Years I'd been building up to this. All the times I almost said something, all the times I nearly kissed her, all those times I should've told her I'm in love with her smile, her laugh, that her eyes are the colour of heaven. It had all built up to this mundane Monday morning. I woke up and decided yes, I was going to tell her.
Maybe if I had gone straight there, things would've been different. But she was so special. She deserved a perfect moment. She deserved a lifetime of perfect moments. So once I'd made myself presentable, I headed down to the High Street to the little florists to buy her some roses. Everything was more beautiful than usual. The grey street, the uniform houses, the tired little shops all looked like they had been sprinkled with magic. Even the drizzle couldn't get me down.
I rehearsed it in my head as I skipped into her street. She would open the door, see the flowers. That puzzled little smile would form but before she would be able to say anything, I'd tell her “I love you Zoë. I always have”, and we’d kiss. Not one of those everyday, standard kisses either. One of those all encompassing, wildfire kisses that leave you with tingly lips and make you dizzy. The kind of kiss that made violins play in your head and the rest of the world fade away. A perfect moment, to start a lifetime of perfect moments.
I glance up to smile at a bird, singing its heart out on the silver birch, and I see the blue flashing lights. My heart drops into the gutter with the roses. The ambulance is at her house. My head starts to spin. The sky opens with a single thunder crack, and the heavens pour out their tears. She has to be ok.
And then they bring out the trolley. I'm so dizzy. Her face is covered, but I know it's her. The rest of the world fades away, but there are no violins.
It's week 25 of Miranda Kate's Mid Week Flash challenge, and illness, work and general life chaos has meant I haven't been able to participate as much as I'd have liked to, but this week's image really spoke to me. Anyone is welcome to join in, the general guidelines can be found here.
This week's prompt:
We dreamed of going to the ocean. She had this romantic ideal of walking on a moonlit beach, hand in hand, listening to the roar of the unseen sea. Our dream sustained us through the long, hard years we couldn't be together, when our relationship was built of dreams and texts and snatched moments. We were going to go to the ocean.
They say life’s a bitch, but she's got nothing on the twisted sense of humour Fate has. Finally together, finally able to touch instead of talk, to kiss instead of dream. We were finally going to the ocean. Packing up the car together, all excited. She looked like a painting, the light on her face too perfect to be real. I kissed her, then turned away to load the last bag into the boot. When I turned back, she was on the floor, lifeless, hair sprawled in the mud.
Three months later, life is drained of colour. She smiles through the pain and the sickness and the exhaustion, brave little stoic smiles, drained of their warmth. Every time I walk down this disinfectant scented corridor I hear the doctor telling us “I'm very sorry, it is terminal. We can make her comfortable…” and I have to swallow my anger, my pain, my disappointment, push it all down into the pit of my stomach and try to have my smile ready for her. I can't let her down.
We can't go to the ocean.
She asked me once if I would go for her, after she's gone. I told her not to be so daft, that miracles happen all the time, that she would be coming with me. I knew I was lying. She knew I was lying. But it helped.
We’ve returned to living through shared dreams, texts, snatched moments between chemo and physio and more tests. Funny how life goes sometimes.
We can't go to the ocean.
But sometimes, when she is feeling strong, I lift her delicate, fragile little body into a wheelchair, and we take a stroll down to the hospital garden. Well, I say garden. It's as hopeless as the rest of this place, a few sad daffodils in pots on an area of cracked, fractured tarmac, littered with cigarette butts.
None of this is fair. It should be our time.
“I'll be going soon” she says one night, startling me out of my brooding.
“I'll thought you were asleep.”
“Nah,” she says, “there'll be time for that…” she doesn't finish the thought. “Can we go outside?”
“Now? It's dark, love. It'll be cold.”
“I'm always warm when I'm with you.”
I can't say no to her. Never could, really, but I definitely couldn't now. So I fetch her chair, and argue with the night nurse and find a blanket. She dozes in the chair as I walk her down, returning the night porter’s solemn smile. It's so silent here at night, you could forget the hundreds of families going through their own private dramas in every ward.
It has been raining, and it is cold. The sad little wooden bench is soaked, so I lean on the back of her chair, under the full moon.
“let me sit on your lap” she says, so I lift her as gently as I can, terrified I might break her, and settle into her chair. There's no weight to her now, but feeling her head on my shoulder, and her quick, shallow breathing is enough to feel comfort.
“This garden is so depressing,” I say eventually. “You deserve to sit somewhere beautiful”
“It doesn't matter as long as I'm with you,” she says, “but look there, see?” she points and I try to see what she's talking about. All I see is cracked tarmac potholes filled with rainwater, cigarette butts and darkness. “it's like the ocean”
I put my head right next to hers, look down her arm, and see it. The pothole is what she's is pointing to. The water filling it ripples gently in the breeze, distorting the reflection of the moon for a moment.
