Wrong Side of the Skin

Can you imagine the feel of a car on black ice? Have you ever stepped off an edge, expecting solid ground and finding only air? Could you pick that panicked stomach drop out of a lineup? Our reaction to a loss of control is visceral, and violent, often faster than a thought. The gut churns and the pulse spikes; fight-or-flight reactions take over before we can blink. Instinct rips away the reins from logic and indecision-making. Panic sets in.

I have felt that gut-wrenching shift before, and likely will again, but most of my head-nodding pre-naps on the highway and near-drops of new phones have ended without disaster or lasting damage. One particular loss of control, however, stands out from the rest, as it came while I was flat on my back, in early winter, naked and topped by the Woman, my partner in crime at the time.

It had been one of those early evenings where boredom, physical proximity and two nearly finished days of work congealed in a spliff and golden hour sex. It was warm in the apartment, despite the season, what with the radiator humming and the sunlight dripping in hard through clear sky, magnifying the heat of pumping blood. I remember stripping down fast, our hands indecisive about what to pull off first, and in the flurry, I forgot the other stress my day had held. Sex with her had always been like that—an all-consuming cocktail of whiskey, need and speed—no questions asked, no desires questioned. The apartment could be burning and my mind would have filed it away for later, but on that day, I should have paused.

We were both slick with sweat and had tumbled through the room, laughing and rolling, kissing and craning our necks to reach freshly salted sweat. She came on top of me, looming with mischief, and began rocking slow, in no real rush, then harder, her hands pressed down like pillars, her fingers curled into me just enough to stay steady, her weight squeezing the blood from my rapturous chest, her hair swinging like delicate blades. As I matched her pace, my muscles tightening to prolong each stretch of pleasure, every crest of her rocking waves, my mind drifted towards that corner at the edge of ecstasy and death.

That's when I felt it—the lance of pain through my nerves, the signal that my body's defenses had given way. I could feel the wound tear in my gut, and seconds later, the blood mix with sweat, as the tang of copper leeched into the air, spoiling the lingering scent of sweat and cum and need.

I knew in the space of a breath and my body froze, her momentum grinding on my stutter; the shutters closed and the shivers of sex died on the vine. She sensed the shift immediately, as a woman does in the throes when that oldest rhythm breaks. I felt myself diminish in every sense of the word.

There are no words in such a moment, or at least, I had none. If I did, I have no memory of them. I only remember my stomach knotting at the agony of the instant, at the unfulfilled hunger for a fuck we both wanted. I can still see her face looking down on me, that glimmer of a question, wondering whether she had done something wrong. I wanted to cry, or laugh, or turn back time by an hour, until the moment before we rolled the spliff and let the sunset do the rest.

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She left the room—confused but wise, her inductive reasoning intact—a blanket loosely hanging around her waist, cupping the whorled dimple beside her gentle spine. I wanted to follow after, to leave that room behind, as though it could be so simply forgotten, but the surreal flash of passion was over. Reality remained.

I finally sat up, fearful of what I'd find beneath me, angry at what had been stained by my body, at what further chasm had been carved through my heart.


We blow our noses when they get stuffed up. We wipe away tears with tissues, or even let them run freely down our face. Our daily flesh is caked in quickly forgotten sweat. We empty our bladders and guts into toilets in every corner of the world. Bodily fluids moving from inside to outside is nothing strange, yet blood stands in a class apart. This is perhaps due to its more intense associations—with family and birth, death and pain, seeping across a dozen spectrums of meaning and emotion, many of which are taboo or “better discussed in private”.

For men, blood is most easily associated with violence where control has been lost—a fight, a wound, an accident. For women, it is often considered the essence of womanhood—a symbol, a burden, a blessing. But again, the emergence of blood from women is not something that can be controlled, merely monitored and managed, kept sacred and shielded from the shame it has long been designated by men.

The fact is, I have a disease—a slow-burner in terms of killing me, but an unpleasant reality to suffer on the daily, nonetheless. It dehydrates me, steals my appetite, robs me of energy and occasionally confines me to bed. I have felt the sense of life leaving my body; I have bled until I was weak in the knees, 'til the spins drove me cowering to the floor of strange bathrooms. I have left music festivals in embarrassed tears and holed up in lonely campsites for days. Nothing in my life has generated such an intense, debilitating sense of self-loathing.

Odd that my shame is so heightened around the opposite sex, particularly when it comes to intimate situations. The conversations surrounding it are torturous, even if my partner du jour doesn't know we're having one; it is far easier to lie, to cancel plans and invent other excuses to “just get some sleep tonight”. I have. Often. I rob myself of the chance for honest intimacy because mine is a truth too uncomfortable to explain, and too unpredictable to prevent.

If anything, I would expect to feel more comfortable around women, all of whom understand the toll of blood loss on the body. Long before this affliction, I felt more connected to women as friends and partners and collaborators; I was raised by grandmothers and sisters, after all. I find men too often dull and lecherous, interested only in exploring the world like hammers looking for nails. Weakness is something to be leveraged in too many of their eyes, and blood loss is the most obvious sign of deficiency from the perspective of natural selection, survival and traditional gender roles. Suffice to say, fraternal chats about regular blood loss come few and far between.

I cannot speak to the sensation when a woman starts her period, nor do I presume to understand it. However I imagine there is a gnawing anticipation in the days leading up, a stomach drop the moment it begins, and an unavoidable, niggling awareness of its procession while it runs course, when one's mood and habits and schedule inevitably shift. Perhaps there is relief when it ends.

I can also sense when a break is coming, when my body seems to dry up faster, and my stomach churns on empty, and sporadic nerve ends start to tingle with fire. I sense the moment when the dam breaks, a bolt of pain, and then I suffer through its ongoing presence in my mind, for hours or days, wanting only to be fully alone, to keep my body away from other eyes. Until that relief when it ends.

There is no cure for this disease, and until that changes, I will deal with this in some form for the rest of my life. I also hope to be dealing with the opposite sex for the rest of my life, in some form, so this struggle of comfort and shame is not one I can avoid; it is a bloody battle of attrition in body and mind, and I don't like my odds of winning them both.