Men don’t know what it’s like to bleed but not be wounded– at least, not every time. They don’t know what it’s like to analyze the color of their blood for meaning. And blood does not mark the seasons of a man’s life, like it does a woman’s.
When I was fourteen-years-old, I went on a class camping trip. Five of us were bundled into one tent, which seemed too small to contain us: budding, precocious and braver in the dark. There was a great interest in who had accomplished what on the gnarled, rope ladder into womanhood: Who had been kissed? Who had been kissed–with tongue? Who had touched it? Who had done it all ? No one had, at least, no one in our tent. Who had the biggest boobs, the most pubic hair? And, who’s gotten their period, everyone, right? Jenny A. rapid fired the questions at us, having taken on the roll of the interviewer/inquisitor, like some sort of bossy and perverted Barbara Walters. Everyone nodded, except me. I was cross-examined and in the end, only mildly believed. I had passed so many milestones early– boobs (for the record, I did have the biggest in the tent,) boyfriends, and in just a few hours, while playing truth-or-dare I would make out with a girl for the first time–with tongue. But, there I was, still on the other side of the threshold–the last of my friends to get my period. And while I wasn’t exactly a Judy Blume character, yearning for it, I was certainly ready.
When I did finally get it, a few months later, I experienced an unexpected sadness. It felt like an ending, as if a childhood expulsion letter had arrived from Neverland, signed by my first crush, Peter Pan–the ambassador of youth. And with a few drops of blood I was ejected from the kingdom of childhood.
At sixteen, I was tangled in love. We folded into each other with the force of an imploding planet. I wanted to unzip his long golden body like a garment bag, and slip inside. The closest I could get to that, was him, inside me. Afterwards, when I saw the deep streaks of blood on the sheets, I flamed into embarrassment. Half-dressed, I tried to strip the sheets off the bed as I profusely offered to wash them. It was the only part of the night that had embarrassed me. I had felt prepared for everything, I mean, as prepared as a sixteen-year-old virgin could be. But I hadn’t expected the tender intimacy of the plum colored stains on the white sheets.
At Twenty-eight, I was trying to get pregnant. I have always had erratic periods, coming and going without the certainty of tides, following some unruly and maverick moon. This has always been a source of stress; it’s nice to have a monthly confirmation that I’m not pregnant, until, of course, I actually want to be. Then this irregularity became even more frustrating. The first time my period was late while I was trying to conceive I put on a Leonard Cohen record and I lit a candle before I took the pregnancy test. I was setting the scene for my joy, for this remarkable moment. But the moment was unremarkable, as so many more would be. And my period, whenever it would deign to come, became a cruel reminder that a new life was not starting that month.
At thirty, I was pregnant for the first time, and at eleven weeks I discovered a minuscule amount of blood on my underwear. I made a strange and strangled noise that drew my husband into the bathroom.
“It’s only a drop, I said,” as his eyes filled with panic. I would keep repeating that while we drove to the doctor, and while I lay on the table as they readied the ultrasound machine.
“What color was it?” the doctor asked, “pink, brown, red?”
“ Brown,” I said, “not red–not bright red.”
“That’s good.” The doctor said.
And then, we heard the sound of the small heartbeat and we all breathed again.
Six weeks later, at seventeen-weeks pregnant, I was back on the table for a routine check up. Except, it wasn’t routine, this time there was no heartbeat. The Doppler pressed and prodded but revealed only silence.
“It was only a drop, there has been no other bleeding, it wasn’t even red,” I kept saying.
“Sometimes there are no signs,” the doctor said, “sometimes there is no blood.”
I had a friend tell me she was pregnant four days before she took a test or missed her period. She had spotted, and assumed that it was implantation bleeding. She was validated a few days later with a positive pregnancy test. To me, a few spots of rust colored blood indicate death, but to my friend it indicated life.
At thirty-four, in the hospital delivering my second son, and there was a moment while I was pushing when my husband’s face suddenly turned bone white. He kept glancing back and forth between my thighs and the midwife, like he was watching a gory tennis match. Later when I asked him about it, he said that he was looking at the midwife to see if she was worried, “I didn’t realize that a person could bleed that much and not die,” he said. But the midwife was calm–she just kept mopping the universe of blood I was creating as she told me to push and guided me through. She understood the deep jungle of my body and what it could bear and still be thriving.
Last summer I was camping with my son’s class and one of the parents brought a telescope. It’s behemoth mass was lugged up the dunes in Malibu and set up to view the full moon. I watched my six-year-old, son’s face as he peered into it. “Can you see it?” I asked, but I didn’t need to–his chin went slack and his little body tightened with excitement– he saw it. When it was my turn, I pressed my eye into the cool plastic ring and waited as it adjusted, and then the face of the full moon came intimately into view–luminous, tremulous, and pearlescent. My throat thickened and tears came, as if I was seeing something precious that I had forgotten.
In the tent, later that night, I snuggled between my boys as I listened to the sound of the waves crashing across the street. I thought about the deep places in the ocean that have not been explored, that have not been marked or understood by science. My body is like that–there is so much that science can’t explain about conception, birth and the cycle of creation. The moon pulls the tides into a rhythm, and the moon pulls my body into the same. I was overwhelmed with the connectedness of it all. I remembered seeing my ovaries during an ultrasound for the first time, how they looked–luminous, tremulous, and pearlescent, so much like the moon. No wonder they call to each other.
