In fifth grade, my best friend Lyla and I existed in a world all our own. We were brilliant together, making up games, writing songs and poetry, outsmarting teachers and crushing on boys who’d made the leap from elementary school to the bowels of junior high. We wrote a country cover of Michael Jackson’s “Hold Me” changing the lyrics from “Hold me, like the river Jordan…” to “Hold me, yo’ Mama done told me….” Lyla taught me every word to Tupac’s “Dear Mama,” which I can recite to this day.
One of our games involved making up weird characters with convoluted narratives, and talking in grating redneck accents while riding bikes through the woods near Lyla’s house.
I was “Daphne” who’d been abused by “Grandpappy” and was running away Heidi-style. Lyla was “Tutti-Frutti,” my best friend who was coming along for the ride.
Other times I was “Cranberry” pronounced “Cranburry”, a retirement home escapee. We’d yell thinks like, “Come on Daphne, Grandpappy’s gon’ catch you,” and, “Tutti-Frutti, put that pack back on yo’ shoulder, girl,” while pedaling ferociously through the wiles of Chapel Hill, NC.
One day, Lyla and I were riding down the asphalt hill outside her house. We were in the throes of a particularly harrowing role-play in which Grandpappy was sure to jump out of the woods and molest me. I was riding Lyla’s brother’s ten-speed and was having a bit of trouble steering the thing. As I pedaled down the hill I lost control, veered off to the left, and drove the bike directly into a huge oak tree.
I was thrown forward, my crotch slamming into the ‘banana’ part of the bicycle seat and tossed onto the ground, a comatose and crumpled ball of pain.
I held my poor little self, screaming and seeing double, having no idea what had happened. Lyla, hesitant to depart from character, hovered over me drawling, “Cranburry? You gon’ be ok?’
I may have blacked out.
After several unbearable minutes, the pain subsided and I was able to crawl into the house to the bathroom.
Later, when I was upright again, I told my mom that there’d been some red spots in my underwear. She informed me that I’d started my period and gave me a HUGE 80’s-style Kerr Drugs brand maxi pad to wear.
I was an avid gymnast and that night I had practice. I stuffed the bulky pad into my leotard and went to class only to discover that, in the blinding neon light of the gym, it appeared I had a penis. I didn’t know what to do, cowering as the other 10-year-old girls, checked out my bulge.
After class, I divulged the bike story to my mom. She seemed relieved, said I hadn’t actually started my period and, in vague and confusing terms, informed me I had popped my own cherry. I was allowed to remove the pad and, not long after, Lyla and I resumed our role-playing activities.
A year later I actually did start my period. Although not as physically painful as the tree scenario, it was an equally horrifying experience. I had no idea what the fuck was going on and was convinced that I’d unwittingly shit my pants.