Interlude Docs

Doc 059: Dodie Bellamy

My mother bought these earrings when I was in high school.  I imagine her decked out in an Indiana mall version of British mod, a paisley-printed sleeveless sheath skimming her knees, her blonde hair cropped short and puffy on top like Cilla Black’s, her pink lipstick a bit too cool for her skin tone. She was more of a sweatshirt and jeans type of woman, but whenever she left the house, even if it was just running to a store to pick up something, she put on makeup, as did I until I went to college.

These earrings speak to the pleasure-loving part of my mother, the way she would laugh until her eyes teared, and that time the summer I graduated from high school she ran around our front yard having a water balloon fight with my friend Ralph. She was wildly charismatic in her working class social circle. In grade school my friends would tell me how pretty she was, though I couldn’t see it. I can’t remember her ever acting insecure. Perhaps there’s no room for insecure when one’s life has been as hard as hers.  I was a wobbly mess of fragility, and over and over she called me a big baby.

My mother was obsessed with making sure I didn’t get pregnant in high school, reminding me that I was born an honorable two years after she got married. Even my father, who never showed any interest in my moral well-being, told me that should I get pregnant they would have to sell the house and move. This was doubly embarrassing since I’d never been on a date and had been sleeping with my girlfriend since grade school. My mother was like this fleshy panopticon, watching my every move, but she never considered I’d be having pervert sex in my bedroom while she was cooking dinner.

She apparently had satisfying sex with my father. She didn’t share much of herself with me. “I’m not your friend,” she would say. “I’m your mother.” But once when I was home from college she told me that she had sex with my father for six months before she had an orgasm. I would imagine that for women of her generation, orgasmic married sex was not a given. After she died, when Kevin and I were in their bedroom, going through my mom’s cedar chest, Kevin noticed a mirror on the wall facing the foot of their bed, level with the mattress. Kevin, who had lots of experience with mirrors, was convinced it was for voyeuristic sex kinks. I stood there, my head swiveling back and forth between my parents’ bed and this weirdly placed mirror, Kevin beside me wide-eyed with a big smile, and I told him to stop it. Just stop.

Dodie Bellamy’s latest books—both from Semiotext(e)—are Bee Reaved, a essay/memoir collection circling around grief, loss, and abandonmen, and a new edition of her 1998 PoMo vampire novel The Letters of Mina Harker. With Kevin Killian, she co-edited Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative 1977-1997. In 2018-19 she was the subject of On Our Mind, a yearlong series of pubic events, commissioned essays and reading-group meetings organized by the CCA Wattis Institute. She is based in San Francisco.

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