my older sister’s acne made me super jealous when i was little. i wanted my own to pick at. it seemed so satisfying. all of the sudden, i started breaking out when i was about 30, and it was irritating as fuck (though also satisfying). i got on birth control to regulate my hormones and tried three or four different types of oral contraceptives over the course of a year. i’d never been on birth control before and each one made me crazier than the last: muscle twitches on my legs and face, drowning in outrageous night sweats, charlie horses that could cripple a bitch, and brain loopies. like serious brain loopies. i couldn’t remember anything (worse than usual), i felt like a ditz (slow to process and indifferent), and my math was deplorable (it’s already shamefully bad). i gave up on the whole thing; besides, my course of pills seemed to trigger something because my face cleared up anyway.
i thought a lot about why i reacted so strongly to birth control when people i knew maybe gained some weight or something but seemed fine. my thinking is they started taking the pill when they were adolescents; being hopped up on age appropriate hormones, they likely couldn’t tell the difference. then in time perhaps bodies adjusted and it was no big deal eventually. or maybe they felt and were treated like crazy ladies and no one realized why because no one ever talks about it, or the way it’s talked about is hyper controlled. like sex in the victorian era, if you believe foucalt.
a few months ago, i skipped a period. when i got my period again, it gushed like a geyser and wouldn’t stop. the doctor probed, tested, and prescribed; there was just nothing doing. the internet told me i was not alone. there were women out there in their 30s who started bleeding and never stopped. maybe those of us afflicted with eternal bleeding haven’t birthed a babe or didn’t get jacked on anti-baby pills when we were little or maybe we have fibroids. it’s not really discussed.
most of the women i know have had fibroids: non-cancerous tumors or masses of tissue all wadded up in and around the uterus. you bleed; you have to pee all the time; your tummy gets engorged and bloaty. my friend had three; my mom had one so big it made her middle hard and round like a wheel barrel. turns out she had it for years and just ignored it until she saw a commercial and all of her symptoms matched. it seems odd we have to learn about a common medical condition via pharmaceutical commercials, and yet our uteruses are the subject of so much conversation. it seems our lady bits are only subjugated to a very particular manner of discourse with a specific purpose in mind.
just like motherhood: spoken about all the time solely to maintain the dominant paradigm. cis women are aggressively defined and controlled by a motherhood articulated through whiteness and misogyny. it is all sweetness, grace, and individual sacrifice. narrated as a lovely and appreciative tale of a princess femininity, pregnancy, birth, and an ever after, all-encompassing infatuation; yet it is so much more complex, wrenching, and nuanced. the truth of cis women who don’t want to reproduce, hate being pregnant, hate giving birth, and hate their babies, are incinerated. those of us who look at our children and don’t want to give up our entire selves for them are obviously witches. if our choice or circumstance creates a community to share our communal burden of reproduction, we are branded lazy whores. all the horrors of walking on the razor sharp edge of parenthood are silenced or we are simply blamed for making them up. they talk about it all the time, and never say a god damn thing.
one of my aunts had at least three miscarriages; my mom had at least two; my sister has had three. each of us knows to hide it for a couple of months, which appears to be a way of placating the rest so it won’t get awkward because baby death is weird. each woman finds herself in complete shock when it happens. it is not a part of our health education, it is not ingrained in our psyche of possibility, and we do not know how to grieve it. “it happens and be quiet,” because it’s kind of your fault anyway.
pop movies told me from a young age that testicles could be different sizes, but i never saw a pair until my late teens. i was never told that breasts could be different sizes, yet i was seeing them in movies since betamax. orgasms happen to all genders in the same cis male way, or so the story goes. so when your happy ending is different or nonexistent, your reality spins a yarn of wrongness. we are left confused, shamed, and isolated because in the normative legend only our bodies exist not our truth. we are characters in a myth; any authorship and protagonism is villainous. and anyway, it’s almost impossible to hear over all the white noise.
