Dedicated to Sarah Beth Morelli
“Would you consider organizing something?” the director of the Community Center suggested. “Anything,” is actually how she put it.
We were student nurses. This was our second week of six weeks of Community Health. “Try to be helpful,” had been, until then, our only instruction. We had assisted teachers. We had played H-O-R-S-E and Around the World with kids who had never seen horses or been around world. We had taken long lunch breaks in a room with no windows.
No one asked us to teach Sex Ed. No one told us not to. Anticipating shyness, we brought notecards for questions.
If you’re already thirteen and you haven’t got your period would something be wrong with you?
When we arrived, we saw the building was the only one open on a boarded-up block. There were the predictable shortages: teachers, supplies, fans, light bulbs. Only the employee bathroom had toilet paper, and it was brought in from home. Not in short supply were the students, old-seeming children and young-seeming teenagers, huddling daily in the same poorly-lit hallways, venturing briefly onto the asphalt-covered courtyard, clustering in the slowly shifting shapes of outdoor shade.
When one teacher overheard our plan she said, “Good idea.” Another warned, “Be careful.”
Do you feel the baby when you have the peareid?
Your period comes on when youre pregnant or trying to protect it, or when the baby comes?
When you have the baby does the vigin hole expand?
How to learn what was known, or not known, or only partly known? To groups divided by age and gender, we presented our posters of hand-drawn anatomy. To faces, stricken and grinning in roughly equal measure, we said aloud: “Urine and uterus. Semen and sperm.” We mapped out menstruation. We pronounced vans deferens. We touched on consent and contraception.
How Can a Man have the baby?
Sense the egg’s come together to make a baby, how does it make to baby’s?
How old are you before you can use your tampon?
My cousin already Have blood coming out, eww.
What we didn’t anticipate were the tears. We didn’t expect a ten-year-old to raise her hand and ask, “Yeah, but if you want to get pregnant, how do you do that?”
We didn’t remember to bring pens for the notecards, and that is why they wrote with markers, dried out from overuse. That is also why their questions came to us in faded rainbow colors, as if the scrambled sloping letters were not already too much.
What is a batter?
What is the uretha!
What’s the job for the clitoris?
What if you get ramped when your preodie on.
Why were we, strangers, delivering this essential news? We imagined other questions, more pressing ones, too embarrassing or scary to ask. We wondered how they would find the answers they needed. We too had our own set of questions, sitting heavy in our guts, as we walked out of the Community Center for good.