‘Congealed’ by Clare Archibald

It flows from inside you. Edgeless pools of blood that coat you, occasionally solidifying around your life, with you in the middle as the rotting candied apple. Fractures in the red shell that covers you are lit up by hormonal charges that sear you with lust and loathing. After all, you are woman.

For many days of many months of many years you have no idea what this means. You are the cliché of apples. You try to be the temptress. You are tempted to eat/not eat yourself out of existence. You think of snakes. You are venomous. You are many skinned. You are complicated. You are, apparently, woman.

You are a girl who watches and waits. You see the dolls that are hidden from public memory. You see the games in the woods that are covered with trails. You see the other girls who have new and different words coming out of their mouths in bubbles that you do not understand. For you these are not magic bubbles. They are the burst child of you. They are other people moving on. Growing up and away from what you want to be. You want to be a girl. Not a teenager. You are safe closer to the womb though you do not want a womb of your own. Yet you have one and if you didn’t you would want one no doubt. Already the see-saw of the brain jumps you up and down making you jolt out words you don’t recognise over breasts that are too small but too big at the same time. You are a girl you think. You think too much.

You yearn for a bra to help you fit in but when you finally have one it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t fit the you that is the you that you think of. You shove it in a drawer and wear vests unrepentantly. Then you realise it’s padded, you can make it fit. The world can be distorted, as can you. Your straps get pinged. You do not get catapulted into the life you want. You blush and think you are a girl, a baby, an unsophisticate. You are.

You are punctual in everything but your ovaries. The constant question of have you started your periods yet? makes your ears bleed, gives your eggs an inferiority complex and they refuse to take part in the hierarchical struggle of your potential comrades in blood. Eventually you faint one Sunday when at mass with a friend’s family. You realise your female follicles have capitulated as the arms of your friends dad lift you up off the floor of the church you have been dragged to. Touching bare, newly born skin in the recently christened St Hemoglobin of the First Bleed church.

Later, you find it impossible to female bond in an appropriate way so you throw your bloody knickers at your mother whilst she does the crossword in bed, and say ‘this miracle happened at mass today’. You laugh hysterically to yourself and imagine shouting, ‘with this blood I thee bless’. You go to bed and cry for all that was you that you knew.

You smell of female. You listen to the Cramps. You sometimes have bad cramps. You are girl. You are teenager. You are both. You are a wanking collection of blood cells that divide and conquer you. You are weird. You are the same as everyone else in this respect. Except you are weirder because you hide your deodorant in a bag, inside the wardrobe where you apply it in in breathless darkness to show that you are in fact in control of your body, and how people see you. You are not.

The blood builds up in you hitting peak sexual pressure. You dissipate the iron in your soul with casual and often inappropriate reading of Sartre and De Beauvoir and imagined Parisian sex. The blood remains. You don’t like the redness. It reminds you of your clashing orange hair and your pale skin that blushes too often. You drink many shades of alcohol to balance out the colours in you that the different rushes of blood bring about.

You lose friends and make friends with lusty blood and booze propelled abandon. You study philosophy and contemplate starting a school devoted to The Philosophy of Hormones. You do not feel free. You do not feel cursed. You feel like you think a woman is supposed to be. For you this means you are in chaos spinning the version of you that is pumped through your body at surprisingly structured and well- disciplined intervals throughout your twenties.

You hear Doris Day singing que sera sera. You feel out of control. You have an abortion. You have choices. You have a miscarriage. You have a baby. Your hormones defy you and feel strangely settled. They mock you suggesting screw you and your feminism this is what your body needed after all. You prove them wrong by becoming occasionally unhinged deliberately so or otherwise. Do you, in fact, exist in your own right distinct from hormones? You still don’t know. You lose more babies. You try and remain philosophical. One more is born briefly alive and you can still smell her blood. She will always be in yours. You think about what it means to live more than ever.

Like a strangely discombobulating early birthday present your mother has imparted this genetic wisdom for many years – you will probably have an early menopause. She did not mention the additional word. The word that can last ten years. The word that pulls you sweating and kicking to official menopause.

The word is a long one but not long enough to convey the length of its true meaning.

Others speak of this change as if it is a simple flush of nature that wrings you gently and leaves you emptied as a new kind of woman. This is because they do not yet understand that you will not redden with casually raised temperature. This is because they do not realise there is more than one word. You will sew this extra word into the bloody knickers of your daughters’ mind so that she is prepared because they will still not speak of this change before The Great Change until she is already changing.

They will not speak of you being griddled, your body drenching your mind, addling your thought processes with salt that corrodes and taints your sense of self.

That you will feel so hot after a cold shower that you will walk around permanently shrouded in mist. Occasionally this will be steam that brings energy but on most days it will be sadness cloaking your history for others to wonder at.

You will feel terror. Non-specific, non -evidence based fears. You will be scared of the dark. Of the light and of outside. Of your inhibitions. Of your lack of them. Of others. Of you.

You will sleep like in your twenties, that is hardly ever, but without the fun. You will teeter on the edge of insomnia induced madness. You will encounter sleep paralysis where strange beings that you do not believe in live in your house and crawl up your bed to strangle you as you struggle to sleep.

You will be convinced that everyone you love will die. You will want to die. The very real black cloud that hovers over your bed will distract you from these thoughts as you try not to be smothered by unreality.

You will smell of biscuits made only with synthesized chemicals. You will put on deodorant outside of wardrobes, in work, cafes, the street, the school yard, to no avail. You will still smell of strange biscuits. You will tell other women. They will tell you that you are too young. You will warn other women. They will give you the same look of pity you got when your periods came late. Your blood will never be the right shade for them. They will question your sanity when you tell them you feel like you are drowning in blood. You will explain that you are not too young. They are not too young. They will be a decade older by the time it ends. You wonder will it actually end. They will ask you if you want another biscuit that smells like you.

You will think that it is nearly over. Until you bleed again. In a vicious game of snakes and apples you will be thrown back to the beginning. This will happen again and again until you lose count of the months as they congeal into eternity. You have strange yearnings to be barren, to be a husk of yourself, this invisible empty woman of yore.

Then, with sudden clarity you reject the reasoning of aridity. You embrace the chaos once more. You feel the flow of you, welcome the uncertainty. Understand the meaning of time. You are not invisible. You are not used up. You are not defunct. You are simply slowly washing your hands of blood. You break from the fake sweetness of the red coating. You reject the pressure of others to flow with their blood-beats. You are thinning all that you do not need in your life. You are pulsed with meaning and hydrated with wanting. Nature has told you to get on with living. Perimenopause is a long word. You are a short woman but you have big words. You are larger than hormones that swill and loom. You are indeed a woman. You are bloody well you.

Clare likes to write all kinds of things.  She likes to speak the words that she writes. She read ‘Congealed’ at The Real Story’s 1st anniversary show at Gulliver’s, Manchester on January 21st 2016. You can read more about her here.