we were living in the penthouse when the f.b.i. or the d.e.a. or the i.r.s. came to the door with a search warrant. it wasn’t really a penthouse, or at least not what an 11 year old thinks of when she thinks of a penthouse. the floor was not marbled, nor was the ceiling high, and there was no fireplace, not even a decorative one; instead, the carpet was scratchy and beige, and the ceilings had those little pocky plaster bits that someone once told me caused cancer. there was a balcony, but i couldn’t see over the edge; the fact that the main entrance was on the second floor seemed a bit tacky to me.
i climbed up the stairs and peered around the corner to see who was at the door: two white men in suits holding badges, or a similar image. our muchacha, the live-in housekeeper/nanny, had opened the door. i think i ran downstairs to tell my parents the police were at the door. the next thing i remember, my parents ordered my sister, my grandmother, aka abuela, and me down to the lobby of our apartment building while they dealt with things.
our apartment building was called the tidemark. before that, we had lived in a smaller apartment building, the botanica. both of these buildings were part of a 40-acre, gated, beachfront apartment complex called key colony. we lived there for about four years, and i would regularly explore and discover new paths, hidden gardens, small waterfalls, tennis courts, apartment units, and swimming pools. there was an arcade and plenty of lizards to trap. during my tenure there, my hobby of capturing and accidentally killing lizards reached genocidal proportions. it was an odd yet perfect tropical oasis for a young girl with a bicycle. we’d been living in key biscayne, florida -at the time an unincorporated island village in the city of miami- for about two years. over the course of about ten years of growing up in key biscayne, we lived in seven different houses on the island. residential properties cover about a four mile area; one time we literally moved around the corner.
back in the lobby… there was talk of sending the three of us to the apartment of my mom’s cousin josefina, aka pillo. i didn’t really want to be escorted out of the drama, but i understood this wasn’t meant for my little eyes and ears. though i couldn’t picture my stressed out abuela praying the rosary at pillo’s house, i loved the idea of going there. she was super cool. pillo was young, thin, attractive, and sporty; all the things my nuclear family was not. she windsurfed! windsurfed! and she owned a white volkswagen cabriolet convertible that i’m pretty sure my father bought her. she worked for my father’s company as a secretary of some kind. a couple of years later my mother would exclaim, “just because a man and a woman work together everyone ‘over there’ assumes they are having an affair.” over there, or alla, was colombia, and i learned that sometimes there’s truth behind people’s assumptions.
i can’t recall how i felt about the government agents visiting. i try to remember if there was confusion, worry, fear, or amusement, but i have no idea. i can attribute my foggy emotional memory to trauma, but likely i approached the situation with the same detached empathy i usually do: observing events as a curious outsider with a healthy degree of understanding for the involved actors. i’m pretty sure i had the thought it was all doubtless a mistake and everything would work out in the end, because it always does, because it has to, because mami and papi are up there and they can do anything.
an hour or so later, we were back upstairs. our muchacha was in the kitchen with her head in her hands, crying. she was being taken away because she did not have papers. se la llevaron. she made the best scrambled egg, ham, and cheese bagel sandwiches ever, and she would make me as many as i wanted everyday after school.
i don’t think i heard much else about the search, except they didn’t find anything, or maybe they didn’t have the right warrant. my father took a great deal of pride in fucking over systems with their own red tape. one time he came home and told a story about how he got out of a ticket by arguing that the light of the moon and the position of the police car would have made it impossible for the officer to have seen him making the illegal u-turn. he argued the officer only assumed he made an illegal u-turn. many years later, his younger sister, fiorella, aka fio, told me that illegal u-turn pullover had led to a subsequent search of his car and the discovery of a suitcase with 12 kilos of cocaine in the trunk. she exuded pride as she told me how my father got the charges dropped by the light of the moon.
they didn’t take my father away in handcuffs that day, just la muchacha; and she wasn’t in handcuffs, she was in tears. i assume they just wanted to look around the apartment and see how we lived. like in “say anything” when the i.r.s. agents ask ione skye if her house had a lot of nice things bought with cash. in the movie of my life, i play ione skye.