by Jo-Anne Cappeluti
SHE WAS TWELVE, walking home with her mom on a hot day in SoCal, in April sharing the load of bags and bags of Easter candy for her brothers and herself. Midway across a pedestrian’s bridge over a freeway, she and her mom stopped to rest, and looking down at the blur of cars speeding below, she felt something wet between her legs and all the color drain from her face, caging her in to some claustrophobic place with no room for the individual.
She felt cursed. She remembered the film after school for girls in fifth grade and their moms—the girls up front, the moms behind, listening to a dyed blonde narrator, 18-going-on-been-there-done-that, repeating how bleeding makes you glad you’re a girl. And each time the narrator said the word glad, she tilted her head to the left and winked, which made all the girls mimic her, then laugh until they couldn’t breathe, then turn around to see their moms with their pursed lips and that pious look on their faces—as if they believed bleeding was such a holy thing—as if they didn’t call it the curse every month.
So there she was on the bridge, looking down, and out of nowhere a seagull flying across a billboard with a black and white photograph of a tomb with a stone to one side and a message beneath, in bright red, Celebrate Easter! And she remembered once long ago being six, hearing in Sunday school about a man who shed his blood and died—for all men it was always said, men a word she’d found out in first grade was supposed to refer to everyone but never sounded like it did.
Besides, this man was known as the lamb of God, the son of God, and the good shepherd who died on Good Friday for his sheep—not just rams but also ewes—and that explained to the girl how he was the one who beat the curse—of death, anyway, but did he beat the curse of bleeding? The girl kept wondering why her mom, like all mom’s, thought of bleeding each month as the curse. How did they know it was a curse? Who was it who was cursing them? And was being cursed the result of having deliberately done something wrong, knowing they would be cursed? And most important, what about each individual?
And the more the girl explained to her mom, the more her mom stared with that look on her face that said You are no daughter of mine, leaving the girl overwhelmed with so many questions, not just about bleeding being the curse but connected now for her with all of this celebration at Easter—and candy, no less—and the blood Jesus shed to beat the curse of death for all men, maybe even for women bleeding every month—until they’re really old, maybe even 40 or 50.
The girl was overwhelmed even further after her mom said Shut up, something her mom had never said. So the girl looked up at the sky as if looking for an answer there and said Jesus Christ, thinking it would be good to talk with him. But her mom pursed her lips and asked, What did you say? and the girl knew that all the words in the world could never explain, and all she could think was to pick up her share of the bags and walk home.
And by the time she was 18, the girl now woman had had one question after the next concerning the abundance of men in her generation who were wolves disguised as disciples with long hair, love beads, and peasant shirts—driving vans, covered with slogans such as Peace, Flower power, Make love, not war and, of course, If the van’s a rockin’, don’t come a knockin.’ To her these men were Peter Pans, lost boys with a lot of bullshit wool to try to pull over a woman’s eyes, boys who thought women didn’t have the right to be asked, much less answer yes or no, women so wrong in thinking that all men’s talk about love being free made love—and the women who made it—cheap.
Women these boys called their old lady.
And by the time she was 62, which didn’t seem very old at all, the girl once 12 found a cardboard box in the garage marked Childhood stuff, containing among other things her childhood Bible, in which all the words that Jesus said are in red, and her diary—in which on the Good Friday she had first bled, the entry—the last—was written in red. Thank you, Jesus! three words that took her back to that hot day when she first bled—and after trying to explain to her mom what it meant to feel so trapped, the girl cried out to the lamb of God who had beat the curse of death for each one of his sheep, ewe or ram—and for this ewe especially, he gave her the eyes and the heart to see that his love is always free—not cheap—
Jo-Anne Cappeluti earned her Ph.D. in English at the University of California at Riverside and taught a lot of creative writing over the course of thirty years at California State University, Fullerton. She continues in retirement now to ponder the imagination-driven creative process, which begins with the imagination drawn to explore some numinous truth that can neither be proven nor disproven, enticing the intellect to attempt proving or disproving anyway—and finding itself in over its “head.”