One of my earliest memories of blood is my sister holding a tabo under her nose, red fluid gushing freely. I am maybe five, and she is sitting on a leather chair.
Of needles, I recall first grade in I–Adelfa. I am seatmates with a slightly chubby kid who is teaching me how to poke a safety pin through my skin. Pushing in the pin and seeing it emerge from another section of one’s thigh or arm seemed fascinating to the smaller version of me, back when I didn’t even know what tetanus was. There was an odd satisfaction to the pin prick and the unsettling feeling of sliding the needle through a thin layer of skin.
Maybe the satisfaction was in that it made me feel cooler than the other girls, who were too disgusted to try it (and, in retrospect, with good reason). That’s how it was, after all, growing up female, or at least growing up female for me: some part of me was constantly trying to prove I was tougher than typical, which is also probably why for most of grade school I intimidated many of the boys in class, fought often with a boy who was always teasing me, and avoided an association with “girly things” like skirts and pink and glitter (even though in second and third grade I asked my parents for Barbies if I got into the honor roll, which I’d never have admitted to the guys back then—)
A small part of me thinks I still carry that with me, the child who thinks she has to be tougher than typical if she is going to survive the world. The grown-up part says it is fine to be vulnerable, to let other people take care of you, that these too are a form of strength. But I’m still growing into that version of myself. It is difficult to learn softness.
For a few days back when I was in my sophomore year of high school the cartilage along my nose bridge was scarred, so my nose would bleed multiple times a day until I could finally get it checked.
Somewhere in my hazy recollection, we were in our CAD class when I got a nosebleed. In our house people just say, “Nosebleed?” in acknowledgment, and sometimes they don’t even bother handing you the tissue or a handkerchief. There, in the house I grew up in, nosebleeding was fact of life rather than cause for concern. Hence, it didn’t matter much to me. But two friends bolted to the cafeteria to get me the coldest bottled water there was, asking me if I was alright, was I sure, did I need anything else?
I am still outgrowing that child, the one who continues to struggle letting herself be loved. To give graciously, but also to receive gratefully—these are things that I aspire to.