“It is” I'm forced to concede, and we sit there for an immeasurable moment, watching the miniature waves lapping at the tarmac beach.
“You can find beauty anywhere, if you open your eyes” she tells me.
My next offering for Miranda's Mid Week Flash challenge. The General Guidelines can be found here.
This week's prompt was taken in a former, now abandoned, TB sanatorium in Grabowsee, Oranienburg, Germany, which is a little north of Berlin. It was taken by someone over on Flicker called Michael.
In the Mirror
They say I’m mad, but I’m not. That woman in the mirror isn’t me.
Oh she looks like me, no doubt. Whenever someone is looking, she mimics me perfectly. Then when they turn away her blank expression twists into a malicious grin, she gives me a seductive little wink, and my blood runs cold.
I know she’s up to something. I don’t know what. They all think I’m mad, but I’m not. That woman in the mirror is not me.
I can feel the cold fog of evil seeping from the mirror in the night. I can hear her softly giggling. What does she do when I can’t see her? What does she want from me?
I can’t take it anymore. Lying here, straining my ears, trying to hear what she is whispering. I can’t stand it. I can’t take it anymore.
The rage propels me out of bed, I stride over to the mirror, rip down the sheet covering it, shaking with rage and fear in the cold fog.
She stands there, tall and proud in a perfect replica of my nightgown. Thrusts her chin up at me, a small smile playing about her lips. She doesn’t say anything, just gives me a look as if to say ‘What are you going to do? There’s nothing you can do, you’re powerless’
I scream, punch at her face. As the mirror shatters, I hear her little squeal of delight. Driven by fury, I hit and screech and scream over her laughter.
I feel the cold drain away, as pain fades in. My hands and feet are covered in blood, I’m surrounded by glass.
My housemates come rushing in and see with a glance the blood, the shattered glass around my feet, my tear-stained face. They see all that, but they don’t see what I see.
In the fractured mirror are all their reflections. But there isn’t one of me.
She has gone. I’ve set her free.
They all think I’m mad, but I’m not. That woman in the mirror wasn’t me.
Fair warning, this post is going to get a bit...icky. I’m going to be talking periods, menstural cups, hormonal crashes, bleeding, cramps and spots. I won’t be posting pictures or anything, but if you faint at the thought of blood or cringe when you see the word “vagina” I’d recommend you skip this post. I’ll go back to strange stories, political pondering and random rants later, I promise.
I hesitated a lot before writing this post, which is kinda weird when you think about it. A massive proportion of the population have periods but talking about it is still pretty taboo. I struggle a lot with my period; I suffer migraines, cramping, extremely heavy bleeding, acne, bloating, anaemia and hormonally triggered depression. When it’s that time of the month, I feel and look really ill. But if anyone asks what’s wrong with me, I tend to say I’m a bit run down, or a bit tired, or I’m feeling under the weather. I’ve no idea why I don’t feel able to say I’m in so much pain I can barely move, I’m bleeding so heavily that if I move too much I’ll “leak” and I feel completely and utterly worthless. I guess that is a bit of a conversation stopper, but I’m not usually one to shy away from the tough topics.
Everyone experiences periods differently. There will be some people reading this who have no struggle with their periods, who get a little light cramping but can still jump about on a trampoline, ride a horse and work out like they are in a tampon ad who will be rolling their eyes at this post. Fair enough, lucky you. There will be people, trans men, for example or non binary folk, who have real emotional struggles with their period because it is a physical reminder of an identity struggle I can’t begin to understand, and they’ll have their own menstruation issues. There may even be some people reading this who don’t have periods, and wish they did, or who have fibroids or PCOS and therefore have a much tougher time of it when they are bleeding, and think I should stop whining. Fair enough again. I can only speak of my own experiences.
My battle with my periods has been ongoing. I’ve tried every type of hormonal contraception to ease my symptoms, with little success. Even when I found a method that stopped me bleeding completely – the depo jab -it didn’t stop the other symptoms. If anything, without the bleeding, I felt the other symptoms – digestive issues, mood swings, dry then very oily skin, bloating, etc more keenly. It also had the downside that it turned me into an irrational, paranoid wreck. Worth a try, if you’re looking for a long acting contraceptive method you don’t need to worry about and you’d like to not bleed, but it didn’t work out well for me.
A couple of years ago I decided that being on various types of hormones from my early teens was probably not great for me, and I decided to come off hormonal contraception completely and see if my body settled itself. I’ve had mixed results.
