Can We Not Talk About This

by Adina Ferguson

We stood in the kitchen a few feet apart. Far enough not to hug but close enough to smell each other’s breath. We stood against countertops, arms crossed, eyes battling for a winner in the unbeknownst staring contest. Her hair was blond, short and coarse. Mine was long, twisted and fake. Physically, we shared similarities with our brown complexion and lips that thinned when we smiled. Internally, we have always been extreme opposites.

Mom is the affectionate, sensitive, talkative, tough when need to be type. I shy away from physical embraces, verbal “I love yous,” and quite frankly I enjoy rocking a tough shell for the world to see but rarely crack open. I keep my talking to a minimum and have been told I’m a good listener. And thus I stood in the kitchen that Friday night listening to Mom.

“So,” she said. “Should we talk about the birds and the bees?”

“What for?! I’m almost 30. I turned out fine. It’s okay,” I said.

Mom and I found ourselves close to having the talk we should have had 15 years ago. The one where she forewarns me about life and how not to screw it up with boys, drugs, petty fights with homegirls and overall foolishness. How we got on this topic was by way of a family update. “Miss Tiffany got her period,” she announced.

“Oh, wow, she’s a woman now,” I gushed.

“I remember when you got your period. I was so terrified for my baby. My stomach started cramping up,” Mom said in a soft tone as if she were talking to the 11-year-old me. Her eyes glazed over as she fell into her reverie.

Yep, I had lost her. She was officially back in 1997. The year our family moved into our new home in Northeast DC. The year I no longer had to share a room or television with my brother, Chris. The year rapper Notorious B.I.G. died and the Spice Girls ruled the world.

I remembered my initial day of menstruation very well.

Listening to Mom, I wondered if we remembered the same events from the same day. Her expressions and details quickly led me to believe we had conflicting accounts of this historic moment but I remained silent and let her theatrics take center stage.

“You got your period late compared to your other friends.”

“Um, no, I didn’t. I was early.”

“No you weren’t because your best friend, the little chubby one whose sleepover you went to, got hers before you did.”

“Who, Tasha? How do you know?”

“Because I asked her mother,” Mom hissed.

“Well, I was 11 and you told me you were 16 when it happened to you.” Oh, I was determined to be right. “Nevertheless, I was still freaking out when it happened.”

“Why? It’s not like we didn’t talk about it beforehand.”

“You prepared me okay for it,” I said.

My mom shot me a look of disapproval and disbelief. “What do you mean, I prepared you okay?”

“You told me about my period and what was to happen, that I’d bleed, but when I came on my cycle over my dad’s house, we went to the store and I bought the wrong thing."

“And whose fault was that?” Mom was in her feelings.

That night in July was quite embarrassing as I stood in the cold grocery store with my dad in the feminine product aisle staring at rows of colorful boxes.

I selected a pink one.

“Are you sure this is it, Dina?” he asked.

I nodded. When you’re a preteen going through woman issues there aren’t but so many words you have for your dad. When we returned to his house and I sat on the toilet unfolding the liner, I figured I had conquered this whole period thing. Until of course I went to bed and the rivers of life started raging in between my legs and that stupid panty liner was no more than a canoe.

This story set my mother off in a new direction.

“Kia said Tiffany was pretty heavy and for more than five days. If she’s still like that next time, she plans to take her to the doctor. They can give her something to control that.” Mom was too comfortable with sharing my little cousin’s details, which made me wonder how she broke my news to the world seventeen years ago.

It was probably through a game of telephone with my crazy aunts on the other end. “Your little pumpkin poo-poo became a woman today. We just got off the phone and my baby sounded so mature,” I could see her cackling into the receiver between drags of her Kools while she sat on the deck with her house robe loosely tied.

“You sheltered me,” I said, as my chest started to flare up from high school flashbacks. I quickly gulped down a few swigs of soda.

“No I did not.”

“Ma, you didn’t even tell me about tampons. When I asked you about them, you said they were for girls who weren’t virgins. You had me walking around high school feeling like I was wearing a diaper.”

We both laughed.

“No, I didn’t, Adina.”

“Okay Mom, whatever you say. All I know is, I had to go to the school nurse because you wouldn’t tell me.”

This was the story of our lives as mother and daughter. Me being too afraid to have conversations with her on the one hand. She too afraid to truthfully answer questions when I was brave enough to ask them on the other. Things only got worse when she didn’t give the answer I needed. So of course, I turned elsewhere to my fast-tailed friends, Black Entertainment Television, and Google. If Mom and I couldn’t be open and honest, then I had to remain closed.

“I didn’t think I needed to tell you things because I knew you would find out on your own. You were smart. I saw the books you were reading,” she said.

“I didn’t read those kinds of books. I hate those trashy Omar Tyree, Zane books,” I said, twisting my mouth in disgust at her assumption of my reading taste. “I learned everything from my friends and television.” And from hands-on experience, I could have added, but I wasn’t trying to kill the woman, who probably had no idea I wasn’t a virgin.

It was going to be a rough trip from 1997 to the present, and I had had enough mother-daughter bonding for one night.

Besides, my catfish was getting cold.

Photo: Shutterstock

Adina Ferguson is a memoirist and proud native of Washington, DC. She recently earned her MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from University of Baltimore. “Can We Not Talk About This” is from her debut collection, I Don’t Want to Be Your Bridesmaid released May 2015. Adina has also been published in Future Cycle Press 2012, Roll: A Collection of Personal Narratives, The Starting Five and other publications.