It came with the fall rains. My nose went from sniffles to a heavy brick lodged in my face. It hung on for days
And on this particular day, I was particularly aware of it as I walked back and forth between my dorm and classes. The last walk back was particularly miserable, as the grey swirled, and threatened to turn drizzle into downpour.
I drew one of the dorms far away from the main campus. You know you have it made when you have a house in the suburbs. Honestly, we were going to be in the digital coverage area any day.
My pleated tartan "look like the Catholic school girl that I am not any more" skirt slapped against the flesh just above my knees. All of the sudden everything on me was sensitive. I pulled my shoulders up, even though I was comfortably under the pink hello kitty mini-umbrella that had been my constant rainy day companion since my first year of high school. It was precious a link to the time before, not before in childhood, but to the last year where I still felt breathing room in my future. Before the march to med school had become the long march to med school.
Innocence? No, I lost my innocence before I knew I had it. I have always stared at people, and always felt an pleasant awareness of my body, in its limbs, surfaces, and core. Always. I am different that way. I learned in ballet class that many people can't tell if their foot is pointed if their leg is behind them.
At that moment a vicious blow of wind turned my pink precious inside out. It plumed into a mechanical flower, pink fabric flapping away from metal petals. The wind, if anything, picked up and tore the fabric away. It became an unfurled flag, announcing the coming of fall, the leaving of another piece of my past. I bent down and folded it. While I did so I looked clearly at the old bricks of the side walk and felt a pane of water slap onto my back, drenching my white cotton shirt onto my back. I could feel my bra strap outlined, because underneath it was sort of damp as opposed to drench. Beads of water had formed on my back.
I stood up and surveyed the falling water that fogged my glasses, giving me the sense that I had just been pushed under the surface of a pool. I could vaguely see the white of a fence, curled around with the brown of dead summer climbing roses. I remembered that two houses down the next narrow side street, one of my study partners was staying with the parents of a friend. He had a room in the attic. I could run back to the hot chocolate shop, the library, or make a mad dash and hope that someone would be home.
Once there I skittered past the gate and down the tight fishbone terraced walkway between the bushy green holly, and around into an alcove doorstep. It was a Venetian style doorway with white woodwork and an ornamental keystone in a Federalist motif. The house exuded a graceful maturity with its gray granite window sills, while sheer curtains visible through the windows that were so old that the flowing of glass could be felt as much as seen. Within peeked out elegantly appointed rooms with gold walls and furniture.
I knocked. And waited.
I knocked. And shivered. And sneezed. And waited.
I knocked. And rested my back against the white wood side of the doorway. And coughed. And slid down to sitting. And waited.
But there was, eventually, salvation. A tall, blond, gaunt-faced curly haired figure came bounding down the walk way, his steps like walking on a trampoline or the bounce of a puppy in first taste of first summer's high grace. Finally.
I sneezed. He looked down at me. I clamped my knees together and brushed the skirt in. Fortunately its wool was heavy enough that my legs were still dry, and the stone floor had not leached all the heat out of my body. I held up the demolished pink "Hello Kitty" umbrella by one finger through the loop of the strap, the only part sill working after the collision with the torrents of wind. I sniffled.
"Um. You look like you made a bad decision. And is that rain, or have you been crying?"
It was probably a bit of both, I had been crying for, something, realizing that another piece of my girlhood had somehow managed to be stripped away from me, leaving nothing in return.
"Can I come in?" I put on my best bright voice, but the blocked nasal passages made it sound as if I were a humming bumble bee trying to approximate human speech with beating wings while dodging housewife armed with a can of bug spray. Monotone, and yet desperate at the same time.
He chuckled softly. He did something that I did not even expect, he offered a hand down to pull me up. Being much taller he had to bend his knees. And even more to my surprise, he was not awkward despite his height, but knew to bend at the knees more than the back. I almost floated up even though his face sill towered above mine.
I knew I didn't look very kissable at that particular instant, and was only a little disappointed that he didn't at least make a motion to do so. Not that I would have let him. Yet.
Instead he surprised me again, lifted my hand up and kissed me on the back of my hand in a kind of formal way. Clearly he knew how to do this.
"Can I come in?" Feigning impatience, but also head pounding.
"I don't think I have anything that will fit you." He allowed a half sarcastic roll in his voice.
We walked into the kitchen in the back, which was impressively appointed with the prosumer level of foodiness: French copper pans, a large sleek stainless steel refrigerator, a double doored oven with independent controls, and an indoor wood grill gas range combination. It was all kept meticulously in order, from out of the pantry came a woman who was clearly the maid: a chubby Latina with round features and a heavy boddy that was not quite equate, but came in three stacked oval masses on top of legs made indistinct by black hosiery. Her features were dominated by big cheeks and a button nose. Her eyes were calm, and neither dull nor bright. Her hair was very dark and pulled back very tightly and covered with a black hair net. Her dress was not maid uniform, but maidish in its completely unfashionable cut, and lack of ornament. She allowed her self one string of pearls, but they were of unusually fine quality compared to everything else she wore. The other out of place item was the sheer size of the diamond on her engagement ring, and the quality of the light that sparkled off of it from the bright incandescent overhead fan lamp said that it was both very clear, and had a very high quality cut.
My friend was already pillaging the refrigerator, pulling out jars with one hand and containers with another. In rather halting Spanish he asked the maid to get me tea.
I nod. But I am half bunched over with urgency to go to the bathroom.
The maid looks at me, looks at my friend with a faint reproving look.
"I think the young lady, she is in need of a warm shower. I can dry her clothes."
My friend drops the food on the counter, and airily waves in the affirmative.
"Of course Yolanda, of course."
Yolanda, half walked, half waddled towards the back stairs.
