Period by Gretchen Clark

Close up of sealed envelope




  1. an extent of time that is meaningful in the life of a person, in history, etc.


* * *

In sixth grade, I came home to find a book at the end of my bed. Its title, Period, was written in big white letters, punctuated by a bright red dot. My mother, I knew, had placed it there though she never mentioned the book – and neither did I. To me, that bright red dot wasn’t meant to represent only a drop of menstrual blood; it was a stop sign. Any potential dialogue about my body and its upcoming changes, any questions I might have, were now unnecessary, in her eyes. I had a guide; what else did a girl need?


A year later, another book appeared at the end of my bed, this one about sex and pregnancy. Again, my mother and I never spoke about this book. Two years after that, as a high school freshman, I called Planned Parenthood and made an appointment to get birth control. After the receptionist scheduled me, she asked if she needed to use a code name when calling me about any upcoming appointments or results. I said yes. She asked if the health history paperwork should be sent in an unmarked envelope. Again, I said yes. Code names, anonymous letters; the questions implied that I was far from the only girl trying to find her way, sexually, and doing so undercover.


The paperwork I received in the mail and sneaked into my room was copious and detailed, and some of the questions made me pause. Did I or anyone in my family suffer from blood clots? I had no idea. I didn’t want to guess and inadvertently harm myself. The responsible thing to do, I decided, was to tell my mom, so she could help me fill out the paperwork accurately. A few evenings later, I slid the forms across the dining room table towards her. She glanced at them and put the papers aside without speaking. I told her the date of my appointment and she nodded, a response I interpreted as affirmation.


But on the morning of my appointment, when I came out of my bedroom to ask if she was ready to go, I found my mother in the kitchen, back-lit by the winter sunshine, tears streaming down her face. She looked like a martyred saint: St. Lois of Suburbia, patroness of abstinence and ‘Just say No.’

“Forget it, I won’t do this,” I told her, desperate for her to stop crying.

* * *

A few weeks later, a girlfriend drove me to a new appointment. I filled out the paperwork the best I could, endured the exam, and left with a brown bag. Stuffed inside was a year’s supply of Ortho-Novum, and another secret to keep from my mother.



Gretchen clark

Gretchen Clark’s work has appeared in Cleaver, Ray’s Road Review, Pithead Chapel, Word Riot, and Literary Mama, among others. Her essay “Pink Chrysanthemum” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She teaches creative nonfiction at


Definition source: Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. New York: NY, 1991. Print.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Blake Burkhart

  2 comments for “Period by Gretchen Clark

  1. Love this! The sex talk I tried to have with my daughter was an unmitigated disaster. As soon as she saw the book I had purchased, she snatched it from my hands and screamed, “I’ll read this by myself! I don’t want to talk about it.”

  2. Nice story Gretchen. I remember those booklets and was alarmed at the section about how one becomes pregnant. They had an illustration of a handsome man sitting on the arm of a chair looking down at his sweet wife (dressed just like June Cleever) and the caption read: “When a man and wife love one another, and the time is right they can become pregnant”. I still avoid sitting on vintage wing-back chairs— you betcha.

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