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"Super 40 is a gem that celebrates womanhood in all forms while hooking us with Woodhull's amazing sense of humor." -- The Concordium of Cyliena
"... [The] premise in and of itself is entirely unique and unusual. But little did I know that in essence, the story of Shannon Johnson and her ability to change and save the world would have so many layers to it, a message for every woman who feels as though she's getting lost behind the shuffle of society." -- Sara Steven, Chick Lit Central
"I think Shannon learns a lot in this book and actually inspires others that seem to have a problem with turning 40. They realize that you do not have to act any certain way and that only you control your destiny." -- Storeybook reviews
Divorced, broke, and living with her parents—forty-year-old Shannon Johnson is clearly winning at life.
She’s so awesome, she accidentally uses a tampon irradiated in Kazakhstan. Suddenly, this mush-mouthed loser becomes a superheroine who can shoot menstrual cramps from her fingers.
But her new work of saving NYC’s abused women gets complex for Super Forty. With her teleporting partner Dolly Poppin’, Super Forty runs afoul of domestic abusers, jerky news anchors, and an evil scientist with cats. Even worse, someone’s trying to kill the partners for reasons unknown. Is it the mysterious flying Antihero? The robo-kittens? Or one of the delightful internet trolls always eager to call Shannon fat and ugly?
No matter, for the amazing Super Forty will get her mojo back with some butt-kicking, self-love, and a few hot dates with a famous superhero. Or her hot cop. …Maybe not both dudes at the same time, darn it.
If you ever thought Bridget Jones needed a borked-out superpower, you won’t be able to put down the hilarious adventures of SUPER FORTY. She’s a heroine for every woman society deems unsuitable, which is basically all of us.
To heck with that.
How to Become a Superheroine, Step One: Hit Rock Bottom
My name is Shannon Johnson, and I was thirty-nine years old when, for the first time in my life, I stood up for myself. Over a box of tampons.
I don’t know why I maintained my death grip on them that night in the Duane Reed during a hurricane. Perhaps those forty wads of cotton were the last straw in my pathetic existence: the tampons that broke the camel’s back. In this scenario, I’m the camel—bloated full of water and bleating into an uncaring desert of bad metaphor.
The last dude working in the cleaned-out drug store also didn’t seem to understand why he fought me for the squished box. “Ma’am,” he managed through gritted teeth, as if “ma’am” were the name of his least-favorite zit. “Ma’am, they’re recalled by the manufacturer, and I’m, um, not allowed to sell them!”
I kicked an empty cardboard standee that used to hold canned soup toward his feet, but he leaped over it without breaking our tug of war. Darn his youth!
“Sir,” I replied as pleasantly as possible when chatting about tampons. “They—they look okay to me.” I took a deep breath; talking back was my least-favorite activity, right above not talking back. “Please. They aren’t rotted food. I need them to...to stop...I mean, I use them up...into...within—” I couldn’t say vagina. My mother would never forgive me. A lady doesn’t use words like “vagina” or “pregnant” or “hell.”
Breathe, Shannon. My hands started to sweat, so I redoubled my grip on the box like it was a winning lottery ticket. “Sir, I use these on my...in my…private...you see, when a woman matures, she enters a very special time when...when many changes happen.”
I was in hell. A trickle of rain meandered down my spine, a glob of snot dribbled onto my upper lip. “Please give them to me. Please. They are the last box because of the hurricane. I have been to five separate stores. I’m using wadded toilet paper between my—” My voice began to tip-toe the edge between hysteria and murder and, from the depths of my soul, it all poured out. “There is a super storm about to slam New York City. My period just started. And my divorce papers came today. I’m now living with my parents after my husband dumped me because I’m barren. He’d said my defunct ovaries were okay. That he still loved me anyway despite my not being good for the one thing everyone says wives are supposed to do. He said it right up until I saw on Facebook that he’d impregnated his nineteen-year-old temp!”
The kid gasped.
My throat emitted a horrific sound of despair heretofore unheard by human ears. “Facebook!”