"Come along miss…"
She allowed the pause to hang in the air has her frame filled the doorway. She did not look back, but had that stance of command that servants get when they are leading around their foolish and hapless… superiors is completely the wrong word here… around by the nose.
I sneezed. And it was hard enough that I looked hard at the marble tile floor with inca throw rugs on it, and then saw the whole of the back of the kitchen spin up with its mission hill style hutch filled with geometric blue, green and black rustic pottery dishes for everyday, and the rack of ordinary wine glasses. It took a moment to orient back on her, and rasp out.
I was not used to having servants, but I was kind of familiar with other families that did have servants, partially because back on the mainland it is rather normal. I knew the look that had to be on her face as we walked up the angle of the back stairs, with its rubber runner. This door opened up to gold carpettted white walled hall filled with small decorative stands, cases and picture frames. I was lead to the white door of a tiled bathroom.
I expected her to wait outside the door, instead she began methodically starting the shower and testing the water. She looked at me as if I were particularly slow. I stood there staring for a moment as she looked at me, framed by the sunshine yellow with white outlines of flowers shower curtain, realizing that she expected me to undress.
I'm too cold, too wet, and feeling far too sick to really argue with her. I realize that I have not even dropped my book bag, which is fortunate, since I have an extra pad in it and two tampons. I let the bag slide off, and on to a plastic covered oval stool in a rococo inspired design. I close the door with my foot, in my first coordinated move in at least an hour, and unbutton my white blouse, reach around and unzip my tartan skirt, which simply flops to the floor. I kick off my shoes, bend down to peel of my white knee high socks. And then first the left and then the right foot luxuriates in the deep piles of the spa cotton bath mat, I feel like I am standing on a cloud. A dry, puffy, cloud.
I unhook the front of my bra and feel a wave of relief over my skin as it comes free and my breats float to their more natural position. I have worried since I was 12 that my breasts would sag, but they never had. I catch myself in the mirror, a slightly tanned shape amidst all the bright white and yellow. My short hair is plastered in mats around my head. I stare, seeing how out of place I am against the puffy towels behind me. I drop my panties. These are, as you would expect, my ratty heaviest day panties. Red. Cotton. A bit worn. Some stains that have never quite managed to come out. I've had them for three years. I methodically unroll toilet paper, fold my pad. Wrap pad in paper. I am about to toss the pad in the garbage, when I see a small plastic container. It is even labeled "pads."
It is this small detail, which more than any other I have seen so far, underlines the kind of life that the people here live. I wonder how they can even put up with a college student. I begin to feel a shake in my chest as I worry about whether they will take things the wrong way. I finish rattling my panties down, step my legs out of them, having gained some roundness since I stopped ballet two years before, and stand back up. Yolanda has gathered everything up, takes the panties without ceremony from my hand, opens the door, turns around to face me and eases it closed, and it shuts with a slight automatic click. I take the moment to slide the bolt in to place, it too has a spring, and clicks lightly.
The mirror has begun to fog at this point. And my skins already goosebumped surface gets even tighter as I realize that I'm cold, and the water is warm.
Moving in small mincing steps across the plush mats, I stand at the edge of the tiled shower stall and pristine white tub, and just let the warm, damp air pour off the shower. I finally step into the tub, but not yet into the stream of water. At first I think it will be too hot, but within moments my fingers have entered the stream, and found it to be almost perfect. I stretch my hand in, there is an immediate shock of pleasure and a rolling wave of goose bumps.
I plunge into the shimmering pulsing streams of water, and see a dial on the wall which changes the shower.
I play with the dial, and feel the shifts in the shower spray. I finally pick the most vigorous of massage settings, and let it hammer the quakes and quivers out of my muscles. But the sting is too great, my skin rapidly grows red, and I dial to the other extreme of the softest flowing rivulets. I stand their, hair warmed by their caresses, body smoothed and comforted by the flowing embrace. I stand there for some time, feeling the paths of the water stream shift over my skin, over my curves. I am still not used to having hips as round as mine are. When I face away from the shower, there is still something peculiar about how it feels.
I luxuriate there, and begin to get guilty about how long I have stayed. In my parents home, showers are cold, and short. "Too much water!" can still hear in my ears, ringing with my mother's voice.
I grab the fluffed dark blue towel from the side handle. I rinse one more time to make sure that I feel clean, though I have not used any soap. I engulf myself in the folds of the Egyptian cotton and and dab, rather than buff, myself dry.
It is at that moment that I stare down in shock and horror to see a spot of menstrual blood on the white bathmat. I stare for how long I don't know. Then I look away. It's not my fault. I say that five times.
I wrap myself in the towel, grab a smaller towel and wrap it around my head like a turban. I have no clothes. And I decide, at this point, to do something foolish and daring which makes absolute precise sense. I open the door and make a silent quick tip toe dash down the hall, up the back stairs to the attic and up to the room my friend lives in. It is painted a French provincial green, and has strange angles as it is dominated by a dormer. There laid out is a more typical college student habitat: a single bed, a guitar lying against the wall, a small worn wooden desk with a laptop on it, various paper back books in an old shelf, and papers all over the chair and desk.
I lie down on the bed, the towel still wrapped around me, I pull the throw pillow over me. I go to sleep. I go to sleep because I cannot bear to stay awake a moment longer.
Many hours later I peel my eyes open, I have wrapped myself in the bed spread and am tangled in towel, throw blanket and thick white fabric. Sitting on the edge of the bed is my friend, he is staring at me with concerned blue eyes.
I realize that my head is throbbing, my throat is burning. My nose feels like it has a ring in it and is being pulled away from my face.
It is dark outside. The rain is still falling in sheets, and there now a constant whistle and bite of wind. Some twigs from the maple tree outside scratch against the window and woodwork.
I pass out again.