Big hats and big fake smiles: Episode 16.

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One week after the assault, I was called in to the board of art teachers for my semester review. This included Mrs. Saruman and the rest of the head art teachers, and it felt a lot like being called before the kangaroo anorexia board, except more formal. They were all very kind and gentle, and they said that from what they had observed, I had time management issues, my work was not up to graduate student level, and essentially I was not graduate assistant material, or a good enough artist for the art program. So they were going to let me go from the program, and maybe I could come back in the future as a regular, paying student if I decided to attend.

I could stay until Christmas break and then I was going to go home, never to return.

I remember thinking, “Well, I would have gotten kicked out anyway if anyone had walked in on me and Grîma Wormtongue in the office, so I guess this is just what I deserve anyhow.” Nevertheless it was a terrible blow. I had graduated summa cum laude from a state school, on a full scholarship! I was a very good student! How was it that I had suddenly become too worthless to attend unaccredited Bag End University? I felt like an utter failure, and I thanked the review board politely, walked back to my dorm room in a haze, and when I was by myself, said “Fuck.” This was the first time I had ever used this word, though I am afraid not the last.

I felt like the world was pretty pointless now. That night, or maybe it was the night after, Grîma Wormtongue started badgering me to send him lingerie photos again, and I gave in and went ahead and took them in my dorm room, and sent them. I felt so icky and dead inside already, it didn’t really make me feel any worse. It also made me feel like there was at least one person in the world who approved of me.

Before Christmas vacation, I packed up my skeleton and my other things and went home. I was in disgrace. Nobody in my family had ever been dismissed from Bag End University before. There was no room for me in my parents’ little house, so the skeleton went into the basement and I crammed my clothes into a tiny dresser and slept on a pull-out couch in the back bedroom. My mother told me that they had decided I was not allowed to see Grîma Wormtongue for a few months, or go the Brethren church anymore, and so I would need to come to Minas Morgul Baptist church with my family instead. I asked permission to go back to the Brethren church one last time, for a Christmas service, and they said that was ok. So I did, and that was the last time I went to the Brethren church.

Minas Morgul was much more awful than I had remembered. Since I was there as a little kid, they had built an endless honeycomb of new rooms and a bigger auditorium, and this new auditorium was entirely filled with conservative Bag End people with fake smiles, sugary voices and big hats. The sermons were very long and full of guilt trips, and the music was a huge production of orchestra and choir arrangements. The sugary people were always coming up and asking “Oh, so you’re a GA at Bag End?” and I would have to say “No, not any more,” and they would say “Oh, what are you doing then?” and I didn’t know what to say. Worse, every Wednesday night you had to pair up with a Minas Morgul person for prayer time, and make up a long holy prayer so you would look holy in front of them. It was like Mentors and Spiritual Accountability Partners but 1000 times worse; I just couldn’t stand it. I didn’t belong, didn’t fit in, didn’t know what to do. I took to hiding out in the bathroom during prayer time and strategically timing my re-entry for when all the sugary people were drifting back to their seats.

My mother also had a very hard time adjusting to having me back at home. All the bad blood from the sax player episode had been festering while I was away at school and we had a very hard time getting along with each other now that I was back. Any time I wanted to go out and do something with any of my friends from Bag End, there was almost a military series of checkpoints to be passed through: who with? Boys or girls? Where are you going? Till what time? She randomly screamed at me for “texting” people and threatened to confiscate my phone.

It may seem strange but talking to Grîma Wormtongue at this point felt like my only lifeline. He said he wanted to marry me, and that he wanted me to get “out of there,” by which he meant out of my parents’ house. I decided I was going to try to get a job, get a car and move out, in that order. My friend Bilbo from the Brethren church set me up with a cashier job at a café downtown, where he was a manager and part owner. (My dad and all my boyfriends have always been suspicious of Bilbo, but he and I have really always just been friends.) My dad dropped me off each morning on his way to work, and I started to make a little bit of money, but not very much. Sometimes gentlemen at the café said I was pretty and gave me tips. One nice man smiled at me and gave me a $10 bill and said “Follow your dreams,” which I thought was lovely of him.

Around New Year’s, I made a resolution that I was not going to put up with Grîma Wormtongue’s dirty talk any more and I told him I wasn’t going to listen to it or play along with it, or send him any more pictures. Well, then Grîma Wormtongue got upset and we had a long phone argument where he told me he was attracted to all kinds of other girls who were skinnier than I was, and he still wasn’t over his last skinny ex, and he certainly wasn’t going to ask me to marry him unless he was properly attracted to me. And so I decided I’d just had enough of Grîma Wormtongue. But instead of breaking up with him myself, you know what I did? I went and CONFESSED to my mother that he and I had “gotten physical” in my office when I was at school.

In retrospect, this was a very, very stupid thing to do. First my mother screamed at me, and took away my phone and said I was never, ever getting a phone again; then she called Grîma Wormtongue at two o’ clock in the morning and screamed at him and told him never, ever to come near her family again; then she sent a screaming email to his nice sister, telling her that Grîma Wormtongue was a porn addict pervert and she should never, ever let him around his nephews again. And then she proceeded to give me the silent treatment, punctuated by lectures on my whorish behavior, for days and days and weeks. She stole my diary, where I’d unwisely mentioned the pictures I’d sent, and then she began calling me “Little Miss Porn Queen.” It became increasingly difficult for us to be around each other.

To be clear: I didn’t tell my mother I was assaulted. I didn’t really have the vocabulary for it at the time. When I’d processed it a bit more, I finally told her a year or so later, and she was fairly sympathetic and went out and got me a book from the Bag End bookstore called “Problems with Teenage Dating.” (“Well, it has a chapter on assault,” she said.) The book was not helpful, but I appreciated that she tried.

I never saw or spoke to Grîma Wormtongue again, at least, and I was happy about that. I decided I was done with preacher boys forever and ever.

To be continued.

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