I fell to my knees, and he, wide-eyed, followed me. “I have nothing. Literally nothing. I have no money. No children. No love. I am unlikely to ever get any of those things. But the one thing—the one thing I can have is a mother-pooping box of fart-knocking tampons!” I took a breath. “And some Fritos. God, could I really use some Fritos.”
He dropped the box.
I grabbed a Fritos bag.
Holy cow. I’d never in my life said such words, not even to myself. His face had gone whiter and whiter the more I yelled, while I felt my own grow red like the blood pooling in my pajama pants. Ladies do not wear pajama pants outside the house, but my mom had most definitely lost that battle.
Actually, all the battles today had been mine to lose.
I clutched the tampon box to my chest. “Thank you—” I glanced at his name tag—“Bailey.”
“Um, Jesus Christ,” said Bailey of the Duane Reed.
“I don’t thank him anymore.” I pressed a ten spot into Bailey’s hand. “That guy hasn’t taken my calls for years now.”
I fled into the beginnings of rain to be immediately barreled over by a giant form swaddled in a puffy coat. Wonderful. Maybe the street sludge now gracing my jammies would distract from the snot all over my face.
But people’s gazes had a tendency to slip right past me anyhow.
As I munched on my delightful Fritos, I heard that voice—his voice—inside my head instead of my own, like I always did. “Shannon—” evil-ex Chad would say—“you’re the ugliest depressive I ever saw. Your period, I’m guessing?” Then he’d sigh, type on his phone (never was there a conversation too important to stop texting), and say, “I’m devastated, too. Probably way more than you are because of how much I need a son. But you don’t see me lose my mind once a month.”
Lose my mind.
I sailed the edge of the sidewalk and made my way toward home. Lose my mind, indeed. I’d never cried in front of him. I’d never cried, never screamed, never raised my voice. What I had done was apologize for the red eyes caused by weeping in private over my lost children while he called me unstable. I even sorry-ied with a smile, for that was my role in the marriage. Smiling and feigning happiness and being Mrs. Chad Abercrombie. I was good at it in public. So good. The perfect wife, like the perfect table at a restaurant, or the perfect bow tie to match his suspenders. I understood that silent smiling was my role, and Chad’s to make gobs of money and be the shining king of whatever room we occupied. Well, he occupied, and I Vanna-White-ed.
I should have known not to marry a bow-tie guy. Bow-tie guy is one step up from bolo-tie guy.
Listen to yourself, I told myself on the wet sidewalk. In fact, I heard my dad’s voice instead of Chad’s. Dad had been gently trying to train me to be myself and listen to myself and respect myself. I’d been doing okay—just last week, I’d politely challenged the bodega clerk who hadn’t honored my two-for-one toilet paper coupon—but today...well, ugh, today.
Today my uterus did what she did best. Today, despite the storm, the divorce documents had arrived. I’d known they were coming, as Chad had informed everyone he was finally getting rid of the anchor weighing him down. He’d announced it on Facebook, naturally, to our mutual three-hundred and seventy-eight friends. Wow, what a great website.
Hyedi, his delightfully young paramour, had clicked “like” on the post immediately and followed it up with one of her own, featuring her enormously pregnant belly. She’d tagged me to make sure I saw it. I hadn’t even screamed then, but I had poured my breakfast milk very forcefully.
I’d once read that infertile people have the same depression rates as those enduring major illnesses. Not that you’d know it, because people like me figure out pretty quickly to never, ever tell anyone about our wonky loins. When we do, we’re treated to Infertility Bingo, the funnest game sweeping the nation:
“Have you tried acupuncture? It works for everyone!”
“Well, maybe God is telling you that you’re not cut out to be a mommy, hon.”
“Just relaaaaax. My great aunt’s third sister’s cousin’s friend once tried for forty-two years, but the minute she quit trying, it just happened.”
Bingo! Bingo! Bingo!
Obviously, the reason I’d failed to procreate was so I could spend more time in the rain with my boyfriend, Fritos. I laughed to myself in my own voice, which I considered real progress.
I rounded the corner to my parents’ brownstone and waited, just a moment, before I went inside. To savor my few minutes of alone time. Well, me and my salty boyfriend. Mmmmmm. I shoved six into my mouth. Six was the serving size for Fritos—that’s a fact right there. Solitude happened rarely nowadays with three retired roommates whose only hobby was me.
