Wearing jeans in public: Episode 20.

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The blow came in mid-October, when Legolas and I had been courting for a little over five months. My mother logged onto my father’s Facebook account in order to stalk people, and she looked up Legolas’s page and found photographs of his last swing dancing convention. He was dancing with many pretty girls in sleeveless dresses, and something about seeing a swing convention visually just made my mother blow her lid.

Instantly it was DEFCON I. Mom pulled Dad into the bedroom for many secret conferences and they came out and said, essentially, after several days and many fights, that unless Legolas was willing to give up his swing dancing, he would have to break up with me. We got Legolas on the phone. My dad had a long argument with him where Dad said Legolas was full of shit. My mother threatened to kick me out for having a boyfriend who was suddenly persona non grata. “I want you and your unsavory men friends out of my house,” she said. Also: “I am now your enemy. I’m not your friend anymore.”

I still loved Legolas and I wasn’t giving him up that easily. I thought surely he wouldn’t give me up that easily either. For a few days, Legolas and I were still allowed to talk, though we had now been forbidden to see each other next time he came to town. Mom wasn’t speaking to me. I decided to fast until we got all this resolved. (Wonderful idea, I know.) I tried to come up with all these bargains and counterproposals: maybe Legolas could stop dancing till we were married? Maybe Legolas could stop dancing for a while, to “prove” his love for me? Legolas wasn’t crazy about any of these ideas, and Mom shot everything down anyway. Either the dancing was over, or the relationship was over.

Legolas finally called me and told me he didn’t think this was going to work. The dancing was too important to him. He hung up and said “I love you,” and then he called my dad and had another long conversation with him, and officially broke things off with my dad. The end. I was stunned.

What did I do wrong? We were so perfect for each other, and I tried to do everything right. What went wrong?

I don’t blame Legolas at all, really. I wouldn’t have wanted to join my crazy family either, if I were him. I remember after one episode of my mom spinning out of control, he had said to me, “This isn’t going to stop after we get married, you know.” To this day, I’m astonished that anyone has ever wanted to marry any of us kids at all. It takes a special person to put up with my family.

The most important lesson I learned from my breakup with Legolas was this: No one will help you get out. You can’t count on anyone to help you escape.

After the end of my courtship with Legolas, I went into a tailspin. I don’t remember much about the next month or two. Everything was dark. I cried a lot, and I remember playing with some razors in the bathroom and thinking “Why not? Why shouldn’t I?” To make matters worse, the lady I’d been nannying for fired me shortly after the breakup. I truly had nothing going on. It was like my life had come to a sudden and complete halt.

In the fall, my family went to spend Thanksgiving with my grandmother in St. Louis, one year after the assault. I went to pack some clothes for the trip and the act of coming up with any approved outfits to wear seemed utterly overwhelming. I broke down crying. My mother asked what was wrong and I said, “You know…it would be so much easier for me to figure out what to pack if I were just allowed to wear jeans.” Mom looked at me, a little stunned. Then she said, choosing her words carefully, “Well…I guess it would be ok for you to wear some jeans, at this point.”

I had some pairs of Goodwill jeans hidden in the bottom of my dresser, and I pulled them out and wore them in public for the first time in my life. I was 23 years old.

While we were in St. Louis, my dad took me out for a walk in the cold November air. I think he was starting to feel remorseful about what had happened to me over the past few years. He told me that I obviously needed some sort of a jump start in life, and he was going to help me. He suggested that I take an online proofreading course, and then I start doing some free proofreading for his company, a small ad agency. That way I could say I had an internship, I would get some experience, and maybe his company, or some other company, would hire me later. “I want you to start becoming independent,” he said.

Independent? The word felt weird to me. I knew Mom didn’t want me to be independent. She threatened to kick me out whenever she was angry, but when I talked about leaving on my own, she always told me horror stories about how I would never make it on my own and I needed her to protect me.

My dad added, “You know, your mother isn’t really able to handle hearing about other people’s problems. If you ever need to talk to anybody, you can come talk to me.”

Independent. I repeated the word to myself and it felt good on my tongue. At that moment, I felt a small, wild dream sprouting inside me. I would get out. I would get a job, get a car, get a place of my own and move out. And I would do it without any boyfriend to motivate me, either – I would do it just for me.

I went home and signed up for an online proofreading course with the last of my nannying money. I finished it in one week and got an A+.

To be continued.

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