Every Tuesday in middle school I would have saxophone lessons with a man named Steve Johns. He had orange hair, always wore a fedora, and smelled of bacon and stale coffee. He was a talented saxophonist who scolded me regularly for not practicing and told me I should take swing dance lessons so I could learn how to keep a beat. I didn't take swing dance lessons.
After that hour, my mom would pick me up and then pick my brother up from his trombone lesson from a man just called “Randy.” Then we’d meet my step-dad for dinner at The Habit Burger Grill, a restaurant that was a staple of my childhood in California but just opened last week in Ballard.
My storied past with The Habit Burger Grill began with this Tuesday tradition—a habit if you will. Like when I had my typical bout of adolescent body image issues and switched from ordering a burger (a classic at a burger grill) to only ordering chicken caesar salads (probably not much healthier). Or, in the future when I was 16, I lost my wallet, and only found out a month later that I had lost it at The Habit when I was asked “is your name Nathalie?” after giving my order. I couldn't go back there for much longer out of sheer embarrassment.
But, there was one particularly important Tuesday during those pivotal years that I will never forget. It was after one of those Steve Johns saxophone lessons on Jan. 20, 2009. Barack Obama was sworn in that day as president of the United States. It was, arguably, a very important day for Obama and for America.
It turns out, after ordering my burger and going to the bathroom, it was a very big day for me.
I’d gotten my first period.
I became a woman in The Habit Burger Grill’s bathroom on Barack Obama’s inauguration day.
When I took a bite of my Charburger with cheese at the new Habit location in Ballard, I was brought back to that moment. I hadn’t told my mom in the restaurant because it was very public and I was obviously mortified. I also was in denial because we are never too young to realize youth is fleeting.
The dining experience is superb at The Habit. It's clean and modern and their cashiers wear crisp blue polo shirts. Their burgers are equally revolutionary. The bottom of the bun is a tiny bit crisp to pack in a satisfying crunch, the burger is juicy and the lettuce/mayo/tomato combo is just the right ratio for necessary refreshment from the sodium-packed sandwich.
I chewed my Charburger happily, glad that I had never had to have my first period again. I remembered returning home from that Habit experience and crying in my bathroom. The wad of toilet paper I’d stuck in my underwear proved that this wasn’t a fluke, it was truly menstruation.
I called for my mom. She was elated. I hate how moms are always elated about their daughters’ bodies changing. We are never elated about that. Give us some sympathy. Stop asking the doctor when our nipples will "bud" when we just tagged along for our brother's doctor's appointment. Give us a solution. All she had to offer me were tampons. They were the dated ones that used cardboard instead of plastic applicators. For the uninitiated, that is a horror story in a Tampax box. To my horror, she made my step-dad go get pads from Rite-Aid.
She let me take the next day off from school. Coming to terms with your biological adulthood is taxing and that first bout of menstrual cramps? Alarming. I watched "What Not to Wear" on TLC and cried more about having to wear what is ostensibly a diaper at the ripe old age of 12. My 7th-grade boyfriend Nathan called me on the landline to ask why I wasn’t in school. I told him it was a mental health day. He said I missed labeling the skeleton in Mrs. Reynolds's biology class.
We went to The Habit next Tuesday and the Tuesday after that. I went through my salad phase. I advanced from pads to tampons. My brother stuck with trombone, I dumped the saxophone. Another Habit opened near my dad's house and my mom's family tradition became less sacred. I had forgotten The Habit was a chain. Still, they make good burgers. I ordered the same burger I always order in Ballard this week. I will do it again sometime soon.