Cramps are when your ass hurts and your crotch hurts and your back hurts and mostly your abdomen has something crushed tight inside it which is intent on spreading out into a ripe vulgar bloom of pain. Pain and nausea twist around each other and will not be broken apart.

You have to leave work early. Your boss is smug about it because she never gets cramps. Her thighs are narrower than yours too. Suddenly that is so important and so obvious to everyone.

On the way home you wonder if other drivers are seeing you grimace and wondering if you are crazy or just a woman. You whack the steering wheel when you can gather the energy.

You cannot stop thinking about your boss's meanness. You cannot stop thinking about anything unpleasant. The worst part of cramps is your inability to censor thought, to change the subject. You try to think about clouds and grass, but those won't stick. The radio is no help because everything is bad. Talk radio is about how all our lives are ruined. NPR is about money. Red Hot Chili Peppers are strangely soothing until you start thinking about penises and socks and you cannot decide which is worse. All your organs want to get out of your body.

Driving over the speedbump in front of your apartment makes you want to cry, because of the way the pain sludges inside your belly, and from the small relief of being home where you can curl over and try to breathe. You are hot and cold and hot. You hit the curb when you park and it embarrasses you and waves of queasy shame roll over you as you try not to look like you're injured as you get out of the car. You feel like a big stupid baby.

The smell of your apartment, the smell of your own hands, the smell of the joint you are trying to roll, all are twisted, gone wrong. You empty the wastebasket just in case. The dirt and paper clip at the bottom are more than you can bear. You would like to cry, or talk to yourself, but both are tiring and neither will get you anywhere, ever.

I don't care what your health textbook told you was the point of this ritual, the bleeding is only a side effect.