Carmen Carrión



Carmen Carrión is a Puerto Rican American writer who writes fiction, poetry, and drama that reflect her native island culture and U.S. cultures. Born in Puerto Rico, she grew up on and off the island, alternating between Puerto Rican Catholic schools and schools in Germany, Panama and around the U.S. She says, “I write because I hunger to see someone like me in the books I read and the films I see.  As a child, I longed for books and films that reflected me and my family, but there were none.” Her work has been produced regionally and published internationally.  She makes her home in Seattle, where she’s a member of the Latino writers collective Los Norteños.



     I have a strange connection with JFK – his blood and mine flowed on the same day.  Only mine opened up the possibility of new life.  And his ended the possibility of any life at all.

     The day JFK was shot, I started my first period.  At about the time his blood began flowing in Dallas, Texas, mine began flowing in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.  There's no way something like that happening doesn't affect you, your whole life.

     I remember that morning I was in class, sitting on a hard wooden chair in my navy and white Catholic school uniform, and looking at the red hibiscus blooming outside my classroom window.  The nun was talking about La Virgen, and I sat listening, oblivious to my womanhood blooming red between my legs.  I was ten years old.  In fifth grade.

     I went home for lunch as usual and when I went to the bathroom, I saw it -- the blood on my white underpants, the red threads falling, floating and dissolving in the white toilet bowl and clouding the water pink.  At first I just sat there, staring at the blood, then I tried to make it go away, but the more I wiped, the more blood came. 

     I screamed for Mami at the exact moment I heard my Aunt scream just outside the bathroom door.  Later I learned that’s when she heard about JFK on the radio.  Suddenly the hall was full of wails and cries of Le tiraron a el Presidente Kennedy.  Padre Nuestro que estas en el cielo, santificado sea tu nombre.  Kennedy had been shot, no one knew if he would live or die, but it didn't look good. 

     But I would find that out only later.  In the bathroom, I was afraid, afraid I was dying, even though I vaguely remembered Mami talking to me about something she called menstruation.  She came running when I called, knelt beside the tub, pulled the Kotex sanitary pad between my legs and through the garter belt.  I felt embarrassed to have my Mom perform this intimate service for me, almost like changing a diaper.  My legs were shaking so bad I could barely step into the clean underwear she held for me.  Cramps seized my stomach and Mami gave me aspirina, then kissed me on both cheeks, looking at me tenderly.

     "Congratulations, m'ija.  Today, you have become una señorita."  A young woman.  Today I was a young woman, spilling blood so that someday I could give life.  It was too confusing. 

     Then Mami started to cry, and that’s when she told me about JFK, and I didn’t know what to do.  She said come out when you’re ready and left me alone in the bathroom.  I sat on the edge of the tub, my stomach jumping in a funny way.  I wanted to cry, too.  I didn’t really know el Presidente Kennedy, I just saw him on the news, sometimes with his family.  But Abuelito often called me over after dinner and showed me the pictures in the newspaper and read me stories of what Presidente Kennedy had done, and said he was a great man.  Abuelito was stingy with words like great, so I remembered.  I thought about John-John and Carolina and what it would be like if Papi got shot one day at work and then my hands started to shake and I dropped the aspirin to the floor.  When I bent to pick the bottle up, I saw drops of blood on the white tile and on the toilet seat so I got some Ajax cleanser from under the cabinet and a washcloth and scrubbed till there was no trace of pink left.  I searched for other spots to clean but there weren’t any so I finally crept into the hall, trying not to cry and my stomach hurting like there was something in there that wanted to get out.

     When I went into the hallway, I felt unnatural like I was just beginning to walk.  Our house was full of people that had come over for lunch – my two aunts, Abuelito and Tio, six cousins.  I felt sure everyone could see that huge pad between my legs.

     But I shouldn’t have worried. The news of el Presidente Kennedy had everyone in shock.  We all wandered around looking lost, even the adults.  They gathered on the front porch, around the transistor radio, listening to the news reports.  All up and down the street, clumps of neighbors were doing exactly the same thing.  Strangest of all, the adults cried all quiet, shoulders shaking as they tuned in to hear the latest reports.  I’d never seen adults cry this way and it scared me.  I pushed up against Papi and he patted my head, but seeing his tears frightened me even more and I was on my way to hide in the kitchen, when my aunt pulled me over and handed me rosary beads, and I joined my family in prayer.  I felt the beads’ smoothness beneath my fingers, hearing their click click as they bumped up against each other and I felt calmer, joining my family in the murmur of prayers and reciting rosaries under my breath.  I imagined our prayers soaring to the sky, across the sea, toward the President in Dallas and his wife and their children. 

     But even in the middle of the horrible news, I couldn’t forget my period, and wore my embarrassment like a shawl wrapped tight around me.  Mami spread the word about me becoming a señorita and one by one, the women kissed my cheek, offering congratulations.  And for some reason, each of them gave me the identical smile, like the smiles usually reserved for baby chicks you know you’ll feed and love and one day serve for Sunday dinner.


     To this day, decades later, whenever my period comes, I take to my bed for 24 hours.  Not very adult of me, I know.  But my cramps don't feel imaginary like my doctor suggests.  And neither does the sweat that covers my brow, thick as blood.  And when I lay in bed in the middle of the afternoon with all the shades drawn, it's not the pain in my gut that seizes me up and curls me into a little fetal bean child, it's the pain in my heart that regulates the bloodflow, in and out and through my body, just like JFK's did till the day he was shot.  It's the remembered pain of my neighbors on that day, the hurt carved into their faces, mouths breaking in grief, clutching each other for support out in the street, when news that el Presidente Kennedy muriò came through the tinny voice of the radios. 

     In the States, I remember, a nation mourned, and on our island, we felt the grief as if he were one of our own.  We mourned for the end of what was to be.  For the loss of that light of humanity, in so exalted an office.  For the death of a father and leader and son and brother. Our hearts were with the brave widow and her little son and daughter.  Somehow, all of us would have to carry on without him. 

     I was only ten then, but I knew.  I saw it in the news photos of the President collapsed into the arms of the first lady and the red bloom of blood on her pink skirt.  I saw it in the salute of his son, a little boy of three, frozen in his last respects for all time.  I saw it in the lines of people dressed in black, filling the churches of our island with prayers said in Spanish for emotions that were beyond language. 

     I felt the loss of something too precious to put into words.  A farewell to childhood.  Initiation into an adult world, a world divided by gender.   And assassins.  For all of us, I felt innocence bleeding out red. 

     It was a lot to lose, all in one day. 



© The Acentos Review 2015