Coming off hormones completely has made my period a lot more regular, which shocked me. One of the reasons I was drawn to the pill was that I thought it would regulate my erratic periods, but for me it just resulted in spotting throughout the month and terrible acne (again, everyone is different and it may well work for you). Since coming off of contraception, my periods have settled into a 29 day pattern, which has at least reduced the anxiety I used to suffer about unexpectedly starting to bleed in public (or when wearing nice panties).
My period now lasts 5-7 days (which, as someone who once had a 4 week long period, is so amazing), but I still bleed really heavily, particularly in the first 2 days. I’m taking full on Niagara Falls, bleeding so fast I’m clotting, getting through a super plus tampon *and* a pad in an hour heavy. During a typical period I’ll easily get through two packs of super plus tampons, a box of regular tampons (for days 3-7) and two boxes of pads. That’s a considerable chunk of my monthly income. I’m not quite sure why sanitary products are considered a luxury item and caviar, for example, is not, but you do have to pay VAT on pads and tampons. So I’m paying an extra 5%* on top for the luxury of sobbing my way through my monthlies. Our government came under pressure to scrap the tampon tax, but decided instead that they’d give the money raised to women’s charities. On the face of it, that’s hard to argue with, but then I found out that a proportion of that money goes to anti choice charities.
Nope. I’m not having that. I don’t want my money being used to dictate what other women – often desperate, vulnerable women, do with their bodies. I find organisations like that highly immoral. I know there are people that disagree with my view and that’s fine – they can donate to the charity if they so wish. But I think it is fundamentally wrong that my money was being used to fund this group without my knowledge or consent, by way of a tax on a product that I am forced to buy.
So I started looking at alternatives. There’s a fair amount out there I hadn’t heard of before, including washable pads and tampons, specially designed panties that absorb the flow, and menstrual cups.
There is maybe a certain ick factor to reusable pads and tampons, but in theory they are perfectly hygienic provided you keep them clean. I didn’t choose them however, for the same reason I didn’t use washable nappies for my babies. Although they seem a lot more eco-friendly (even when you take washing and drying into account), I have 4 children and I already do a lot of washing. I didn’t dare add anything however small, to my ever growing mountain of laundry. I’m rubbish at keeping up with it all as it is.
But while I was looking at reusables, the menstrual cup caught my eye, particularly the anecdotal claims that it makes periods lighter. Save me money and make my monthly hell more bearable??
I’ve seen it claimed – although I can’t tell you how accurate it is – that the chemicals used to bleach cotton and control odours in pads and tampons can make you bleed more heavily. It’s certainly true in my experience that tampons-being absorbent- can leave you feeling dried out and sore, because they absorb all the moisture in the vagina, not just menstrual fluid. The cup was supposed to help with both of those things. They are made from medical grade silicone, and collect the blood rather than absorb it, so they don’t suck all of the moisture out of you. I figured it was worth a try, so I started looking into buying one.
There are loads of different cups out there, that come in different sizes and different levels of firmness, but the basic idea is the same with them all – they are soft silicone, bell shaped cups that you fold and insert into the vagina, where it opens out and forms a vacuum seal to hold it in place and prevent leaks. When it’s time to empty it, you squeeze the end slightly, give it a little wiggle, the seal breaks and you pull it out to empty it. More on that later.
I was a bit bamboozled by the range of cups, and decided in the end to go for a cheap version while I test it out rather than spend around £40 on something that might not work for me. Menstrual cup users have since told me that’s really dangerous because it might not be medical grade silicone, but it was sold as that and I got it from a fairly reputable retailer, so I’m not too worried. I only ever intended on using the cheap one for a couple of cycles anyway.
They come in two standard sizes, size A is for women under 30 who have never given birth, either vaginally or by caesarean. I got the size B because I am over 30 and have given birth 4 times, including once by c-section.
It arrived in a small, pink storage bag, similar to the type you get jewellery in, which would be fairly discreet to carry in your handbag. My first thought was; “that’s enormous.” Honestly, I nearly gave up on the whole idea without trying it out. But when I folded it, I saw it was a comparable sort of size to a super plus tampon. I thought back to my first time using tampons and having that exact same thought.
The cup has markers on the side to show you how much blood you’re losing. Not really important for me, but some people might find that useful, especially if you’re trying to get to know your period and what is normal for you. All of the cup, including the stem, sits inside the vagina so you don’t have a string dangling, or wings hanging out of your panties and sticking to your leg or anything like that. If the stem on yours is too long, you can trim it. The end of the stem should be about an inch inside you, give or take.
