The Girls!

Zai Deriu

Red Sky At NightSan Francisco, CAPhotos by Lauri LevenfeldStory by Zai Deriu

This story makes perfect sense, but it won’t, at least not entirely.


I don’t seem to be able to find the right words to write about the night in a fully comprehensive way. I don’t remember what I was thinking at the time, or what words were said, just feelings which may have accompanied thoughts at some moment in time, but have now dissipated into nothing. However, it feels like enough to me.


I was wearing a red dress that night. What other color would it be?

Weeks earlier, it had seemed to present itself to me in the store, catching my hair on the tag, as if to say that it was the one. That I remember clearly. I remember walking to the front of the clothing store and back-bending over the counter, so the electronic tag might be taken out of my hair with the little machine that was supposed to be used while clothes weren’t attached to their buyers, but fortunately for me, it still worked. I would have bought the dress anyways. There was no need for it to attach itself to me. 

I was drinking hibiscus tea which I had made earlier in the day. I watched as the deep red shade slowly seeped out of the leaves and into the water. This I do remember. I stirred in the sugar slowly, so as not to add too much, making sure the bitterness wouldn’t overwhelm the drinker, leaving it a less dominant flavor which helped to compliment the other equally delectable notes. We served it with a ladle into tall glasses so it would last the whole ritual.


We were gathered to celebrate my coming of age. The blood, which I would bleed every month despite not being cut. Phenomenal isn’t it? I wasn’t entirely aware of the gift that the ritual was until later on, though, when I realized just how much confidence it had instilled into me.


This moment is when I stop being able to explain, when I took a sip of the hawthorn. It was said to open the heart, and we passed the cup around, each woman taking a sip of the tincture until it comes back to me. I wanted to take another sip, after all there was a bit left in the cup, and said so. My mothers and our guests laughed, but in a slightly nervous tone, being of its alcoholic nature.


Things start to change. We begin to enter a different realm of thought, where there isn’t. 

The women, all of whom are as close as family, or are, told me things which they thought would be beneficial on my journey into womanhood, but they went right over my head. I think they did. I could have just forgotten the words. Even so it was meaningful, and still is. I knew that I belonged, and that no one was going to judge me in any way for my menstruation, as some people, ignorant of its beauty, might in other places. In that moment, I didn’t feel restless or as if there was anything else in the world I had to do in that moment, which is unusual, my mind tends to wander to places far away from where it’s supposed to be.


My mom gave me a hunting knife. When she handed to me, only it’s handle, made of bone, was visible, the rest covered by its leather sheath. She told me that despite its rather petite nature, it could still be quite deadly if that was the intent. I kept the ceramic cup which we drank the hawthorn from. Marbled in shades of white and grey with a streak of red running through the middle it was. I received a key tied to a red ribbon, which I promptly tied around my neck as a choker, a crystal wrapped with purple wire on a necklace, a circular wooden box, and many more.

Of everything that was said, however, what stands out to me the most was the words of a close friend, Kat, who made sure I knew that no matter what, to always stay true to myself, to never allow anyone to do anything to me that was against my own wishes. She spoke furiously, writing the message into my brain, and I suppose it worked.


Each woman also made at least one page to be added into a book. Myeba, another friend, sent me a page, being as she couldn’t be there for the ritual. It was simple, a cut out picture of an eye which belonged to a man who had been forced into the Japanese internment camps, much like my great grandmother and then my grandma after she was born, followed by the words, stamped with dark ink, “am first in my own heart”.


I am first in my own heart.


It referred to a story that one of my mothers had told her about me. I, as a young child, had said, “Everyone loves themselves first, and everyone should”. I only vaguely remember that, being as it was so long ago, but it resonated with her, and I now have a page in a book to forever to remind me.

Once every woman had spoken, we passed around a ball of yarn, the same shade as our hibiscus tea, and each tied a length of string around their wrist with a marriage knot. As the strings are pulled farther and farther apart, the knot only gets stronger, unlike a normal knot which would simply revert back to its original form. I wore mine until the string wore out, after which I placed it’s remnants on my altar.


We stood up one by one, realizing how much time had passed, and how hungry we were. Or perhaps that was just me? The pasta noodles which we ate were made with beet, turning them a light red color, as was the sauce, and we munched on raspberries, strawberries, and cherries, spitting the pits over the side of the deck and into the garden below.


After we had eaten our fill of the feast, we slipped into the hot tub out back, still eating berries and looking at the moon and stars, talking quietly until we felt as though we might fall asleep and slip beneath the water.


One by one, they left the house, walking out into the cool night air.



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One thought on “Zai Deriu

  1. My heart is happy Zia
    so good to know a wonderful young woman in the world, creative, owning your unique you-ness, smart and with a good deal of wild blood in your inner territory
    many blessings …..always Joanne

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