The Fifth Zone

The Fifth Zone by Lisa Vihos

It was the summer I was nine-going-on-ten. All the grown-ups were telling me how big I was getting. I was determined to keep things little. I had my collection of perfume Little Kiddles arranged on my dresser, Apple Blossom, Sweet Pea, and Rosebud, all in their little bottles. I had started the summer reading Little House in the Big Woods and ended with Little Women. I remember this because just like every summer, I was a participant in our local library’s youth reading program.

The idea was to keep wild children like me literate through the hot, empty days of June, July, and August. To help us mark our progress, the librarians always created a landscape diorama on a large table in the middle of the reading room. Each summer, we got a new theme: Wild West, outer space, the circus.

Each reader got a pipe cleaner person to be his or her marker in the display. Girl-people had triangular skirts to distinguish them from boy-people who were just stick figures with no identifying attributes. Much to my dismay, when that summer began, I developed the need for a training bra. Along with it came a hatred for my new outline. My pipe cleaner self had no breasts. Totally linear, she made me happy.

The table was always divided into four zones. After you read your first three books and visited the librarian’s desk to report on each one, you earned your figurine. You got to attach a slip of paper to it with your name and age noted. Mine said, Lisa, 9. You got to plant yourself wherever you wanted to be in the first zone.

That summer, the theme was the Middle Ages, and its entry point was a farmer’s field. Three books and three reports later, I entered the zone of the jousting match. After that came the medieval town with shops and tiny displays of things medieval people would want to buy. I saw no training bras there.

On the day that I gave my final report on Little Women, I got a pat on the head from the librarian, and delivered myself into the medieval feast. There was a table laden with fake miniature food. There was a king and a queen. I sat at the table with them, feeling proud.

When I got home on that grand day of literary triumph, I went for a pee and noticed something brown in my underwear. I thought, gee that’s weird. I figured I must have had a touch of diarrhea in all the excitement. I changed my underpants. About 45 minutes later, something felt not right down there, so I went back to the bathroom and found more brown crud. I was only mildly alarmed. I changed again.

Within the hour, a third brown stain in my underwear forced me to get my mother involved. She looked at my undies and explained the situation. I was devastated. I did not understand how such a thing could be happening to me. I wouldn’t even be ten for two more weeks. Would I smell funny?

Mom gave me an elastic belt with hooks. It had the look of a medieval torture device. I learned to twist the ends of an absorbent pad into the hooks. Mom tried to cheer me by informing me that in her day, all she had was a rag.

That afternoon, I passed unexpectedly into the fifth zone; a zone the librarians had not built on their diorama table. I wanted to turn all the clocks back. I wanted to remain little forever, but growth was out of my control. Womanhood happened.

I entered the fifth zone with no map to guide me. I suffered monthly cramps and flows of blood that sometimes kept me home from school. I watched my girlfriends get their periods at age twelve and thirteen and thought, Ha, finally! Join the club!

Then one day, many years later, I gave birth to a son, my only child. I remember sitting in the hospital bed, holding my new baby in my arms. A flood of meaning swept over me and finally it all made sense. I remembered the little girl I once had been. I thanked her for all those years she’d spent with her head buried in books, letting go time and again of her own blood.


About Lisa Vihos

The poems of Lisa Vihos have appeared in Big Muddy, The Camel Saloon, Forge, Main Street Rag, Mom Egg, Red Cedar, Red Fez, Seems, Verse Wisconsin, Wisconsin People and Ideas, and Y.A.R.N.. She has two Pushcart Prize Nominations and two chapbooks: A Brief History of Mail (Pebblebrook Press, 2011) and The Accidental Present (Finishing Line Press, 2012). She is the Poetry and Arts Editor of Stoneboat Literary Journal and an occasional guest blogger for The Best American Poetry. She is currently working on a memoir that tells about her life growing up as the daughter of two artists. Visit her blog at Frying the Onion.

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