“Se siente bien, maestra?” the student who was sitting directly in front of me asked. “Are you ok?”
I could barely respond. I was standing there, in the middle of the circle of students–my favorite format for conducting class– trying to keep my “cool” and remember what I was doing there. I had felt a hot flash mounting up my legs from the very bottom of my feet, increasing temperature as it ascended, until it got to its highest tension in my face and head. It then erupted in visible sweat that flashed my face and made my neck and armpits moist. It was a power surge indeed, and my face was red as a tomato and my consciousness astral travelling.
When I was able to finally come back to my senses, I sat down in front of twenty faces that looked at me in horror. And then I calmly said: “It’s a hot flash!”
That day I learnt that it was better to warn my students as soon as I felt the glimpse of a hot flash coming. It didn’t matter if I was lecturing about tango women or Eva Perón, or if the designated student was giving a presentation about that day’s reading. As soon as I felt my head becoming lighter at the onset of what I felt was an of out-of-body experience unfailingly resulting in a dangerous increase of my body temperature, I would yell “Hot flash!”
In time, my students became accustomed to my interruptions of lectures with the disclosing in real time of what my body was going through. They actually started liking the fact that they were privy to my most intimate symptoms punctuating the change I was undergoing in menopause. And one of them, compassionate enough of my desperation to find anything to fan my fiery body with during those trances, one day came to class with a “present.”
“Maestra,” she said. “Last weekend I was in Las Vegas, and my older sister took me to this show, Menopause, the Musical. It reminded me of you. They were giving out these cute fans to audience members, and I thought it would come in handy when you’re teaching class and those hot flashes take you by surprise. “
I looked at the simple tool: a white hand fan with the inscription Menopause, the Musical on its reverse side. I looked at it in appreciation, and thanked the student for her mindfulness. I understood then the importance of these gadgets, and how I had seen my abuelita holding the most exquisite collection of silk fans during her outings. She was a pro at opening and closing it with just a twist of her wrist in a gesture that made her look as a sophisticated matron, who knew what to do with her hands in social gatherings. So now I knew what those fans were actually for!
Needless to say, I tucked the white fan in the bag where I carried my books and folders. It accompanied me to school during those long peri-menopausal years and helped me cool off when needed. It was also good that my school fan was simpler than the beautifully embroidered ones that my abuelita flaunted during tea parties and other social occasions. All things considered, Amalia’s thoughtful gift might have been plain, but it embodied her care, and it also kept me “shame-free” at school.
*bochorno means “shame” in Spanish. The same word was used to name hot flashes, referencing a link between uncontrolled body reactions in aging women and shame.