Episode 24: Last part of the series.

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The rest of my story is really the continuing story of me and the Beast. In August 2013, my friend Bilbo helped me load up my furniture into a small U-Haul, except for my red couch and my piano, which I didn’t think it was really worthwhile to transport. There was lots of drama from my parents, but at this point I knew where I was supposed to be. The Beast came down to help me move, and I drove the U-Haul behind him and followed him to Maryland through the rainy mountains. When we got to Baltimore the sun came out, and I knew I was home.

Today I have been home for almost a year. I live in a little brick row house in a quiet square, two blocks down from the Beast, with many Tiffany lamps and a white bedroom that smells like vanilla. My business is so busy I’m thinking about taking on a contract employee. The Beast’s family loves me, and I love them. Sometime between now and my 26th birthday in September, I will be getting an engagement ring. (I hope this will happen on our two-week Wild West trip later this month, but I’m telling myself I just have to wait until my birthday.)

Pretty much every morning I get up and thank God for bringing me here. The summer before I moved to Baltimore, I went to Charleston for the weekend with some of my old friends from Bag End University. While we were there, two things happened to encourage me. I was finding it hard to believe that I could make such a big move, and that it would all work out. We were in a little art glass shop, and I saw these wonderful birds. All different colors of little glass birds, like drops of the rainbow. I said to myself, “I’m going to get a yellow canary bird, and my living room in Baltimore will be yellow canary bird themed.” I bought the little canary, and every time I looked at it, it reminded me to be hopeful. Sure enough, my living room here has a black couch and yellow canary bird cushions. The little glass canary bird sits on my coffee table.

The other thing that happened was, on Sunday morning we all went to a Brethren church in Charleston and there was the most wonderful, encouraging sermon about Ruth, and how she left her family and her native land and set out to a new place, and how God blessed her for that. Whenever I start to feel grey and icky inside, I go and read the book of Ruth. These are my favorite verses:

Boaz replied to her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”

I love it that God has wings, and that He seems to send birds to encourage me. Did you know that Baltimore is called Birdland because of the Ravens and the Orioles? The birds here are friendly, too. A lot of them will hop right up to you and eat some crumbs.

I also love these verses from Jeremiah:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Sometimes I think to myself, Well, I wish I hadn’t had to go through all that business, because I didn’t like it very much. But the Beast says: “If you hadn’t gone through all that, you wouldn’t be here right now, would you? You’d be at a different place in life. So you see God knew what He was doing.” We were just talking about this the other day. We drove up to Boston for the fourth of July. You know you love someone when you can sit and talk for 7 hours with the radio off, and the only thing that reminds you it was 7 hours is because your butt ends up being sore. And I guess that is pretty much all.

(End of series.)

To be continued. 🙂

Episode 23: They Were from Goodwill, But They Were Normal People Clothes.

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Once I had moved out, I set up a 10-day free profile on Christian Café. I figured online dating couldn’t be any worse than real life. The first week after I moved out, I was doing some on-site proofing for a local agency, so each day at lunchtime I would go to the Starbucks down the street and check my messages. All kinds of people sent me messages – some stupid, some creative, some creepy. It was like a grab bag – you never knew what you were going to get. How fun!

On the eighth or ninth day of my free trial, a high-school teacher in Baltimore started to message me. His emails were clever and thoughtful and he had obviously put some time into writing them. I was already talking to a computer programmer in North Carolina at this point – he seemed fairly nice, if a bit shy, and he was a mountain climber – so I didn’t answer the teacher right away. Finally, after he had sent me two or three messages, I felt a little guilty and I wrote him back.

It turned out that this teacher was really an interesting person. He was smart, funny and cute. He was also very, very kind. It turned out that he had given up several scholarships to law school, so he could stay in town and take care of his much-younger brother after their mother died. He became a teacher instead, so he could take his brother to school every day and be there for the little boy when there was no school. He taught in a terrible district in Baltimore City where there were frequent knife fights and bomb threats. He had toughed it out there for nine years so far.

The Beast had an extraordinarily deep faith. He had known the Real God for years and years and he knew much more about Him than I did.