Image by Danimatie
Iris Apfel / Words of Wisdom
I’ve always been what would be considered a girl’s girl, and if you’re reading this book, chances are you’re one, too. I live and die at the altar of female friendships. Too much emphasis in our culture is placed on finding romantic love, but I’ve always believed that it’s the platonic love of our girlfriends that is crucial to long-term sanity and success. That’s certainly been the case for me. After lovers have consistently disappointed you, and your family has yet again proved to be impossible or unreliable, your girlfriends are there to hear you out, support you, advise you without judgment until death do you part. My BFFs are as much my soul mates as my lovers have been. Even without the sex part, the connection and love is just as deep and should be honored and valued as such.
For as long as I can remember I’ve always had intense, complex connections with my girlfriends. My first best friend—and first kiss, as well—was another little girl called Amanda. We were nine. She was American, and her family had moved to London for her father’s work. We were inseparable, like Bonnie and Clyde, if Bonnie and Clyde were two little badass tomboys. Amanda had a thick New York accent and the latest American swag. She introduced me to scratch-and-sniff stickers and Hello Kitty everything, which I still have a penchant for all these years later. She saw me and I saw her for exactly who each of us were, in the way that tween girls often do.
I became completely obsessed with Amanda, the first of many codependent relationships I would have. Kiss chase was a popular playground game during the height of our mutual obsession, the UK version of traditional tag. It was challenging when Amanda and I both played because if anyone tried to kiss her or me it caused a problem in our relationship. One of us would always end up feeling upset and rejected, and an afternoon of attempting to “make up” would ensue. This became a dynamic that would play out in all my subsequent relationships, so there must be something about that tension that I enjoy.
I cannot tell you how many times my girlfriends have figuratively talked me off the ledge. They have filled the well of unwantedness at the center of my being in a way that romantic relationships never have, and helped heal my fractured heart in a very special way. At every stage of life, my ladies have held me up when I was going under.
My sanity was restored by women who did not judge me and showed me that there are thousands of us who have stories of abandonment, abuse, and addiction.
When I was shipped off to a boarding school called Benenden at age eleven, the only thing that saved me was the extraordinary sisterhood of my schoolmates. Many of the girls I bonded with came from the kind of so-called privileged backgrounds that commonly meant a lot of money and not a lot of love.
Contrary to reports in the media that Courtney Love and I were lovers, I’ve only kissed two women (both times when I was seriously inebriated), but at boarding school it was the norm to have innocent “crushes” on other girls. I formed very intense friendships at school. It was not unusual to share your bed or bathe with your best girlfriend. It was comforting to lie next to someone else, to feel another heartbeat, to not be alone. Being sent away to boarding school when your parents are in the middle of a heated divorce is comparable to suffering a massive loss. Or at least that’s how it felt to me, the eleven- year-old girl who just wanted to be at home, play with her hamster, and read Enid Blyton books about magic forests. I still think that loss of any kind is one of the hardest things to navigate in life, but the support of your best girlfriends makes it a bit easier to endure.
One of the biggest gifts of friendship is being able to witness my friends live their lives up close, through the celebrations as well as the hardships. I was often alone after my parents’ divorce. I had no one to help me learn how to navigate the world. I learned how to get through life by watching my friends. That, and reading autobiographies about women I admire and asking successful women a lot of questions about how they made it.
My girl Brody Dalle and I have lived through similar traumas (details I won’t go into here) and understand one another without needing to say too much. We’re two peas in a pod, our brains and hearts sync up in both the best and sometimes worst ways. My youngest daughter Ella told me that she feels safe when she has sleepovers or playdates with Brody “because she reminds me of you.”
I met both Amber H. and Amber V. whilst shooting these sweethearts for magazine stories. I call them my sister wives because we all look so similar.
I became friends with Amber Heard when I photographed her for Allure about ten years ago. If I had a little sister, it would be her. I have lived through some super shitty times with her and lived to (NOT) tell the tale, if you know what I mean.
My other Amber I met eighteen years ago, and from the moment we met, we fell in love and often joke that if one of us had a dick we would be set. Alas. Amber is one of the most consistent, reliable, and honest friends I have, and I can always trust she will tell me the truth without judgment, which is invaluable to me. I encourage you to have at least one friend who you know will tell you what’s REALLY up, not just what you want to hear.
There are also many women I’ve met along the way in my recovery who helped put me back together in ways I could never have imagined. I’m trying to be mindful of the guidelines of my chosen recovery, but I will say that I am 100 percent the product of the many women I met in recovery who loved me unconditionally, taught me about the importance of self-reflection, accountability, friendship, trust, truth, and authenticity. They taught me that a crucial component of friendship is a willingness to be honest and vulnerable. There’s that word, vulnerable. Get to know it, get familiar with it, embrace it! Being vulnerable is the key to freedom and happiness (at least according to Brené Brown and me).
My sanity was restored by women who did not judge me and showed me that there are thousands of us who have stories of abandonment, abuse, and addiction. Meeting others with the same damage as I had dismantled a belief system that somehow I was a bad person because I’d had to deal with a long list of scary life experiences. I also learned I didn’t need to feel shitty about what happened to me or about choices I made in the past. That kind of support is more than friendship; it is lifesaving.