It had been one year, three months, and twelve days since Chad and I officially gave up on parenthood, after the failed in-vitro fertilization. My third. Eight years trying total. Eight years measured in twenty-eight day increments. One hundred four failures, followed by the prom scene from Carrie in my pants.
If I possessed wild psychic powers like some of the super heroes of Super Duper, you bet your bippy Chad would have hemorrhoids the size of his face.
Chad’s face would be a hemorrhoid.
But I wasn’t a real-life superheroine who graced the front page of the newspaper—a woman with long legs in skin-tight leather, or a caped man who saved orphans to the world’s applause. I was a whole lot of nobody.
...Probably more like a miniscule amount of nobody.
The wind whipped a sodden newspaper page against my hip, and an ache bloomed in my gut—the wonder of who I would be now if I’d summoned the courage to tell Chad goodbye years ago, back when I knew deep down I didn’t love him, yet wouldn’t admit it to myself. But I’d been afraid to be on my own, and I’d wanted a baby.
Ha ha ha.
“Mouse!” called Dad from the second-story window. He stuck his bald head through the open portal, his glasses reflecting nothing but gray afternoon. “You’re standing in the rain, Mouse. Come out of there!”
My life, as narrated by my father.
The moment I walked into the foyer, my victory tampons clutched inside my coat, my mother began vibrating like a wind-up toy. Her cloud of red hair wobbled, her angora sweater fluffed. And her monologue began. I present it here in commercial-free 3D, sponsored by Liv-Long Vitamins, the peppy way for seniors to stay all up in your business.
Part one: stating the obvious.
“Shannon, you are soaking wet! Your pants are dirty. I told you not to wear those pajamas outside. There is a storm brewing. They’re calling it four Katrinas plus a Sandy!”
Part two: How will you ever catch a man?
“Shannon, how will you ever catch a man dressed that way? Bad enough your poor medical problems, heaven save us, but at least you’re still pretty. Well, if you lost the weight you’ve put on since Chad—”
My father broke in. “Don’t say that bastard’s name in this house! I hope his dirty dick falls clean off. He should be ashamed of himself. But is he? No. He’s gallivanting around town with a zygote.”
Part three: Oh, the horror.
My mother huffed, “Bruce, you will not use words like that in this house!”
Leslie, my mom’s girlfriend, paused work on her crossword puzzle in the adjoining living room. “Zygote?”
Dad gave her a thumbs up over his recliner.
Part four: the three of you.
“Shannon and Bruce and Leslie, you all know very well what I mean. We do not use the term—” she dropped to a whisper—“dick.”
Good thing my dad’s name isn’t Richard.
I proceeded toward the downstairs bathroom, Leslie calling, “Hi, kiddo,” on the way by. My parent’s divorce had been amicable six years prior, when Mom came out as bi, and Dad, who’d only stuck around out of habit, gave his blessing. Since they were all retired, and this huge house paid for, they’d stayed in proximity to save money.
I shut them out with a close of the bathroom door—it’s the one boundary Mom would always respect, for things such as (whisper) poop (end whisper) happened in there. Also, periods, and mine was flowing like Mount Vesuvius. Mount Vadgesuvius?
I giggled to myself and opened the battered tampon box. See? They looked fine. I pulled one from the box and tested the string, in case that’s why there were recalled. Nope, all was well, except for my abominable cramps. But bless my daddy—he would always pass me one of his back pain pills when things got really ugly in there.
I sat on the toilet and held the tampon aloft. I had fought for this tampon. Me. In public!
Maybe I could change. Change into one of those women who stomped all over Manhattan in five-inch heels like they owned the place. Back when I’d been a homeowner, I hadn’t really; everything in my life had been in Chad’s name. I’d been such a moron. But in my defense, no one in my family had ever divorced until my mom and dad. Not even Aunt Bitty and Uncle Miles, not even when her second family visited from Poland.
Maybe this tampon represented a fresh beginning. Funny—when I’d been trying for a baby for so long, tampons had been the enemy. But now my only enemy was myself.