Apparently it can ride up a little in the night and cause you to panic that you’re gonna have to go to A&E and explain to a hot doctor that you need help removing a cup of blood from your vaj, but that hasn’t happened to me yet. According to the many reviews and videos an comments I’ve read over the last couple of weeks, if that happens all you need to do is chill out, have a cuppa and sit up or walk around for a while and let gravity pull it back down again. There is no secret door in your vagina for it to escape out of, it isn’t going anywhere, and leaving it in a tiny bit longer isn’t going to hurt – you can leave a cup in for 12 hours at a time (flow permitting).
One of the advantages to the menstrual cup is that it carries no risk of TSS, so you can put it when you’re expecting your period, which is brilliant for me because I go from nothing at all to full on Carrie with no warning.
So when I started to get cramps just before bed and checked my calendar to see I was definitely due on, I decided to put the cup in before I actually started to bleed. You should never ever ever do that with a tampon-- it can give you a potentially fatal infection-- but it’s fine to do with the cup. I needn’t have worried about the size – once it’s in place, you can’t really feel it. You do need to run your finger around the edge of the cup once it’s in place, to check it has opened fully to create the seal. If you are squeamish about touching your own vagina, a cup probably isnt for you. If can feel your cervix when you run your finger around the cup, you need to take it out and try again, because it won’t catch anything like that.
I woke up the next morning expecting river of blood all over my bed and an extremely grumpy husband, but my underwear was clean. I decided I’d probably done myself a damage by leaving it in all night for no reason- I had mild cramps but I wasn’t feeling nauseous or lightheaded at all so I figured I hadn’t started yet. Then I went to the bathroom to take the cup out, and had the shock of my life to discover it was half filled with blood.
Was it gross? Well, it wasn’t exactly pretty. But I didn’t get any blood on my hands at all, so for me it was less messy than tampons, because I bleed so heavily the tampon string is often saturated. If you find the sight of blood hard to deal with, you might find emptying it into the toilet a bit gross. 20mls of fluid looks like a lot when you tip it into the toilet, and menstrual fluid is thicker than blood from a cut, and can contain clots, so it does look kinda grim. It was really easy to remove and empty though, and then you just give it a quick rinse and reinsert. Nothing to throw away, no product to flush, no fuss. At the end of your period you give it a more thorough wash, and sterilise it. You can do that by simply boiling it in water on the stove, but I have a steam steriliser I no longer have a use for, so I just chuck it in there.
The big test came straight away – my son needed a lift to school for his exam. I can’t usually drive on the first day of my period; I’m in too much pain, I’m nauseous, and I'm too clumsy. His school is 20 mins away. That’s 40 mins without access to a bathroom. I’d have soaked through my seat. My cramps were still bad, but they were bearable and – whether it’s related to the cup or not, I’m not sure, but I don’t seem as clumsy this month. I’ve not broken anything yet, anyway. So I drove him, without even a pad. It was terrifying. But when I got home, my underwear was still clean. In fact, I got through the first 24 hours without a leak at all. Unheard of.
I did have a minor – and I mean very minor – leak during the second night. I even felt/heard the seal break, but I didn’t get up to check it because I was already in bed, and I’m lazy. It was literally just a spot though, so no big deal. And I’ll know next time.
Will I carry on using it? Almost definitely. I’ve only used it for one period and already I find it less messy than tampons and pads, and more comfortable. I’ll probably invest in another one, partly because people scared me with their horror at me buying a cheap, off brand one, and partly because it’d be good to have a spare because I am clumsy when I’m on my period and I’m almost certain to drop it down the toilet at some point so it’d be good to have another for while I’m sterilising that one. I may also invest in a couple of washable pads to wear at night in case it shifts (some cups come with a couple as standard).
I’ve yet to empty it in a public toilet. You wouldn’t necessarily need to anyway, because you can leave the cup in place for 12 hours, but it may be worth carrying a small pack of flushable wipes or a small bottle of water with you if you feel you may need to. Some people have said you can just go into the disabled toilet so you can wash it in the sink without having to leave the stall, but I'm uncomfortable using disabled toilets personally, as I'd hate to make someone who really needs to use it wait. There isn’t any smell or noise with the cup, so it would be as discrete as changing a tampon, if not more so (less rustling). You don't need to remove it to go to the toilet, but if you have those fun kinds of periods that play havoc with your bowels, you may need to check the cup is still in position after.
It’s a bit early to tell if it has made a major difference to my symptoms. Could be that I feel less crampy and nauseous because I hoped to – but placebo or not, I’m just grateful I’m only dealing with anaemia, acne, and a tearful sense of worthlessness this month.
