Sister Mary Louise’s dusty voice was even more hushed than usual, almost sepulchral. The assembled gaggle of girls leaned forward to hear what the Dean of Women had on her mind this time.
“… and we have heard some of you talking openly and disrespectfully in the rest rooms and even the halls, where the boys might hear. We have heard you calling it the Curse. But there is a more beautiful way to think of your monthly period. You could see it as your womb weeping because it will not become a mother this month.”
This from an ancient nun whose womb must have blubbered unheard until it gave up around 1950, to a group of high school juniors marinating in hormones. It was too silly, especially because my womb was taking it particularly hard at that very moment. I leaned over to Mary Beth and whispered, “Then mine’s practically hysterical.”
Giggling spread over several rows. Sister Mary Louise never did find out who said what, but you could tell by her martyred look that she just knew it was disrespectful. In her private moments she probably called us the curse. We called her Sister Mary Elephant – as in: ancient, gray and never forgets a face she’s had in for one of those little private conferences many of us had experienced. The teachers tended to develop crushes on the boys in their charge and girls who hung out too obviously with these chosen ones were reported and called in for interrogation by the dean. My current boyfriend was president of the glee club and worked closely with Sister St. Jude, who led it. I couldn’t even sing. No wonder she was miffed and turned me in. But in those innocent days kissing and holding hands was as far as it went, no matter what our teachers imagined. Okay, a few girls every year made their wombs stop weeping, but most of us had no intention of becoming mothers. This was Catholic high school in the 60s, after all, and we figured we would be headed straight for the bad place if we checked out those interesting bulges in the guys’ trousers too carefully. The curse was just one topic of conversation, like clothes and braces and insurmountable algebra. Most of us had “cursed dresses” for days 1 and 2. Mine was a cotton shirtdress in uterine colors, swirls of purple, burgundy and charcoal so a bleedthrough was almost invisible.
Already then my mother warned me that I would have the curse at most of the most important moments of my life. My, but that woman knew the score. One thing though, I’ve never had the curse on my wedding night and that is good going, because I’ve had three. Nothing else has been spared, but in one case that turned out to be a good thing. When I worked for a Europe House – an international education center in Denmark – I traveled a lot with groups of students. On 95% of those jaunts I had the curse, but that meant it was just over when I got home to my husband, all revved up for a welcome tumble.
My favorite cartoon shows a horrible hag – wart on the nose, frazzled hair, broom leaning against the wall – complaining into the telephone, “I can’t tonight, Walter, I’ve got the curse.” Is there a woman on earth who couldn’t identify? I know I speak for 95% of womanhood when I say I could never imagine missing that monthly irritation, but I know of women whose cycles were wildly out of whack, who seldom or never got the curse and missed it. Missed the cleansing, they said. I suspect they missed the feeling of womanliness, the clear red proof of who was meant for motherhood, whether they chose to use it or not. That must be awful. Some menopausal women feel the same, but I suppose they are the ones who fear aging, maybe feel they haven’t accomplished enough in their lives or regretted not having children. I can’t say for sure because I consider menopause the one positive reward of growing older. Okay, it's one more door to a side of life that closes forever. Even so ….
In the throes of menopause my brain seemed connected to the rest – mainly speech organs and manual dexterity – only periodically, like a server you switch on and off. Only with a server you know, with the brain you get no warning of the sudden vacations from logical thought, problem solving and the ability to lift a spoon or a garbage bag without dropping it on your foot. Most menopausal women have jobs these days, making this part more annoying than the hot flashes and thickening waists. When I moaned about this to women who were even older, they answered as one: Relax, it gets much worse. But my mother-in-law gave me a ray of hope. She assured me there would be a period – lasting weeks, perhaps – in which I could stuff my brains back in through my ears and be rational again before senility set in. And she’s right! Learning new stuff takes longer, but it can be done. I can also tease my brain to remember the whole song or poem when a snatch comes back for no reason. I really work at that. Okay, sometimes I have to admit defeat and Google the line in the third verse that will not resurface, but I have to remember the title to do that, right? It feels like it helps, anyway.
New research says exercise makes us smarter and keeps us that way – also beyond menopause – so we have to do that too. I like to walk and bike and dance and swim. I take the stairs instead of the elevator – within reason – and dig my garden, but the best cardio is still sex. Use it or lose it, they say, and the best thing about being past menopause is no more plus or minus days, use them or not. For this I will gladly keep the olive oil on hand to grease the gates of paradise should it ever become necessary. Anyway, olive oil never made anybody feel as bloated as a blowfish unless she slugged down a mug full, in contrast to the curse. It is ironic that now we have no kids living at home to dampen the fires of passion with their accidental attention and no minus days, I’m usually perfectly satisfied to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays with a nice dinner, especially one I didn’t cook. The romantic aftermath is very sweet, but it can wait a bit. Back in the 60s Alan Sherman sang: I’m in the mood for love, you’re in the mood for herring. When I’m in the mood for herring, you’re in the mood for love. Now I’m the one who’s in the 60s and there is a certain resonance. You have to have 25+ years together to say – even as your breath quickens – Can I just finish my tea? After 40 years with the curse we all deserve a good cuddle, good friends, good books, a good man or our independence. Ten times better alone than dragging to the end with Mr. Wrong. Old Girl Power is not a curse!
Kort dansk summering af anden halvdel:
Den engelske del startede med en lille historie fra high school, men pointen er, at jeg ser overgangsalderen – menopause – som den ene sande gave skænket af alderdom. Jeg kan ikke forestille mig, at nogen kunne savne den månedlige irritation, men ja, det betyder at døren lukkes ved endnu en side af livet, der aldrig kommer igen.
I overgangsalderen virkede min hjerne kun delvis forbundet med resten – såsom sprogcentret og koordination – som en server man tænder og slukker. Men med en server ved man hvornår den slukker, med hjernen får man ikke varslet de korte ferier fra logiske tankegang, problemløsning eller evnen til at løfte en ske eller skraldepose uden at tabe den på foden. De fleste kvinder i overgangsalderen i dag har arbejde og det gør denne del mere irriterende end hedeture og forsvindende taljer.
Når jeg klagede til ældre kvinder, lød svaret ens: Bare rolig, det bliver værre endnu. Men min svigermor gav mig håb da hun fortalte, at der ville komme en tid – varende måske flere uger – hvor jeg kunne proppe hjernen ind gennem ørerne igen før demens satte ind. Og det er rigtigt! Det tager længere tid at lære noget nyt, men det kan lade sig gøre. Jeg pirker til min hjerne indtil jeg kan huske hele sangen eller digtet fra langt tilbage, når en lille flig popper op. Nogle gange skal jeg til Google for at finde vendingen i tredje vers, men jeg skal huske titlen for at gøre det – ikke? Det virker som om det hjælper.
Forskning siger også, at motion gør klogt og så skal vi alle motionere. Jeg kan lide at svømme og gå og danse og cykle, men den bedste cardio er stadig sex. Dog kan den vente lidt længere end før. Man skal have 25+ år sammen for at sige – alt imens åndedrættet bliver hurtigere – Må jeg lige drikke min te færdig?
Efter 40 år med plus og minus dage, vi fortjener alle en god krammer, gode venner, gode bøger, en god mand eller vores uafhængighed. Ti gange hellere alene end sammen med Mr. Wrong til vores dages ende. Old Girl Power styrer!