I was digging through the trash can outside the CVS store when a tiny voice called out, “Can I help you with that?”
Looking over my shoulder I eyed a young woman pushing a bike. Her reddish hair was swept back in a ponytail. She wore a grey t-shirt and baggy jeans. “Can I help you?” she asked again.
“No, thank you,” I replied. “I can do this.”
She pushed her bike right up next to me. “I know how to do this,” she said. She opened the back of the container and pulled the trash can out, making it easier for me to do the diving. I had stopped at the pharmacy the night previous to pick up some hair spray and other sundry things because you know, it’s the South. A girl can’t be seen in public without a generous dousing of Aqua Net.
“What are we looking for?” she asked. She spoke in the voice of a little person eager to please. Sounding much like a six-year old school girl, the kind that sits in the front of the class and is always the first to turn in her paper. The kind of voice that makes dumpster diving seem like a grand adventure. A hunt for treasures yet undiscovered.
“A white paper bag,” I said. When I’d stopped in the dark the night prior, I had cleaned out the car, stuffed everything into a white paper sack and thrown it away, along with my retainers. I knew it was a long shot that the trash would still be there, yet, I had been compelled to try. I raised four kids. This wasn’t my first foray into digging into murky trash cans looking for tossed out items that should never have been tossed out.
We each managed to pull two white sacks from the trash. There was always that quick glimmer of “perhaps this one?”, but alas, no. The trash man had done his job. Cleaned out what was left last night. We were into the next day’s garbage.
“Thank you for helping,” I offered.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t find it,” she replied.
“No worries,” I said. “It was my fault. I didn’t think we would find it.”
She put the trash can back, picked up her bike. “Do you happen to have a tampon?” she asked. “I’m bleeding a little.”
“No, but I can go into the store here and buy you some.”
“Oh, that would be great! Thank you!”
“Any special kind?”
“No. Anything. Thank you.”
Tampons are one of those items you outgrow the need for, like condoms, like baby formula. I wandered the aisles, picked up a box of supers, hoped that wouldn’t mean that she would overwear them causing toxicity. When you are low on toilet paper, you use less than normal. When you are low on tampons, you overwear them.
She took the blue box from me, thanked me, went over to a grassy knoll, sat down next to her bike, and hugged the box to her face and declared, “Thank you, God! Thank you!” in that small person voice of hers.
She hugged a box of tampons.
Thanked God for a box of tampons.
Do you have any idea how difficult it is for a woman to have to beg for tampons?
She didn’t ask me for money. Never once said, “Can I have a dollar?” She only offered to help me dig through the trash and then asked me for a tampon. “I’m bleeding a little,” she had said.
When my three daughters lived at home, they used to have their daddy make their tampon runs. They were too shy, too embarrassed to go into a store and buy their own tampons at 14, at 15, at 17. And because I married one of the finest men in the entire world, their daddy always made their tampon runs for them. Always. He didn’t want his daughters to be embarrassed for anything in the world.
Women, of course, shouldn’t feel shame over life blood. Ever. But of course our culture is imbued with religious overtones and, if raised up in the church as our girls were, it’s hard to totally dismiss the notion that menstruating makes a woman unclean.
It takes an inordinate amount of humility to beg for a tampon from a complete stranger.
After visiting with the girl in the ponytail awhile longer, I went back into the store and bought her some other items she needed.
She hugged me when we parted. Thanked me in that excitable way of a child just granted admission to Disneyland.
I got into my car, backed out of the parking lot, weeping as I drove for all the women of the world who have to beg for tampons. The radio was tuned to a station in which Senator Graham was pontificating on all the reasons why the richest nation in the world shouldn’t be offering medical care to Americans who can’t afford it.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND: A Novel. (Mercer University Press).