After a day or two I forgot all about the mountain climber and stopped answering his emails. The Beast and I talked on the phone every night until the wee hours of the morning. Two weeks after we had started talking, he got into his black Honda Civic and drove nine hours down to see me. The next weekend, he drove down again. The weekend after that, I flew up.

My parents soon found out about the Beast – one of their spies from their church had seen us together downtown at an art festival – and my parents had a huge fight with me, which culminated in nobody from the family speaking to me for a month. One day in November, after a month of radio silence, my father texted me and invited me to my sister’s birthday party. Everyone was very polite. They acted like the Beast, and the fight, had never existed. After that, my relationship with the family was polite but strained. We lived fifteen minutes apart, but we did not see each other very much.

Over the next year, the Beast and I traveled to see each other every chance we got. God continued to bless my business. I always had enough money to pay my rent and my bills, and enough left over for plane tickets or hotels when I needed them. I got a portable Wifi hotspot so I could take my business on the road. I learned all about how airports work – the first time I had to fly anywhere alone, I was very scared. But all the people were nice, and I just asked questions and figured it out. In April, I paid taxes for my business for the first time ever. I had enough money, and I had money left over.

Except for using my dad’s online tax program to calculate my taxes, I never asked my parents for help with anything. When my car broke down, I called a tow truck, had it towed to the repair place and got the battery replaced. When something needed to be fixed or done, I either did it myself or found someone who could do it for me. I drove all the way out to Union, SC to buy a piano off Craiglist. I never made a late payment on anything.

Each time I needed a project, I prayed and said “God, please send me a project. I need some money.” And sure enough, the next day or so, there one would be. I have said this before, but it was a lot like being a bird and having God feed you. I said “God, if you will send them, I will do them.” He sent the projects and I did them! That is how my business has worked from that day to this.

I went to a Lutheran church sometimes – which was very different from my previous experiences with church, and didn’t feel threatening – but a lot of the time, I just rested from church. I feel like I learned more about God from trusting Him to take care of me, and from seeing first-hand how good He was to me, than I ever learned from being in church.

I enjoyed being a grownup, living on my own! My friend Bilbo and I drank some champagne together on New Year’s Eve. I got a record player and I started collecting vintage records from thrift stores. It felt so wonderful to lie in bed at night and listen to Bert Kaempfert or Nat King Cole without being hollered at.

I also started experimenting with wearing normal clothes! I wore shorts outside for the first time ever, and started getting an actual tan. I felt so daring, walking around Greenville, SC in regular person clothes! I didn’t have a lot of extra money for clothes at this time, so most of my wardrobe came from Goodwill. But I didn’t look so much like a freak anymore. In the summer, I sometimes took my laptop to a park and worked in the sun, drinking a big cappuccino and feeling the sun on my shoulders. The feeling of the sun on your bare shoulders, while you drink a big sugary drink, is the feeling of freedom.

In the spring, the distance between me and the Beast started to feel too long. My job was portable, and his wasn’t. We started talking about me moving to Baltimore in the fall, when my lease was up.

To be continued.

One last summer of big baggy shirts: Episode 22

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I tried not to talk to anyone, especially my mother, about my decision to move out. It wasn’t something I wanted to discuss. I figured my father already knew about it, and that was all I really cared about. I figured when it was time for me to go, I would just make the announcement and be gone. That meant that I had to start getting things ready.

That summer was a summer of hard work and intense focus. I tried hard to stay under the radar: I did just enough housework so I wouldn’t get in trouble, and then retreated to the back bedroom and worked quietly on my business for the rest of the day. I took conference calls, I pulled in new clients. I sent out resume after resume after resume and did project after project after project. Checks came in the mail, and once every week or two I asked my father to take me to the bank. I made a Word document called “Money Records” where I kept track of everything I made, everything I spent and everything I banked, in different colors of ink.

I tried not to rock the boat or call attention to myself with my clothes. I wore loose T-shirts and baggy jeans and kept my hair bundled into a clip. I figured I could put my life on hold for a few months and it would be a good investment overall. At Minas Morgul Baptist Church, I wore dark clothes and faded into corners, or hid in the bathroom during breaks between services. During the long, guilt-trippy sermons, I scribbled on sermon note paper, but I was not taking notes. I planned, I made budgets. I tried to figure out exactly how much I would need for food, utilities, rent, gas, insurance and other things each month. I decided that I would budget $5000 to get me started with all of my expenses, and I would leave $5000 in the bank as a buffer. When I had $10,000, I planned to move out.

