by ELLIE DICOLA
1. Ophelia in the Bathtub
Ophelia’s my favorite character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet because her madness is unreasonable. Of course Hamlet’s mad too, but his is a madness of will and motive, ultimately ’unDivided from himself and his fair judgment’. In contrast, Ophelia’s described as ‘incapable of her own distress’– a vessel, a screen absorbing the sins of the fathers, brothers, lovers, mirrored back outward through frenzied climax preceding that final act upon her–so incapable of her own distress, in fact, that she could not translate it into even the dark agency of a suicide. She died happenstance and unaware as a babe, softly suffocated in water (that symbol of the all-present feminine unconscious), pulled under by the weight of sodden robes.
The dance between passivity and performativity is embedded within a collection of moments, translated across time. Wreaths of pink babybells weave through the maiden’s curls. Her head floats away from her body, on the other side of a murky pink bath gone cold–deflated foam cradling her chin until under, under I imagine she goes. The dainty innocence of powder blue and cherry-blossom peach cast in smooth, sloping porcelain, saucerlike, vessels for milk and water. A spot of mildew in the crack there, where the virgin glimpses the whore. Then, through a gap beneath a restroom stall, surfaces steeped in so much residue of fluid and sweat and fingertip stain, the crisply pleated white skirt hanging low, the bare legs beneath it parted, the feet turned inward, the white tennies soiled by streets and corridors.
There’s a certain flatness that hangs in the room. In the sense of, flatness as honesty. Cast 'through a certain slant of light’, non-spectacular events occur not so much within, but rather upon their environments. The image of warm water cascading from faucet into bath, soap bubbles, unremarkable and rote, elevated and cherished through a frame of tender pink. Above it, a hand pulls at the edge of a translucent shower curtain. Tampons lie idly on smooth surfaces like inert vibrators. Eyelashes curl and skin blushes, a field of muted pink obscures freshly manicured fingers. She draws the bath in preparation–of ecstasy, or death, or simple passing reverie. Calgon, take me away.
2. and who will be your mirror
In a snapshot from the 80’s my mother’s kept all these years, I’m nine and posing in my godparents’ backyard in suburban Virginia. Earlier, I’d broken into Gina Giordano’s pressed powders and oily lipsticks in the bathroom upstairs, smeared them across my face. Aqua blue around my eyes, extending from lid to brow. Two clumsy circles of peach staining my cheeks, and everywhere, my reddened mouth. These forays with makeup began in an incident two years earlier, when I was seven. My mother, a utilitarian and practical woman, didn’t spend much time indulging the senses. Her soaps were unscented, her lipsticks the same color as her lips. In contrast, I spent my days in dreams and fantasies, an only child without TV or video games with which to distract myself. Like all little girls I practiced being a woman: piled each item from my mother’s jewelry box around my neck and wrists on rainy days, stuffed my shirt with two awkward lumps of socks. I had scratch-&-sniff stickers and sparkly pens, but my mother wouldn’t allow makeup, not even the cherry-flavored lip-smackers or Hello Kitty glosses other girls had. One day when I spotted a packaged assortment of potions and polishes during an outing at the mall, I managed to smuggle it home. My mother, noticing a pronounced blush upon my face, searched my room and found the stolen spoils. I was promptly marched back to the department store to apologize.
By the time I had my first job at sixteen, I was spending all my money on cosmetics at People’s Drug. My arsenal of creams, cottony perfumes, baby oils and bronzers, were more than devices of idealized beauty (though there was that phase too, till I started doing weird thinks like dying my hair pink and wearing my grandmother’s oversized polyester to school in DC summer heat). These were the mirrors, the lenses–through which emerged a female self, visualizing, performing, inhabiting so many incarnations, tested and shed like a wardrobe of frocks piled on the bed.
LiveJournal, July 19, 1994: Summer break. Warm, lazy, bored. Mom needs the car for work so I can’t go anywhere during the day unless I walk. My only option being the shopping center 4 miles up Hunter Mill Road. I can only take so much sitting around, so I walk there every day, have a Slurpee, buy a new lipstick at the drugstore. Sometimes too I walk over to Dyane’s and hang out, when her mom’s not being really strict. The other day we called Ross from her room and talked three-way on the phone. He has a crush on her and it’s so obvious, but Dyane can’t 'see’ boys that way. She’s not even allowed to wear makeup–we do up our faces in secret then wash it off. Dyane’s gonna grow into a freak because she’s not allowed to do anything. Or maybe snap and do something crazy like in the Virgin Suicides when Lux Lisbon got maybe-pregnant and grounded forever, then slit her wrists or something. I think about that sometimes, crazy thoughts just sort of pop into my head and I don’t know why. Like sometimes while I’m shaving I imagine that the razor will slip, or my hand will slip and with one sudden impulse, it’ll all be over. I don’t want to **die**, I just get these curious thoughts. ///
LiveJournal, July 17, 1994: Last night Beth and I were up till 3 (!!!) on the phone. It was so fun til we got caught. I’m sure she was in so much trouble after that.
The first time I stayed up all night was last year. I didn’t really mean to, but they were playing Led Zep & Cream & Jimi on the classic rock station, which I hadn’t ever heard before, and 'Sunshine of Your Love’ got stuck in my head on repeat. I didn’t do much of anything in particular, except stay up in my room, just didn’t feel like sleeping. Smoked cigs out the window, painted my nails neon fuchsia (incidentally matching my phone), daydreamed about how cool it would’ve been to be alive in the 60’s when everyone was running away to San Francisco, painting their faces and taking drugs. I’ve never smoked pot but all the stoner chicks seem so cool in an intimidating (because I’m not that cool) badass kind of way. At school the next day after that I was an absolute zombie, tripping out on sleep dep with my ears ringing and head spinning in a simulated purple haze.