What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
A lot of women have contentious relationships with their vaginas. I’m not one of them. I pretty much adore everything about mine — for me, loving it is not only natural, it’s a conscious feminist act. All the messages, insidious and overt alike, that I received when I was growing up about offensive, fishy, or otherwise malodorous lady parts never really affected me.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve maintained this deep appreciation for my vagina, including the scent. Because we’ve always had a torrid love affair, I am very attuned to and enamored by all her self-expressions.
Everything was great with me and vag until the day that my then-boyfriend and I noticed, post-sex after my period, that my vagina's smell was a little more noticeable than usual. Because the odor wasn't bad or different, I thought of it in terms of sound: The volume had shifted. My vagina simply smelled louder than usual. I thought this was a bit unusual, but tried not to give it too much thought.
As the weeks progressed, though, it became obvious to both of us that my vagina was becoming insistent on using her outdoor voice. This was clearly not a one-time thing: It had become chronic. The fear I’d managed to keep at bay suddenly became desperately heavy and ever present, creating an almost palpable obstacle between my vag and me.
Being working class has always meant living paycheck to paycheck, using your money for necessities like food and rent. Everything else was to be handled using your wits and accessible resources. My baby boomer father and his three siblings all have beautifully straight teeth because my grandmother lined them up daily and used her bare hands as orthodontia.
Indeed, from using dental floss and a sewing needle for self-administered stitches or turpentine and honey for severe croup, my family has solved nearly all our doctor-related problems ourselves by ourselves, by any means necessary.
Ailments at any time cause me stress, but since I’d recently lost my job and was spending almost all of my time navigating the effortless, super fun world of getting Emergency Unemployment Compensation and food stamps,
I was super freaked out. I had no financial safety net, familial or otherwise, to save me from homelessness, much less pay for me to see a doctor on the grounds that my vagina had recently started smelling.
My boyfriend and friends tried to reassure me, but because every bathroom break was a reminder that something in my most private, personal area was amiss, I couldn’t shake my nagging worry that something was dreadfully wrong.
My period came and went again the next month, and my vag grew louder still, morphing from passionate coffeehouse spoken-word poet into Twisted Sister's Dee Snider. Because a mild headache convinces me I have encephalitis and a cough finds me googling the symptoms and treatments of consumption, I've been told I'm a hypochondriac. But problems concerning my vag kicked my anxiety and paranoia into new levels of neurosis.
One day, I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. I had to do something. I dug around inside myself, but I couldn't find a thing. In a fairly horrifying and desperate move, I made my boyfriend go vaginally spelunking to see if he could find anything, but he, too, was unsuccessful.
I was panicking, wondering what sort of exotic, heretofore dormant VD I had one morning when, following my second period since my vagina had got all the way turnt up, I had to use the bathroom at work, emergency number two–style. I ran to the bathroom and sank onto the toilet, thankful I’d made it in time. I felt a weird, inexplicable sensation in my vag — when, horrifically — something started coming out of it.
Having never at that point passed anything other than a blood clot through my vagina, I almost started shrieking. What in the actual fuck was going on? Was I pregnant without knowing it? How far along was I? Was I miscarrying? Was I delivering seven months premature? Was that even possible? Was this gonna get me featured on I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant? My thoughts seemed to come faster than I could pinpoint them, bumbling and colliding in a panicky pile-up.
If I hadn't already been in the midst of it, I would've shit myself.
In the most surreal, disgusting, slow-motion moment ever, I felt something moving inside my vagina before sliding out. The sound the thing made as it hit the water — plop — hung tenuously in the air like smoke. It practically echoed. On shaky legs, I slowly stood up and looked incredulously into the toilet to find a weird congealed, maroon blob.
Was it a fetus? A tumor? An organ? As I stared at it, dumbfounded, I noticed it held what looked like fabric. It slowly dawned on me that the fabric was a string — the blob was an old tampon ensconced in a kind of blood-colored sac.
I couldn't believe it. I don't misplace or lose my keys, much less things inside my vagina. How did this happen? How was it inside me for two entire months without me knowing or finding it? And how in the world had I managed to avoid Toxic Shock Syndrome, an ailment my young mind thought lurked behind every tampon?
I quickly ran through the symptoms of TSS I’d catalogued in my mind so many years before: high fever, muscle aches, vomiting. Realizing I’d had none of them was the equivalent of dodging a vaginal bullet. My fear turned to palpable relief.
To make things less traumatic, I like to think of that shiftless tampon like the Travelocity gnome, snapping selfies in all the different destinations inside me with fun captions, like "Here I am photobombing Brook's uterus!" and "Me and Brook's cervix. Just cold straight chillin'."
In a haze, I floated out of the bathroom, trying to act normal. But all day long, I couldn't stop marveling over what happened. I felt shock, wonder, disgust, and elation in equal measure.
In any case, once I knew that everything with my vagina was okay, I couldn't wait to rush home and rekindle our long-held romance.