Jellyfish

By Dianne May E. Torres
Short Story

The first time Diana had her period, she was on a beach trip with her family, and she thought a jellyfish had swum up her legs and got squished to death between her thighs. She was around ten or eleven at the time, a grade 5 student. She had worn red shorts for the outing, which she was grateful for later, as it concealed evidence of her “crime.”

When they got home, she was surprised to see what looked like small pieces of mutilated flesh on the inside of her panties when she went to the bathroom to pee. She immediately thought, Jellyfish! She touched a piece of the “meat,” rolled it between her fingers, and brought it to her nose. It was sticky and smelled fishy, which confirmed to her bewildered mind that it was once a piece of a sea creature. But she hadn’t felt it come near her, poor thing!

Of course, it did enter her mind that she was not the killer she initially thought herself to be, and the “scene of the crime” in her underwear was merely an indication that she had become a “woman,” as it was usually said of girls getting their first period. She was aware of how the reproductive system and puberty work, and she had been expecting hers to kick in at that age. But what she had expected to see was blood, not the solid particles of flesh the color of dark grapes that winded up staining her underwear. Blood, as she knew it, was liquid and red, not clumped and purple. She resolved to keep quiet about what happened, too guilty and too shy to tell. That night, she slept with the burden of her secret.

She was only able to breathe a sigh of relief when, in the morning, her aunt, upon seeing her blood-stained panties, admonished her: “Why did you sleep in your panties, silly girl? You’re a woman now, act like it! Go ask your cousin for a sanitary napkin!”

It turned out she was not a jellyfish killer, thank heavens! She was a woman, and she didn’t know if that was better or worse.

* * *

“Hey, did you know man could’ve descended from jellyfishes?” her friend Mark asked, looking up from an article he was reading on his tablet. It was a Friday night (Saturday morning, actually), and as Diana’s Friday drinking buddy, he was in her apartment as usual.

Her ears perked up. “What?”

“This article says we could’ve descended from comb jellies! Cool, right? If those sea creatures are indeed our first ancestors, then this would explain a lot about your love for the ocean.”

“And my squishiness, too!” She laughed in usual self-deprecation.

“There you go again with your jokes. You’re not fat, OK?”

She suddenly remembered the jellyfish episode of her youth, and she smiled. She had come a long way since then. Sixteen or seventeen years since getting her first period and she definitely felt all woman now, living away from her family in the big city. She had a good job, was studying for a master’s degree, and in no hurry to settle down. He caught her smiling at the memory.

“What’re you thinking about?”

“Nothing.” She shrugged.

While Mark continued to alternate between talking animatedly and focusing on his tablet, she observed him more closely. He was certainly good-looking: fair, with smooth, clear skin, and of (her) ideal size and height. His eyes were a bit bigger than usual, which she liked, as she had very chinky eyes herself. She would’ve wanted him to be darker, though, as she had never been drawn to fair-skinned men. But he also had intelligence and a sense of humor going for him, so she could overlook the vampire complexion. She wondered how their children would look like, and what they would name them.

He caught her studying him in detail.

“Hey! You look like you’re plotting something!”

“I wasn’t!” she denied.

“Anyway, I gotta go soon. It’s morning.” He drank the remaining contents of his glass in a single gulp and then carried their glasses and rinsed them on the sink. He returned with a dishcloth and wiped the table with it. His OCD is certainly a plus point, she thought, relieved that she didn’t have to clean up before going to bed.

They’d have hardworking children, at the very least.

He picked up his bag and walked out her door. “Till next Friday.” He waved.

* * *

She lay awake in bed long after he had gone, thinking her usual pre-sleep thoughts.

These days, her mind always returned to that night. She had lain in bed in a fetal position upon returning from the hospital, remembering vividly the feel of the lubricant the ultrasound technician had used on the probe she inserted between her legs. She had scrubbed away furiously the gel that clung to her skin and to her insides, hoping to wash away her discomfort at the necessary intrusion, to no avail.

