reached for it which meant…I had officially gone through menopause.
No, of course, I didn’t miss the inconvenience, the cramps, the bloating. Those unpleasant feelings had been replaced, first with perimenopausal, and then menopausal symptoms like night sweats, moodiness, weight gain. My bible on all things menopause, herbalist Susun Weed’s book, Menopausal Years, The Wise Woman Way, called it time of the Crone, which did not sound sexy at all, despite her encouraging words to embrace the change. Even though my longtime boyfriend still told me I was sexy, I wasn’t feeling it. What was it about the blue box that created a jumble of emotions? I wasn’t ready to figure it out so I left the damn box in the drawer.
The next week I had my annual gynecological exam, and my doctor, a no-nonsense woman looked up at me from between the stirrups and said, “Your vagina is pale.”
“What?” I shrieked.
“Not as pink and plump as it used to be.” She described how the walls of my vagina were thinning. “It used to have ridges that helped keep it elastic and the ridges have flattened out.” That would explain the recent discomfort during sex, the constant UTI’s, and my current lack of sexy. Apparently my poor vagina was having trouble embracing the change as well.
Back home, feeling blue about my pale vagina, I thought about never getting my period again. You’d think I’d have felt relieved to toss that annoying blue box. No more counting out twenty-eight days, running out of tampons, getting my period at inconvenient times, or worrying when it came late. It certainly shouldn’t have been the realization that I was done with all that that got me misty-eyed. I picked up the book that all my friends were reading, The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, with the hope that it might shed light on my failure to discard the incriminating item. No, the box didn’t exactly “spark joy” as Ms Kondo required.
I turned to my dog Honey, a sweet chocolate lab, who never left my side. I thought of her as the daughter I never had, well, without the whining, college tuition, or addictive cell phone use. Now that my egg vault was empty, was I having regrets over not having kids? Real kids, not doggie substitutes. Growing up, I’d always assumed I’d have children. And as an adult, sure, I’d tossed the idea around. Years ago when I was boyfriendless, I went to an informational meeting at the local town hall. Back then a single woman could get a child from another country in less than the nine months she’d normally have to carry one without putting on an ounce of weight or finding a mate. The agency people made it sound so possible and, dare I say, easy, that it scared the crap out of me. I was nowhere near ready to do it on my own. Okay, I thought. I’ve looked into this. I can move on. Truth is, I just never had that burning desire to have children. Nope. No regrets, there.
Did that blue box inner turmoil have something to do with my relationship to my period? I remember the absolute shock of seeing that bright red blotch on my white panties when I was thirteen. Then came the strange elastic belt my mother gave me, clipping in a fat Kotex pad that she’d extracted from an embarrassingly large box. Having to wear the thick, uncomfortable thing between my legs. I saw my mom’s more discreet box of tampons tucked away in the cupboard. She didn’t tell me about them. I didn’t ask. Somehow I knew what they were for. One day I read the instruction booklet I’d found inside her blue box, studied the drawing, and with a bit of experimentation in the locked bathroom, figured it out on my own.
My period was mostly a constant, even-keeled visitor through adolescence, young adulthood and middle age. But in recent years, restful sleep suddenly became a thing of the past. And then a host of other Peri-m symptoms kicked in. Crone or no crone, I armed myself with motherwort, stinging nettle and other herbal tinctures with varying degrees of success. After a couple of years the night sweats faded and sleep blissfully returned. But things had changed. My body had morphed from taut to slack and I’d turned into a first class worrier, anxious about my aging parents, the money pit of a house I owned with my boyfriend and the “retirement” that I’d have to work through. “You may feel at times like a stranger in your own body,” Susun Weed had said in her book, “confused by your own feelings, uncertain and afraid of the Change taking place in your own being.”
Recently I Skyped with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. We compared notes on aging. When I confessed my inability to dispose of an old Tampax box, she referred me to Kenneth J. Doka’s book Grief is a Journey. He wrote, “Grief is not always about death, but it is always about attachment and separation…you can grieve the loss of anything, anywhere or anyone to whom you had become attached.”
The contractor was arriving soon to start the bathroom reno. I combed through the remaining vanity items until only the Tampax box remained. Something Ms Kondo wrote in her book resonated, “When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”
I picked up the blue box and as if holding a crystal ball, images of people from my past flashed before me: Old boyfriends I thought were ‘the one’ but always seemed to vanish in commitment phobic sprints. Girlfriends with whom I commiserated over mutual messy love lives; we’d trash our difficult bosses and happily plot our futures over drinks. One had since died from lung cancer. Others simply drifted away. The carefree, hopeful, unencumbered days before mortgages and leaky roofs, marriages, divorces or children (theirs human, mine canine), relocations and terminal illnesses. Again, something Susun Weed wrote came back to me: “You may feel, perhaps with fear, the ‘you’ that you have known for so many years dying as your last menses become memories.” It suddenly seemed pretty obvious. My blue box of tampons was simply a talisman of my youth. It was gone and I was missing it, the old me, the pink and moist, supple in spots, firm in others, me. Yes, I’m healthy and have so much to be thankful for. I plan to be a cool senior, a sexy goddess rejoicing in the new wise, mature me, but still…
I placed the box in the back of another drawer. What harm would there be if I kept it, out of the way, out of sight for just a little longer?
Marlene is a freelance writer and editor of novels and screenplays. She worked for over twenty years as an executive in feature film and television development for a variety of top Hollywood production companies. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in print and online. She has been awarded residencies to Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, The Wurlitzer Foundation, and Fundacion Valpairiso. Marlene lives in New York’s Hudson Valley where she has her own freelance editorial business fixyourbook.com. She is currently at work on a novel.