My mother was 17, cancer-orphaned,
about to be married when she saw the blood.
She thought she was injured or dying
of the family curse.
They used to say cramps were all in our heads
And true, when I sat in the school nurse's
office at 11 or 12, or lay on the cot
away from the stress of the classroom,
I felt better.
But how to explain the agony at twenty?
I could not have in any way wished
that upon my aspirationally pristine self:
newly married, sweating, incontinent, trembling.
Or ten years later, shakily presenting in suits to suits.
Later they said the worst pain is childbirth,
and the worst cramps are as bad as labor.
For sixty days a year times forty years
I patched together regimes of Advil, alcohol, exercise,
sugar, sex, eventually hormones, and, unlike many,
now, so scared that the train pulling up to the station
will jump its tracks, I was and remain ecstatic
at this journey's termination.
Write the woman’s name on a piece of paper. It won't hurt her,
they assured me. It only keeps her from further hurting you.
Put it in a plastic container, sealed in your freezer.
Something happened. Something terrible.
I hope she learned from it. I hope I did.
Julie Benesh has published work in Tin House, Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Another Chicago Magazine (forthcoming), Hobart, JMWW, Maudlin House, New World Writing, Cleaver, Sky Island Journal (forthcoming) and elsewhere. She is a graduate of Warren Wilson College's MFA Program and the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Grant. Read more at juliebenesh.com.