I decided that I was not going to date anyone, or think about dating anyone, again, as long as I lived at home. I was getting lonely, so that would give me some extra incentive to move out! On another sheet of sermon note paper, I drafted an online dating profile. I decided that once I was settled into my new place, I would put up a profile on Christian Café just to see what would happen.

I also planned my furniture. This was the most fun part. When my brain was tired from working on my business and making endless lists and budgets, I closed my eyes and imagined what my living room, kitchen and bedroom would look like. I figured I could shop at Salvation Army and Goodwill and find some cheap things that would go with the color schemes I had planned. I had never decorated a whole apartment of my own and this was going to be fun.

The centerpiece of my living room was going to be a beautiful Tiffany lamp. Halfway through the summer, I decided I had enough money to buy one, so I ordered it off Amazon and it arrived in a huge box. Stained glass has always made me feel gorgeous inside. I lit up this lamp like a big glowing bonfire and I visualized my living room and my whole apartment around it, with this glowing peacock-colored lamp at the heart. Once I got the lamp, I knew for sure I would be getting out of there.

Something very important happened to me over the summer. I was feeling down one day, after hearing a long guilt-trippy sermon, and I wondered if I was doing the right thing or if God would strike me down dead for trying to escape. I stood in the back bedroom feeling all anxious. Then I suddenly thought: “God, if You’re real, You must be outside of all this. You must be different from what I was taught growing up. God, are You there?” A weird thing happened. It was like I could feel a presence all of a sudden, full of light and full of peace. It was kind of like there was a light shining down into my soul from the top right corner of the room, if that makes any sense. I felt like I was praying to the Unknown God that St. Paul’s pagan people put up the altars to. Ever since then. I have always known that He is there.

Sometime in mid-August, my father drove by an old car junkyard on the side of the road and saw a 1999 Saturn that seemed to be in good condition. He took me out to look at it, I liked it, and I bought it for $2000. I paid cash in an envelope, and I got the title and keys. I had a real car.

I called Geico and got set up with car insurance, because I had heard a Geico ad on the radio that said “Fifteen minutes saves you fifteen percent.” Then I drove straight to Goodwill and bought every plate, mug and piece of silverware that I could see, as well as a second-hand coffee pot, which I loaded into the trunk. I had dishes now! Keeping my remaining budgeted $3000 in mind, I then went to Dollar General and stocked up on cheap toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, soap, shampoo and detergent. For the past couple of months, I had been making about $1500 a month. I didn’t know if I would have enough money for toilet paper next month.

Nothing could stop me now, I was on a roll! I had seen a sign for some apartments near Goodwill, so I drove to the (somewhat shabby) complex and walked into the office. I said, “I would like to rent an apartment, please, how do I go about this?” They gave me a bunch of papers to fill out and told me that I would have to go home and get some check stubs so I could prove I had a business. I drove back home, grabbed them and made it back to the office before they closed for the afternoon. I paid the deposit, I paid some extra money that I guess I had to pay because I was an unknown quantity, I paid the renter’s insurance and I got everything squared away that day. They gave me a big folder of information and told me that I could come get my key in two weeks because that was when the apartment would be ready. The rent was going to be $688 per month, and I figured I could just about handle that.

I went home and told my mother that I had an apartment and I was moving out in two weeks. She looked stunned. I took her over to see the sample apartment on the property and she did not say anything, just stared at me with a frozen face and said “But… But….”

Now I had two weeks to find some furniture. I wanted a red couch, and lo and behold, several days later I saw a red couch sitting by the side of the road. The people were so happy to get rid of it, they delivered it for me! I also got a table and chairs on sale at K-mart, a futon bed, and a comforter and some pillows. Everything else I needed, I found second-hand. I was still under budget, with about $6000 total in the bank at this point.

I called Duke Electric and set up my electricity, and I called Comcast and set up my Internet. My last birthday at home, I was 24 years old. My mother had not really been talking to me, but she gave me a miniature crockpot. My dad helped me more some of my larger pieces of furniture over, but by and large, I moved myself in with no assistance. The first thing I did was plug in my Tiffany lamp. It sat on the floor, and in its glow, I set about putting everything in my cupboards and getting everything all set up.