She remembered thinking, So that’s what a transvaginal ultrasound was! She had often found the word transvaginal funny whenever she saw it painted on the wall of a clinic which she passed on her way to work every morning. She didn’t know what it meant, though, but it reminded her of vampires, the mention of which always made her laugh.

Funny how the things that made her laugh in the past brought about other feelings now.

“You definitely have adenomyosis. When did you find out?” The ultrasound technician had asked her, too casually.

“Adeno-what?” she asked, lying there while the woman continued to twist her probe into her vagina like a joystick.

“Do you bleed profusely during your period?”

“No.”

“But you have painful cramps, right?”

That’s why we’re here, she thought. “Yes.”

“That’s a symptom of adenomyosis.”

Her heart clenched at the confirmation that there was something wrong with her.

For as long as she could remember, she had always experienced profuse pain before her period, but she simply chalked it up to womanhood. After all, other women would commiserate every time she told them about her experiences with pain. She thought, then, that it was something she simply had to bear in solidarity with her sisters.

In addition to the adenomyosis, her tests revealed two myomas in her uterus, positioned, according to her doctor, “where the egg and sperm pass through to meet,” thus having the potential to cause infertility if not addressed.

She was advised to undergo surgery to remove the myomas as soon as possible so that they could start managing the adenomyosis symptoms.

* * *

After a long pause after discussing her options, her doctor looked her kindly in the eye and said, “You must really think about getting pregnant now.”

She laughed her nervous laugh, but the doctor did not laugh with her.

“You see, even if we remove your myomas, there is a chance that the adenomyosis might lead to infertility anyway. So your best option is to get pregnant, have a baby, and then get a hysterectomy. That would get rid of all your problems.”

All around her, the buzz was on babies and kids. Her friends, married or not, were having them one after the other. Ultrasound images, birth announcements, and baptismal invitations appeared on her Facebook newsfeed at a rate that was becoming difficult to keep track of.

But she was honest about not wanting one. Now. She always took care to add the last word lest she be accused of lying when her mind changed one day. Besides, who would she have them with? It had been eight years since her last relationship, and her single status was unlikely to change soon.

“Don’t you have an ex-boyfriend you can ask, you know, for a one-night stand so you can get pregnant?” her co-worker asked. “You know, for old time’s sake.”

“Or if you don’t want that, why not ask a friend to donate sperm for you? You have lots of guy friends, right?” another friend suggested.

“If money is your concern, we can help you raise funds for an artificial insemination, no problem,” still another friend chimed in.

She used to laugh at their earnestness, and wait for them to laugh back, but they didn’t.

They were all serious about wanting her to have a child, as if that was the key to living happily ever after.

One particularly outspoken friend unabashedly declared, “Motherhood is the essence of being a woman, and if you can’t have a child, what’s the point?”

“I want a bikini cut,” Diana told her doctor, during one of her visits before her surgery. Given that having a baby was a virtual impossibility for her now, she had decided to deal with the most urgent matter at hand, which was the removal of the myomas. A bikini cut would result in a horizontal scar that was easier to conceal, as opposed to a vertical one that would run from her navel to her pubis.

“Are you sure?” the doctor asked. “That usually takes longer to heal.”

“I’m sure. I still dream of wearing a two-piece bikini to the beach someday, Doc, and I don’t want my scar to show then.”

“No pain, no gain, huh?”

“Something like that.” She shrugged.

“OK.”

She breathed a sigh of relief.

Coming home from the hospital, she willed herself not to think of pain, medicines, and medical procedures for the rest of the day.

There will be time for those things, she thought.

That night, Diana dreamt of a pink jellyfish bobbing serenely in the ocean. She did not notice the exact moment the creature changed and became a pink infant instead, floating peacefully in the water. She swam close to see if the baby was alive, if it was a boy or a girl, who it looked like, and what its name was, but her alarm jolted her awake, and when she closed her eyes again, the vision was no longer there.