Because I am feeling very daring today, I have decided to wear CHEVRONS on the bottom and CHECKS on the top. I am telling myself that this works because they’re all sort of from the same place on the color wheel.
In any event…Here’s where the timeline sort of gets fuzzy. I don’t remember things in chronological order any more because everything was crazy. The job exploded: I was staying in the office till two and three every morning grading, processing piles of papers and entering data into the online system. I got off to a rocky start because I didn’t totally understand the computer program, was supposed to have uploaded the first round of quizzes before the first class meeting and didn’t, and there was a huge backlog in the system. The Dean of Fine Arts was very, very angry with me. I worked longer hours, my sleep suffered, my schoolwork suffered. I was taking three art classes and didn’t really have time to do well in any of them.
In addition, I hit it off very badly with Mrs. Saruman, the gimlet-eyed art advisor who also, unfortunately, taught two of my painting classes. (She had a long, hard face and thin hair, and always wore ridiculous little-girly hairbows.) I remember a very patronizing interview where she told me I had time management issues (well, I did), and that the solution to these issues was to remember that I couldn’t do anything on my own and to surrender my rebellious spirit to God. I’m going, um, ok. We are all praying for you, she said: that was how most unpleasant conversations at Bag End University seemed to end. (Sadly, it’s a phrase that makes me cringe now.) Another mantra was the you-are-a-worthless-doofus-and-can-do-absolutely-nothing-on-your-own speech, which I heard so many times that I began to believe it. Mrs. Saruman did her best to make this truism a reality for me in her art classes: using her own (subjective and un-explainable) criteria, she saw to it that my projects received the lowest grades in the class. (They weren’t my best work, but they weren’t THAT bad.)
The dorm supervisor lived in the apartment next door to ours. She was young and drop-dead gorgeous, an Elizabeth Taylor look-alike; I didn’t know her well, just passed her on our shared doorstep, but admired her from a distance. I found out later that her youth and beauty made her a much better spy.
Lobelia, my roommate, wasn’t talking to me. She’d stalk in and out of the room in the morning in her towel and not say a word; I’d say “Good morning” timidly and she wouldn’t answer. She hadn’t really acknowledged my existence since the night I’d gone to Artist Series with Grîma Wormtongue, come back and put my enormous bouquet in a jar on the nightstand. Perhaps the last lovely thing about my connection with him, the bouquet had dark leaves, waxy tiger lilies and spider lilies and sprays of peach-colored berries. I ate one of the berries at Artist Series, just to be weird, but wore sprigs of them in my hair for the rest of the week. I was the only girl in the apartment who’d gone to Artist Series with a man.
The whole climate in that apartment just got weirder and weirder. I spent as little time as possible there. It felt funny, like they were watching me.
It was maybe a few days before Thanksgiving break when Elizabeth Taylor, the lovely dorm supervisor, emailed me. She asked me in a very sweet, friendly way if Amelia, one of my other housemates, and I could come over that evening and chat in Elizabeth Taylor’s apartment for a while. My danger-radar went off; the perfectly sweet, friendly tone clued me in. I emailed her back, “Am I in trouble?” She said ever so sweetly, oh, no, of course not, there was just something she wanted to talk about.
I ran all the way back from a pick-up volleyball game with my friends and knocked on the door, out of breath, shortly after nine. No, that’s not right: I must have gone into our own apartment first and called Amelia, but I don’t remember doing that. She must have been with me, but it seems like I walked into Elizabeth Taylor’s apartment alone, and found out I was walking into a trap.
Details get streamlined, smoothed after a few years. Only the important things stand out, and sometimes you remember impressions more clearly than words. I remember the feelings clearly, like a succession of very vivid, nameless watercolor images. The quiet warmness of Colleen’s apartment, decorated in muted oranges and browns like the inside of a pumpkin. She had a tall, black iron candelabra with three fat candles in it. Lit. Warm pumpkin-y smells…And there were other people in the room. Not just Amelia…Bedelia, Lobelia. Surprise party.
I remember the trapped feeling…scared, disoriented. Hugs all around. Sitting down on the couch to be arraigned: I knew it was an arraignment by that point. Elizabeth Taylor asking me if she knew why I was here. I said “Is it something to do with the, uh, the communication issues in the apartment?”
“Yes and no,” Elizabeth Taylor said. “It’s something more than that…something more serious. We’ve had …concerns.”
Concerns. Red flags, they said. At that point I felt like I was in a nightmare, and in the soft lighting I looked over at Amelia’s enormous eyes and felt I was about to be accused of something unimaginably obscene. They think I’m a lesbian, I thought.
I said “What concerns? About what?”
“Well, we’ve just had concerns.” And they started to list them remorselessly, going round the room, this mountain of “evidence” that they’d all gathered over the past months. Amelia, Bedelia, Lobelia. They had been watching me, spying on me: it wasn’t just my imagination. They thought I was “obsessed with thinness.” I was very thin. I had a skeleton in my room. (I bought him in college so I could draw him.) I’d made remarks a couple of times about not being able to fit into some dress. I took “too long in the bathroom.” I never ate with the roommates. (The implication was that I never ate at all.) I was a loner, kept to myself. I’d “moved the mirrors” in the room so I could “see myself from all angles.” (I didn’t even remember having moved them.) I had “a gallon of milk” in the fridge. (WTF.) Last of all, some bizarre, concocted story about my having “borrowed and worn” some black bikini of Lobelia’s and then “hidden” it. (I’d never seen the thing.) At some point I realized I was being “accused” of anorexia.
I blurted out, “Do you think I’m anorexic? Is that it?”
“Well, there are indications. Red flags. We’ve all been talking about it.” They thought it was best to have this meeting to let me know that they were praying for me, they had talked to the Dean of Women, they wanted to get me help, they were doing all this out of “love” and “concern.” Some of them had struggled with eating disorders in the past, too, and…
I said, feeling more and more trapped, “But I don’t have an eating disorder. Or anything. This is ridiculous.”
‘It’s okay…You can tell us. We want to help.”
Lobelia was lying about me. That bathing-suit story: there was pure hostility in her eyes. It was a conspiracy. They were going to keep me there until I told them what they wanted to hear. I was definitely crying at that point.
“I’m not, I’m absolutely not. Never have been. I’ve always been this thin ever since I was a kid.”
“Well, if you’re not, then what are you doing in the bathroom all that time?”
Now I was supposed to clear myself, if I could. So I had to plunge into the humiliating routine of what, exactly, I did in the bathroom for what they thought was such a long time. “I wash my face. I do stuff to my acne, I put on medicine. I do have acne. I put on foundation, I put on cover-up…” I felt violated. Horrid hostile girls have no right to know your private bathroom routines.
I don’t remember how I addressed the rest of the charges, or really what happened for the rest of the meeting, or how we broke up, except of course for the inevitable unctuous prayer. I think the general consensus was that they were still firmly convicted of my anorexia and I should be kept under scrutiny until further notice. I fled the pumpkin-scented apartment bawling: that much I remember. And feeling as though I wanted (for the first time in my life) to stick my finger down my throat and throw up.
To be continued.