“Elizabeth, tampons aren’t for virgins!”
My mother was exasperated, which was nothing new, she usually was with me; ever since she found me shaving my legs at age nine, blood covering the tub in streaks. She made sure to raise her voice at the word “virgins”. We stood toe to toe in the middle of the Walgreens. I was at that tender age when my mother still wanted to make decisions about my vagina and both the words “virgin” and “period” mortified me. Needless to say, this moment has stuck with me throughout the years; I am now a married 28 year old. I still exasperate my mother. I decided in that moment, my ears still ringing from the word “virgins”, my face hot with humiliation and my eyes staring down at the cheap drugstore linoleum, that I would exclusively wear tampons the rest of my life, if only just to spite my mother.
Now, I should say, I don’t just like tampons. I love them. I think because of all of those years I was forced to wear pads the size of a baby’s crib mattress; I count them as one of modern day’s greatest inventions. Not to mention knowing what life is like without them: hell. Also, the added bonus of picturing my mother rolling her eyes every time I pick up a box has never ceased to bring a smile to my face.
Flash forward to present day Liz: smooth- legged woman (some of the time), consummate tampon consumer, and living in Taiwan. On my second day of living in this gorgeous country filled with hospitable people, I set out to find the store where all of my personal needs would be met. At the first drugstore I entered I started to get nervous. The wall of pads looming before me was terrifying. Aisles and aisles of Asian women smiling on the pink and white boxes put me into a state of shock. Their faces morphing into my mother “Tampons are for virgins!” they echoed as I ran from the store, my husband following behind confused and questioning, “You realize you just yelled “I don’t care mom!” in the middle of that store?”
“I don’t wan’t to talk about it.”
Store after store, aisle after aisle nothing but beautiful smiling Asian women happy about how dry they were. I tore about the shelves hoping there would be a dusty, forgotten box somewhere hidden behind the “super thins” that some manager had ordered on a whim thinking to themselves “Why not! Surely one day an American woman will grace us with her presence!”
I went to bed that night dreaming of all of the cashiers from the barrage of stores I ransacked, sitting around a bar smoking off-brand cigarettes and shooting sake talking about a “crazed foreigner” dissembling their perfect pyramids of maxi-pad boxes.
” I know I picked up the word “mother.” one of them giggled between shots.
“Probably, she just couldn’t find the one with “wings”, those are the best.” another said blowing out smoke rings.
The next day I would be lying if I said I didn’t start to panic. Pads? For a whole year? The thought gave me goosebumps. I had brought a gallon-sized Ziploc bag with me in my suitcase, I took inventory: 85 tampons. “That should last me the whole year right?” I asked my husband,trying to estimate. He gave me that look he always does when I try to do math, a blend of pity and disbelief; “Liz, you’d need 350 tampons.” My heart sank. I threw in the white flag. Shuffling along the 5th or 6th store, I figured I’d just go buy some nail polish to cheer myself up when…
There they were.
You know that scene in Shawshank Redemption? When Tim Robbins’ character finally makes it out of that maze of poop-filled tunnels into the open air, he hits his knees to turn his face to the rain, experiencing freedom of prison and oppression? That was me but in the front of a tampon shelf in the middle of a second floor drugstore.
Somewhere Morgan Freeman started narrating:
“Snuggled within the floor to ceiling shelves of pads and shower slippers- Tampax, O.B., Kotex.
Elizabeth went to her knees. She whispered tenderly to the mythical boxes,”I swear I’ll name my future daughters after you.”
On some other aisle her husband was pretending he didn’t know her. But she was free.”