The anticipated weekend finally came! Legolas and I were dropped off at Bag End to watch Pride and Prejudice, and then my father dropped us off again downtown and told us he would pick us up again at ten o’clock. We had some coffee at Spill the Beans, and while we were sitting outside in the dark, flower-scented night drinking it, Legolas told me he was “as serious about me as anybody could be” and asked me to be his girlfriend. It turned out he had already talked to my father and gotten his permission, and of course I said yes! I was over the moon.
I couldn’t believe such a wonderful thing had happened to me and I felt as if my life were finally falling into place.
I think the first inkling I had that things were not going to be easy came a few weeks in, when I came into the house after a phone call with Legolas. We were punch-drunk on love, and he was talking about how he felt so happy with me and couldn’t wait to marry me, and he wanted to fly me out to California to meet his family. I was walking on air, and I came into the living room and told my mother. She got a very hard, frozen look on her face and said I was most certainly not going to be allowed to go out to California unchaperoned, and nobody in the family was going to make time to go with me, so unless Legolas’s family came here, that was going to be the end of that. I came down off my cloud with a bump and realized that courtship was not going to be very fun.
It turns out, courtship is almost exactly like the humiliating scenario my mother had laid out so many years before: “If some ‘BOY’ comes and says, ‘I would like to take Kay to the zoo,’ Daddy and I will say, ‘The whole FAMILY will go to the zoo.’ “ We went on a number of complicated family outings, where my little sisters, who loved Legolas, chattered so hard to him that I could not get a word in edgewise. My mother and father held hands on these trips – something they never did at any other time – as if to underscore the fact that THEY were allowed to hold hands, and Legolas and I were NOT. On one of these outings, Legolas put his arm around my shoulders for a picture. Mom got very upset.
Legolas was not used to courtship and did not appreciate all these restrictions. But he played along and put up with everything in the sweetest way possible. He sent me a complicated cipher in the mail, and I solved it after several weeks and it said “I love you.” He brought me books and flowers and emailed me sweet little poems while he was at work.
As Legolas and I fell more deeply in love, my mother began behaving more and more bizarrely and erratically. During his weekend visits, she would randomly burst in and scream at us for things we hadn’t known we were doing wrong: “You’re LYING ON THE GRASS! GET UP!” “You’re USING INAPPROPRIATE AFFECTIONATE LANGUAGE in front of the kids!” (Yes, we dared to say “I love you.” Shocking, I know.) Once, at dinner, Legolas casually mentioned something about a pro-life campaign he’d been involved with. One of my little sisters piped up: “What’s abortion?” My mother screamed at Legolas: “GET OUT OF MY KITCHEN!!!”
I grew to dread the end of the weekend when Legolas would go home, because the minute he drove away, my mother would pounce on me with a list of the things I had been doing wrong. “You were sitting too close to him! I saw you touch his hand! I saw your bra under your shirt! That dress you had on looked like a slip!” She set arbitrary rules and curfews for how long I could talk to him on the phone, and when. I would go out in the backyard for some privacy and if I stayed out a minute after ten (or maybe eleven, I can’t remember), she would lock all the doors on me.
I was not allowed to email him after a certain time at night. Once I got up in the middle of the night because I had thought of a (perfectly innocuous) poem, and emailed it to him. Unwisely, I left my laptop open on the table. My mother got up early in the morning, pulled up my email, saw the 2:30 am timestamp, and ran into the living room where I was sleeping, where she proceeded to pull the exercise mats out from under me and dump me onto the floor, screaming at me for disobeying her. (Oh, yes, that’s right. The couch in the back bedroom was broken, so I was sleeping on exercise mats in the living room at this time.)
Legolas was very active in his church, a conservative Baptist church in Aiken, SC, where he headed up the children’s programs on Wednesday night. We all took a trek down in our huge van to visit his church one Sunday. It was a lovely congregation with warm and welcoming people, and I felt comfortable there. Unfortunately, the music was a little bit bouncy and country-fried, which absolutely horrified my mother. She got very angry on the ride home, would not speak to me for two or three days, and then threatened to kick me out. (Because I loved Legolas and he had the wrong type of music at his church, I guess.) My father eventually pacified her and she subsided into quiet mutters.
My own insecurities also made things difficult. Legolas was very sweet and respectful and never touched me without my permission. He used to ask if he could hold hands with me when we walked around the block. (We were allowed to walk around the block together, and we would hold hands when we were out of sight of the house, and then drop hands when we were in sight.) But I was still processing everything that had happened with Grîma Wormtongue, and any type of physical contact, even completely innocent, scared me. It took a long time for me to be ok with a hug or a peck on the cheek, and I was constantly having small panic attacks, second-guessing and over-analyzing. Legolas assured me that he would never do anything to hurt me, and he never betrayed that trust. But I still had a hard time trusting him. I know that hurt and puzzled him.
My mother kept fanning the flames by bringing up the swing dancing and asking if it made me jealous. I said no, of course not – but the truth was, it did, a little. Legolas got to go out and have fun several times a week with all these pretty girls, while I was stuck at home waiting for him to text me back. Maybe if I had been able to go with him I wouldn’t have been jealous, but I had no way of knowing for sure. I brought the subject up with him a few times, and he assured me that dancing was just fun for him and he wasn’t attracted to anybody there.
At the same time, it was confusing because sometimes Mom would praise me and say I was “doing courtship right” and I was a “good example for my sisters.” She told me that she liked Legolas and that he was a very nice young man, and she put his birthday on the family calendar. I lived for these moments of approval and they made me all the more determined to do things right. I imagined I would have a white wedding in a modest dress with all my relatives smiling approvingly, and after that I could finally escape and go off into the sunset of Augusta, GA.
Legolas was almost my whole life at this point. All my emotional eggs were in this basket and I became more and more dependent on thoughts of him, and thoughts of our future, to get through the day. I thought of us as Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning: two soulmate poets. He would rescue me from my family like Robert rescued Elizabeth, and we would have a happy life full of poetry. I wrote him lots of letters. He wrote me a few in return.
As the summer went on, Legolas got more and more wrapped up in his dancing. Every time he came to see me, he would talk about how much fun he was having and all the marvelous music. He tried to show me some of the steps but I was very clumsy. He emailed me less, and he missed my calls. He had a fun, fulfilling life elsewhere, but I really didn’t have much except him. I had found a job nannying for two Bag End graduate children in a house behind campus, which paid about a hundred dollars a week under the table, but that was all I had going on. I clung desperately to my dreams of marriage because, at this point, they were the only dreams I had.
To be continued.