I’ve always known how to get blood out of things. It’s like a spill: if you get to it fast, no one will ever know it happened.
Like the first time I got a nosebleed; my mom was right there to hold a rag under my nose. She took me to the bathroom, and talked about how to get blood out of the carpet until the flow stopped. Afterward she lay me down on the couch under a big blanket, extra rag in hand (just in case) and let me watch my favorite show. I watched her scrub the living room carpet, and couldn’t tell you the next day where the blood stain had been.
Or the first time I found blood in my underwear, I thought I had shit myself. My underwear was dark purple, the blood-red looked brown, and so the wet stuff I saw could only be that. I threw away the whole pair, pretending like it never happened. It was only in the living room later on that mom found me and gently asked, “do you have something to tell me?” She’d found them in the trash, and wasn’t angry. Only then did I realize what had really happened–that I’d bled. “You don’t have to throw them away every time, you know,” she said as she took me into the bathroom and taught me to soak bloodied underwear in a sink of cold water. I remember her talking about the first time she leaked through. “It happens to all of us,” she smiled.
Or the first time I bloodied someone else’s sheets, I was in a household of four women: a grandmother, a mother, and her two daughters. I dreaded the moment when I would have to tell my new friend I had ruined her sheets, cowering cold in the bathroom, my own underwear soaking in cold water in the sink. A soft knock at the door sent a shiver down my spine–I’d been found out. But when I opened it, the face there was of understanding. “This pair is new,” she said, handing me a new pair of underwear. “Plus, my mom has a pretty heavy flow, it’s happened to these sheets before.” Later at breakfast, I hear the washer tumbling with those sheets behind our morning coffee talk.
All this to say: I’ve scrubbed blood from deck-wood after a deep knife cut; I’ve lifted blood out of rugs and sheets and cushions, out of pants and skirts and pajamas, and not once has anyone been in trouble for bleeding. Blood has never been a reason to be angry among women; we simply bleed and wait for the bleeding cycle to end. Together, we nourish the bleeder, sewing up wounds when necessary, and creating soft spaces on the couch for our sisters who need rest. I guess I just took this for granted…
Until this morning when my home space was witness to a man with a nosebleed.
I woke up to choking anger. Frustrated bear-grunts and groans. The sounds of the washer tumbling with sheets, and blood caught in the throat. The demands that everyone around bring the things he needed while he bled. The anger at commands misunderstood through ten tissues sopping with blood. The rising voice. The tip-toe panic response. An atmosphere of fear and hate directed in all directions. In his voice I heard all fathers command their wives, and I wondered if he would act the same if even one other man were present.
Somehow then, in my own protective bubble, warding off the energy that could once take me down, I knew that this man was mad at his own blood.
He was mad that we had witnessed him bleed. He was angry that his body would not listen, that what was inside kept gushing out. And though in that moment I did want to share the blood-wisdom I’d received all those years – of using rags and not tissue, of cold water soaks before washing clothes, of fresh air and boiling water for moisture on the stove – I knew that my care would be met with hate, and that my concern would return back to me broken.
So instead, I put a garbage can on the floor for his tissues and left him alone to bleed like a man.
Cover Image Courtesy: Cassi Josh