Someone pass me a giant chocolate bar and hit play on the Dirty Dancing DVD on your way out, I have a three day date with a hot water bottle and my quilt.
*Originally, I said 20% here, wrongly assuming we pay full rate VAT on sanitary products. I was then sent a link to the gov.uk page showing that sanitary products are charged a reduced VAT rate of 5% - thank you to @rosamundi on twitter for correcting me on that ☺
If you'd like to donate a couple of quid to help keep me writing, you can do so here.
My next entry for Miranda Kate's mid week flash challenge, the General Guidelines for which are here.
This week's prompt photo was created by Marcela Bolivar, a digital artist from Columbia. You can check out some of her other wonderful creations on her website here.
You are my heart
Once, I am sure, I was complete. A whole, living, breathing being. I used to taste food, feel music. I used to be alive.
Then along he came. He filled me so completely, there was no room for anything else. Where once I held passion for art and dancing, good company and good movies, now there was only him. I lived him, breathed him, he didn't just hold my heart, he was my heart. I didn't mind, I didn't miss any of it. I didn't need any of it, he fulfilled me completely.
And now he has gone, and I am a shell. I eat without tasting, I go through the motions of social interaction without engaging. I stare at screens without taking anything in. I exist without living.
All that's left of me is the ghost of him, as intangible as a rippling reflection on a midnight pool.
My next entry for Miranda Kate's mid week flash challenge, inspired by this guy:
The picture prompt this week is by Ekaterina Zakharova, a Russian photographer who named him '1Fairy'. You can find more on her Deviant Art page.
The General Guidelines for the mid-week flas challenge are here.
The Beat Goes On
The trouble is, no one believes in fairy tales anymore.
Back when I was a kid, some people took them seriously. My Nan did, certainly - she left cream out for the little folk, touched wood, sprinkled salt, and always warned us to stay on the paths if we ventured into the woods. She even gave me a tiny iron horseshoe to keep me safe. I should have kept it.
But nowadays, with our lives so dominated by social media and selfies sticks and double shot mocha cappuccinos, we are lulled into a false sense of security. The woods are just somewhere I jog through, not an otherworld of mystery and magic.
I was panting along, well on course to beating my personal best, the only sound the slapping of my feet on the path, the thudding of my blood in my ears. I was totally in the zone. Then I noticed the annoying little stone in my shoe.
I tried to ignore it, but after a few steps I realised I couldn't. Look after your feet, and they'll look after you. If I ignored it, I'd get a blister, and that would totally mess up my training.
I reluctantly stopped, and stepped off the path to sit on a convenient log and sort it out. As soon as I sat, it was like the volume had been turned up on the world. Suddenly I could hear the wind sighing through the canopy, the birds calling to each other. The sun was warm on my back and the air smelled so sweet. I lingered too long, breathing in the magic of the woods.
Then I heard it - or maybe felt it, I'm not sure. The steady beating of the drums, the low, intoxicating oboe, the high, infectious pipes that made my toes tap. I should have stayed on the path. Nan warned me. But I wanted to see where the music was coming from.
I walked away from the log, away from the path, struggling through the bracken. Each time I thought I was nearing the source, the wind changed and just like that, it was far away again.
I tripped on a bramble whip and stumbled, and suddenly he was there, catching me.
He was not of this world, that much I know. It wasn't just the antlers, wasn't just the forest colours that swirled over his skin, wasn't just the deep, hypnotic, amber eyes that gave it away. No mortal creature could be so perfect. Naked but for a deerskin loincloth, every muscle perfectly defined, as if sculpted by angels. I was suddenly very aware of my sweaty tracksuit, scraped back hair, the spot on my chin that I hadn't bothered to try and cover.
I tried to burble out a question, but he held a finger to my lips and suddenly all I could hear was the music, all I could feel was his warmth.
His fingertip left my lips, trailed slowly down my neck, along my collar bone, down my arm. He entwined his fingers in mine, and I let myself be led into the clearing, where the other Fey folk danced.
I've never been much of a dancer, but with him leading me it just seemed natural, easy as breathing. Like being drunk but without the queasiness, I span and danced with the beautiful ones, laughed as they ripped my clothes from my body, paid no heed to anything but the beat and the dance and his hypnotic eyes.
I don't know how long I've been dancing. I carry on through light and darkness. Through the heartbreak of him leaving, my bloodied feet continue to dance. I laugh through the jealousy as he brings some other girl to the clearing. I sing with the fair ones as we rip at her clothes. I am the dance. I am the music.
Somewhere inside, the old me cries out to stop, to rest, to go home. But the music never stops. The beat goes on.