* * * * * *
By ten P.M., the storm whirled around us, wild and wet, banging limbs into the house, causing the four of us to jump as a family unit. The power hung on, so far, and we tuned to the local news to get the scoop on the storm now predicted to be eight Katrinas, six Sandys, and a Hunger Games for good measure. The newscasters spoke in breathless voices and grinned from ear to ear at the human tragedy. They seemed vaguely disappointed when they moved on to other news.
Dad discreetly passed me a pill after I’d groaned and buried myself further into my Snuggie. I reached for it and the bowl of popcorn both, but my mother snatched the latter away with a continuation of monologue part two. “Shannon, you need to watch your figure!”
It should be illegal to deny salty snacks to a person on their period. At least I possessed my uterus-tamer, and Leslie winked in a way that told me surreptitious popcorn would soon follow.
Mom and her lady were proof of opposites attracting. Leslie hung loose whereas Mom was, well, Mom; Leslie sported long, white hair she wore flowing like the hippie she was, and Mom’s bright red spikes shot rigidly in every direction. Leslie ate food, while Mom subsisted on unpleasant gasps.
“In other news—” said Tamarin MacEntyre of Channel Five News in her blinding red power suit—“the makers of Sunny ‘N’ Springtime sanitary products have issued a recall of tampons size colossal and colossal plus.”
My mother uttered a sound of sheer horror and fanned herself upon learning that tampons come in colossal size.
“...After their shipping container from Kazakhstan became irradiated by leaking Soviet-era nuclear weapons.”
I sat up, for I currently used a Sunny ‘N’ Springtime Colossal Plus Tampon with Delicate Femme-Action Applicator.
Tamarin continued, “The company says there is no danger to the public, as the effected products were removed from store shelves this week.”
The long breath I’d been holding whooshed from me, and I settled back to inhale the yummies Leslie handed me.
“Except for one box sold this afternoon at Duane Reed at Riverside and 116th street.”
I leapt to my feet, the popcorn jumping faster than my heart rate.
Tamarin smiled like the grin reaper. “The Sunny ‘N’ Springtime company issued the following statement: Our products are absolutely safe to use, but, in an abundance of caution, if you come into contact with a recalled box of our family products, we suggest calling our customer service hotline.” Tamarin added, “I think maybe you should also find some lead undergarments.” Everyone in our house laughed.
I shrieked. My cat Xanadu arched her back and bolted.
“My vagina is a nuclear wasteland,” I whispered.
“Shannon!” Mom stiffened her spine. “Don’t say ‘vagina.’ That’s a word only hippie feminists use.”
“She’s right,” Leslie said. “I vagina use it vagina constantly. Vagina.”
Taking the popcorn with me for strength, I clutched my blanket garment and ran upstairs to my childhood bedroom. With shaking fingers, I looked up the customer service number on my cell and called. It began to ring.
I was going to rot away. I would putrefy, and I’d never experienced hot, dirty sex with a hunky anonymous lifeguard. I’d never performed in a three way with a couple of enormous firemen who had hairy chests and big feet.
Wow, my period made me horny.
An automated female voice burst through the line. “Hello, and thank you for calling the Sunny ‘N’ Springtime company, where things are always sunny in the springtime.” What? My hands sweated. Then my lower back. Oh, my lord. It was happening. “For a list of our corporate departments, press one. For advice regarding one of our wonderful feminine products, press two. For a tour of the Sunny ‘N’ Springtime manufacturing plant in Springfield, ha ha, press three.” Who tours a tampon factory? “And if you’ve purchased a box of radioactive tampons from Kazakhstan, please stay on the line, and one of our customer service agents will assist you.”
She’d turned really cold there in the end, and my boobs started sweating, too. Then I realized I was clutching the hot metal bowl of popcorn to them. I shoved a fistful into my mouth. “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston started playing as hold music. How would I know? I asked myself.
Probably when my ovaries fell out.
At least the pain pill was starting to kick in. One should never have to face a vagina meltdown sober.
“Thank you for holding. I’m Stacy, and you’re on with a hygiene product cheerleader. Yup—” (sigh)—“that really is my title.”
I was going to die.