My Baby Is a Woman by Robin Carlisle

Editor Carrie Seitzinger, Editor's Choice, October 7th, 2015

" I had been lying about having my period since junior high."

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Late-day sunlight cut geometry in between the two of us. My dad and me. A wedge of light calling out our sides, making us good and evil. And really it doesn’t matter who was who because it was just the sun and shade.

We were there for the burgers.

We sat at the all red booth, wavy chrome edge banding all around the table and padded vinyl benches. Red and red and more red and black. Just cheesy. Some let’s-redo-the-50’s joint with Italian undertones.

One of those places that you knew wouldn’t last because nothing in that building ever lasted. But right then it was there.

Right then it was good.

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The burgers, and dad, and that blinding hot light in from the window, warm on my face, hot on my hair. Me and dad and the best burgers in town, the best burger of my life. Oh yeah, and Linzy and the fact that she just got a boyfriend. We were all there at Marcello’s on Mission. Well Linzy, she wasn’t there, but the fact that she had a boyfriend that was there. In my mind. On my mind. It was all I could really think about those days.

Losing my best friend.

I set my now sloppy, mostly gross, almost gone burger down on the greasy black and white checks. I was starting to feel way fucked up inside. Everything, all of me, my attention turned towards my body. Twisting and pulling into knots, a pain in my stomach that hurt down in the bottom of my feet. The burger was over and Linzy was over and my stomach was hurting bad.

I slid off the end of the too-much-red grippy-vinyl booth-bench and stood up. My head broke from the side of the sun into the shade and I could see my dad fully. His purple-gone-lavender bandana, sun-bleached from years of beach volleyball. The way a girl would wear a headband, tucked in and tied in the back underneath long brown waves. Dark brown hair and faded purple, plus the tan of his face made his ice-blue eyes electric. So I didn’t have Linzy anymore, but I still had my dad.

I always had my dad.

“I have to go to the Ladies’ room,” I said, in that way that you don’t really want to say what it is that you are doing, but you are leaving someone alone at a table, so you just have to say it.

I walked through the crowded, lunchtime, best-burgers dining room to the bathroom. Men’s and women’s doors face to face, grey speckled Melamine swinging door. Blue universal bathroom sign, the one legged woman.

Tile everywhere, a white hollow cavern of cave-like quiet. Cool and refreshing somehow, the bathroom. And some sweet smell, pretending to be fresh, time-released mists of chemical strawberry.

I picked my stall, the first one on the left, shut and latched the door. All metal doors and metal walls painted ice cream white. A tin box, a break, cool, quiet and alone. I sat down and peed.

I wiped. A rose petal. Deep velvet red in the center of two-ply white cotton.

Fuck.

My period.

Finally.

It was one week before my sixteenth birthday. I had been lying about having my period since junior high. Most girls I knew, they had only ever lied that they didn’t have their period, and that was in elementary school, because it was too embarrassing. But I was the freak lying that I had my period. Well, never did I ever outright say I have my period, but I was fake relating about PMS and cramps and ruining underwear for years.

There I was in the cold chemical strawberry bathroom, finally bleeding like everyone else. I would guess that relief is rarely the emotion that comes along with a girl’s first period, but that is what I felt.

Finally normal.

Exhale.

Relief.

But then before I could breath and release and relax in the arrival of normalcy. I was freaked out. Because out there in that sea of burger eaters was my dad, a dude. A dad not a mom. Not that I would have ever in a million years been more comfortable telling my mom about this, but a mom, a normal mom would have been good.

So rarely did I remember anymore that I was without a mother. It was usually just the way it had always been.

But right then, that blood; it did it.

Motherless.

Dad. The only fucking one I had.

I wadded up a bunch of TP and stuck it in my undies. I finished up my biz–flushed the toilet.

Out into the blinding light of all red fifties re-do. Lip sweat, I wanna say from the blasting sun, but I know it was nerves.

A fucking tortoise shell of TP wadded up in between my legs. Toilet paper shifting forward with every step. Trying to walk the same as ever but feeling like a cartoon of bowlegged crotchiness. I couldn’t even look down, I couldn’t put my hands in front either, for fear of plowing into a the giant man bulge I knew was leading me back to my dad like a goddamn divining rod. I was positive I looked like some disco-fever spud-stuffing groin show.

And then there was my dad. My silly dad. He was good enough for a lot of things and if you were to twist my stubborn teenage arm, I would have said that, in a lot of ways he was even great. But not for me right then. Not for this. Even with his purple headband worn all Alice in Wonderland like a girl. Even though he was this free to be naked, overly emotional hippy, he was all wrong for this.

Dad wiped his mustache, one side, center out, and then the next. Cleared his throat like he always did.

“Whelp, kid,” he asked. “You ready to scram, or what?”

I looked down past my little t-shirt, down past the tiny sliver of midriff and hip bones, down past the low riding waistband of my Ben Davis pants, down to my zipper flap–laying perfectly flat, just like always. No bulge. Thank god.

The football wad of phony crotch was all in my head. I looked up at Dad and said it.

“Dad, I got my period.” Because fuck, what else was I gonna say.

And then. And then, my stupid dad jumped out of the booth and grabbed me. Wrapped both his arms around me, pinning my arms to my side and squeezed me so tight that I coughed.

I went limp or stiff or whatever form of mortified I could muster. And then he, this is what he said, loud enough for everyone to hear.

“My baby is a woman.“

Burger eaters everywhere. Beefy, bloody burger eaters. Big juicy bites, grease down the corners of their mouths, mayo globs on thumbnails, the smell of catsup, slurping straws.

I am pretty sure everyone went on living their lives in that dining room right then, making love to their burgers like nothing had happened, but in my mind and in my memory, it was like this: the whole burger loving lot of them stopped dead in their burger chewing tracks and looked right at me. At my tiny little egg-yolk excuses for boobies and then down at my newly bleeding crotchal area, and just stared in silence waiting, just waiting, for blood to come gushing out of me.

But really what happened is my dad leaned back to get a full look at me. Held onto my arms that were already pinned to my sides from his ridiculous hug. His ice blue icebergs, they were melting. His face streaming with tears.

“I love you so much Robin Lee,” He said. “I am so proud of you.”

Holy shit, for what? Being a late bloomer? I couldn’t believe him. A period was like the most embarrassing thing that could happen to a girl, and somehow my dad, with his tears and his gushing about my gushing, was able to make it a gazillion times worse.

An unimagined nightmare come true.

But really, also, when I look back on the whole thing, I have to say that it was pretty much the sweetest way a dad could have been in that situation. I mean shit, it was mushy and awkward and he has always been way too fucking moved by things, and seriously shameless in his expression.

But that is my dad. It is his gift.

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Header image courtesy of Anna McKay. To view a gallery of her feminist art, go here.

Robin Carlisle essay nailed magazineRobin Carlisle lives, works and loves in Portland Oregon. She has a book in her, at least one. She is working like a Golden-Wolf-Hound to coax that book out into the glowy blue light of her computer screen. Things are looking pretty positive for her in that direction, as she has surrounded herself with huge beating hearts and gargantuan firing brains of the writing persuasion. They generally seem to think she’s pretty worthy. Which, well, it’s a place to start.

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Carrie Seitzinger

Carrie Seitzinger is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Seitzinger is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.
Learn more about her at her official site.