Photo of Joey and Arlene seated on runningboard of 1940s car

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About Arlene

Scenes from My Life On Hemlock Street: A Brooklyn Memoir by Arlene Mandell

My Thirteenth Spring

All night my head had ached and my stomach had churned. I turned and turned in my bed, twisting the blanket. When I woke, there was blood everywhere–on the sheets, on my pajamas. Some was wet and bright; some was dark. When I stood up, I could feel it oozing down my thighs.

Of course I knew what it was and why it was happening. But I hadn't known there would be so much pain—like a river pouring through me. I started to get my mother, then remembered. She was at Grandma's apartment, again. Every weekend my mother had to stay there because Grandma thought someone was breaking in. My eight-year-old brother was sound asleep on the other side of the room.

Arlene seated on front stoop on Hemlock Street

I covered the bloody sheets with my blue blanket. I still stroked its frayed satin edges at night while I was falling asleep. Then, wrapping my chenille bathrobe around myself, I tiptoed into the bathroom. Under the sink was extra toilet paper, tissues, soap, but not what I needed. I washed my face in the icy water. My eyes had a bruised look and my skin was chalky white. I stripped off my pajamas and soaked them in the tub.

“Cold water,” my mother once told me. “Always wash blood stains in cold water.”

With wads of tissues and Palmolive soap, I began washing away the blood on my legs. More blood rushed down and I grasped the sink. The room tilted. This was nothing like the cheerful little pamphlet my mother had given me.

Where did she keep them? In the hall closet? I found Red Cross absorbent cotton, and started pulling out white, fluffy tufts. I would have to form it into a thick pad. Tears ran down my face and more blood ran down my legs.

“This is what you want.” My father, unshaven, red-faced, reached up and pulled down a box of Kotex from the shelf above my head.

Later he made my favorite banana pancakes, but I was too nauseated to eat them. Together we stripped the bed.

“Your mother will talk to you when she comes home.”

“I know all about this.”

“There are other things.”

“I know, Daddy.”

“Just be careful. There are men out there . . . boys. A girl like you. . . .” He started to hug me, then backed off.

“Don't worry, Daddy. I'll be careful.”

Later that day I told Helene, my best friend, who slapped me, then kissed me.

“What did you do that for?”

“That's what my mother did when I got it for the first time. The slap is for the trouble you're going to get into. And the kiss is because I love you.”

© Arlene Mandell, 2009

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Welcome to Hemlock StreetBlock PartyBuilding the Ferris WheelCrossing Pitkin AvenueThe KissInvisible BabyAunt Minnie's Second WeddingMurder Inc.A Real Italian DinnerSleeping with Nettie SachsDuke Snider Breaks Our HeartsCherries in the Snow • My Thirteenth Spring • No Room of My OwnDeeply in LoveHangin' Out and Makin' OutResolutions Made and Broken