Well…I am getting an extremely special ring sometime this summer. Sometime between now and my birthday in September, to be exact. So I have made a countdown calendar and as of today, there are, at most, 81 days left before THE RING.
(Bear with me for just a moment.) I figure THE RING will arrive either on my birthday (in which case that will be the full 81 days), or else it will be sometime on the two-week Wild West road trip we are taking in mid-July. And I would really like to finish this story before THE RING appears, because that will feel kind of like closure to me. So anyway, I aim to be done by July 12th, which is when we’re leaving for the Wild West. Because you never know.
In the summer of 2010, I moved down to Bag End University to become a graduate assistant. I was supposed to get a two-year master’s in illustration, and in order to pay for this, I would act as the teacher’s assistant in a huge class of freshman called “Introduction to the Arts.” I got down to campus feeling very conflicted about all this. I really didn’t want to be there, I was still in love with the sax player, and I didn’t understand how the Bag End University culture worked at all.
Everything felt very fake to me at Bag End. Girls were always coming up and wanting to hold your hand and tell you they loved you, and then ask all kinds of invasive questions about your spiritual life. Lady teachers would do this too. I had one girl who pounced on me at the beginning of the semester and railroaded me into being her “spiritual accountability partner” and a lady teacher who did the same thing except she said she was going to be my “mentor.” I had to go and have coffee with these ladies and tell them all my most intimate thoughts, except I didn’t want to so I had to make a lot of stuff up and be very fake.
All the people at Bag End seemed to have been going to mainstream fundamentalist churches for their entire lives, and they had this shared culture, language and shorthand that I really didn’t understand. I had spent so many years in the underground world of Fellowship of the Ring church that I had no clue how to fit into this world. I felt lost.
I shared an apartment with 4 other graduate student girls, and this was very weird. I had been to Bag End camp twice as a teenager, but I had never really lived around any other girls. I didn’t understand how this whole business of chick flicks, filmy scarves, candles and lip gloss worked. The girls spoke in soft cooing voices and were very feminine: they paraded around the apartment in towels and tank tops showing their boobs and butts. I was horrified and fascinated and didn’t know how to deal with them. They tried inviting me to do stuff with them a few times, but it was such a foreign culture that I retreated into myself and avoided them all as much as possible, spending very little time in the apartment.
Eventually Lobelia, the girl I shared my bedroom with, put up a big scarf across her half of the room so we didn’t have to deal with each other. I really didn’t get along well with her and the air between us was very thick and hostile. I could see her twinkling candles and Christmas lights through the scarf and wondered what she was doing back there. As for me, I had a 5’6” skeleton named Wooster in my half of the room. He had been one of my most treasured possessions for years.
Fortunately, I did make a few friends on campus. They were quirky girls: homeschooled weirdos like me, mostly. I spent my free time hanging out with them and eating with them in the Dining Common, and when they invited me to their church (I had to pick a church, everyone at Bag End University does), I went with them.
Their church was a little Brethren church that met in a small, plain chapel. Brethren are a lot like Baptists, but without the trappings of pomp and circumstance. Also, head coverings for women are required, not just recommended. Everyone seemed very kind and welcoming there, so I got some scarves from Goodwill and decided I would just fit in.
At the Brethren church, I met Grîma Wormtongue. He was an upstanding member of the church with a terminal degree in Old Testament Theology. He preached on alternate weekends (the Brethren don’t have one pastor, they have a rotating schedule). He had his own business cutting down trees, and he was 42 years old and very handsome with iron-gray hair. Everyone said he had been going on mission trips his entire life and now he was ready to settle down. He asked me out, and I was surprised but pleased. Oh, my, I thought. What a catch. My parents will be very happy with me. I was 21 years old.
I broke up with the sax player via Gmail chat. He sent me long heartbroken emails for a week afterwards and I was very mean to him. I was going to be a good girl who went to Bag End University and married a preacher boy, and in order to do that, I would have to become a mean person, hard as nails.
To be continued.