My lease started on September 18, 2012. I had my own place. I got down on my knees on the carpet and thanked the Real God.

livingroom

To be continued.

Wearing Shorts, And Feeling Good About Them, Too: Episode 21

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Today is summer as you can see!

When I finished the proofreading course, I went in to Dad’s company with him and I proofread a sample project for the head account lady. She said I was very sharp-eyed and they would be glad to take me on as an unpaid proofing intern. The boss sent around an email to everybody at the company telling them that I was here, and I would proof all their things for free.

Starting at the beginning of December, every morning I went in to work with my father and I sat and worked at the end of his long L-shaped desk. Eventually the boss started having me do other things – organizing files, entering information into their online records system – all for no pay, of course. Once in a while he came in and said, “Don’t worry, we won’t forget about you.” He had a big smarmy grin with white teeth. After a month or two, I began to suspect that they were just going to use my services for free forever.

I told my friend Bilbo about this “internship” and he said that he knew a gentleman who worked at one of the larger ad agencies in town. Bilbo suggested that I should send this gentleman my resume and maybe they would have a place for me at the larger agency. My resume did not look very impressive. It had two things on it, my college degree and my “internship” at my father’s company, but I typed it up as nicely as possible and emailed it to Bilbo’s contact at the agency.

Mr. Agency Man emailed me back very nicely and said they would keep my information on file, but they didn’t have anything for me at this time. He also suggested that I do something more “creative” with my resume, since that was the way to get the attention of ad agencies.

I figured, what did I have to lose? So I went home one evening and took a large sheet of Bristol board, and drew a cartoon. It showed me as a little superhero character called “Prooferwoman,” hopping over a series of buildings. The first building was my college, the second building was the agency where I was interning, and the little character soared over these structures on an upward trajectory. The caption said “Send me on a mission,” and my contact information was at the bottom.

Then I scanned this cartoon into the computer and looked up “Greenville, SC ad agencies.” I found the 5 or 6 closest to my house and sent them my resume with an email cover letter. I did know how to write a decent cover letter by this point. This was over the weekend, at the very tail end of January 2012.

On Monday morning, surprise, surprise! I opened up my email at my father’s office and there were three or four requests from different agencies. They all said, “We got your resume, we like it, and we would like you to come in for an interview!”

My father was happy for me! He said he would be glad to take me in for the interviews. A couple of them were at little agencies downtown, one was further out in Spartanburg, and I forget where the other one was. I couldn’t wait for the end of the week.

Now I was motivated! I got on yellowpages.com and started looking up ad agencies in other cities, and then other states. I sent my cover letter and my cartoon to each one, and it was like magic! Responses started to trickle in. “Yes, we have some proofing we would like you to do. Could you proof a sample project for us?” “Would you please call us for a phone interview?” and from one agency in North Carolina, “We don’t need any proofing, but we need someone to write blog posts for us. Could you do a sample post for us, please?”

Now, whenever I was not proofing or organizing things for free at my dad’s agency, I sat there at the desk doing small projects of my own, sending out still more resumes, and – finally – sending out invoices. My first ever invoice was for the agency that needed the blog posts. I charged them $20 a post, and they really liked them and asked me to do more.

My interviews at the local agencies went well, too. I got some proofing work from one of them, and from another one I got an unexpected windfall: $1000 to come in three days a week for the next month and help write content for their rebranding effort.

Suddenly, I had places to go and things to do. I was starting to make some actual money…not very much, but a little bit more each week. My dad said, “You know what? You’re starting a business.” I was a little astonished at myself. I think my dad was a little surprised at how things were taking off, too.

I drew several updated cartoon resumes (in color, this time) and started sending them to agencies in a wider and wider range of cities. I pulled in a client in Chicago, a client in Miami, and another one in Austin, Texas. In the spring, my dad left his company to become an independent contractor, so I left with him. I was at home all day now, but I had a business! I was motivated! When I got my first ever $1000 check from the company in Spartanburg, I was so proud.

My business is called content development. I put every cent of money in the bank. I had a plan: I was going to get out of here.

To be continued.

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.

You Hussy, I Can See Your Bra Under Your Shirt: Episode 19

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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.