My childhood ceased in one fell splat.
Every lady knows the emotional weight of that memory -- when, in a not-so-metaphorical typhoon of confusion, you discover that peculiar splotch in your panties and your world breaks in half.
Now, take that thrilling adolescent recollection you have, and imagine it set to the saccharine soundtrack of Disneyland’s Main Street parade. Bam! You have my life.
Also, can we talk about how I was nine when I first got my period? Talk about unfair. Was my childhood diet somehow 400% milk? Was I descended from Viking women? Did I commit a crime against humanity in a former life? I ended up as that 5th grader who had to pay close attention to the degree of butt-tightness my Capri pants had during a week of every month. I always had to explain to friends why I always had extra clothing with me wherever I went.
It’s been a confusing cross to bear -- one that was handed to me in a place that was supposed to be my ethereal escape.
It was a routine family vacation to Disneyland. Growing up in Northern California, that holy pilgrimage south during summer breaks was more than a treat. For a nine-year-old constantly surrounded by brown-rice-eating, Birkenstock-wearing, ex-Berkeley PhD students, sparkly Disneyland was necessity. I pined for the day I would traverse Sleeping Beauty’s castle, perch atop my noble (yet plastic) steed on King Arthur’s carousel, or spot Cinderella in a euphoric panic and run over to hug the shit out of her.
Disney characters came to life amidst a backdrop of pink castles and carts toting enough cotton candy to saturate my bones with sugar? It was freedom from summer boredom; it was a break from strict parents. Disneyland was whimsy incarnate.
When I was nine, Disney wasn’t yet the big, bad conglomerate that took over Pixar or swallowed Lucasfilm whole — it was the maker of miracles, the sacred creator of princess crowns and mouse-head-shaped ice cream treats. At nine, I was still in that glistening state of mind where even if I caught the Mad Hatter on a smoking break in a Fantasyland back alley, I would fervently refuse to believe it.
And then: the moment. Obviously my tiny nine-year-old body had been stretched to its limits of soda-containment, and I had to run to the little girl’s room. (“Little did I know that I would leave it calling it the Little Lady’s room,” or some shit my aunt Edna would say.) My fuzzy memory gives me enough fodder to surmise that I had stepped into a Main Street, U.S.A. bathroom; the tiles were crisp and white; the touches of Mickey Mouse stencils were artfully integrated into the bathroom’s design in a way that made me feel like I was in some sort of important adult room, not a place to pee.
While younger kids and toddlers babbled away in adjacent stalls, I caught something strange between my magenta Keds and stared.
Before I go on, know this: the way I found out where babies come from (which turned out to be not from bellybuttons, as I had thought) was from a book that I’m only assuming my parents put nervously on my bedroom floor before retreating. Slowly, with a flashlight in hand, I discovered what would ultimately happen to my body, month after month of horror.
Fast forward a few months: I’m nine, I’m at the most glorious place on earth, and I’m convinced I’m hemorrhaging poop. At the least, I knew I was breaking from the bottom up. It can’t be that, I thought as I locked eyes on the peculiar paste my body had shot forth into my world. Panic surged as throbbing heartbeat sounds through my little ears and I did what any nine-year-old would do -- I quickly pulled my Minnie Mouse panties up over my non-existent hips and got the heck out of there.
I went through the rest of the day knowing that it was my last day on earth. I was suddenly burdened with an impossible, joyless, tragic quest; I was the only girl with this pain, with this knowledge of my impending combustion. My shrieks of glee when I’d come upon every new ride or show suddenly stopped. Whatever exactly it was my body was doing, I knew I was done for. Mickey’s frozen smile started to look like a grimace. When our barge was thrust into a pitch-black tunnel on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, I thought I’d never see the other side. For someone who thought she was about to perish, Tomorrowland took on a mocking, evil name.
Naturally, when my family went back to our hotel, I did something that I thought marked me as cunning: I took off my evidence-riddled underpants, balled them up into a cotton wad of shame, and shoved them into a discrete corner. The garbage is too obvious, I thought as I went to take a bath.
Of course, mom never missed a beat, and burst into the bathroom a few minutes later, her voice resonating at a pitch higher than I was used to: “You got your period? Your period? You? Are these yours?” No, mother, those undergarments with cartoon characters on them must be dad’s.
“Uh, what’s that?” I answered.
Dumb answer. Of course I knew.
My legs twisted into anxiety-ridden knots. Nine-year-olds are shitty liars. Suddenly, I could feel heartbeats in my eyeballs; I sat there in the bathtub, wet, naked and unfairly exposed in front of my panicked mother as she waved my panties in the air like a spotted flag of surrender. Her childhood is over, I thought her eyes were saying. Oh, god, I should have given her the talk, I now realize they stressed.
My mom snatched me from the bathtub and gave me a brief run-down in a hotel-room closet. The only thing I was really mortified about was the fact that I knew she would tell my dad -- a boy.
“These are pads,” she told me in a soothing tone I hadn’t heard before. “You have to wear these now.”
Wait, I have to wear these all the time, every day, for the rest of my life? I thought. That seemed worse than dying. I wanted to take a Mickey Mouse hanger that dangled above me and do myself in then and there.
The next day, I think I was the only child wearing what felt like an industrial-strength floodwater sand bag on the Dumbo ride. Somehow, the teacups had lost their flair. I soon spotted every Disney character disappearing into their real-world dressing rooms.
I’ve been back to Disneyland since that fateful trip, but it’s never been the same since my bathroom biology discovery. One thing’s for sure -- no matter how many nations Disney can conquer with its castles and flying elephants, Disney’s magic is still no match for the almighty uterus.