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

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wearingshorts

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.

More men should wear open-collar shirts: Episode 18.

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That was an eventful weekend. On Friday night, my friend Galadriel and her sister picked me up to go to one of our other friends’ senior art show on Bag End campus. Halfway through the evening, Galadriel got a text that said Legolas was in town already, and he wanted to meet us downtown for dessert.

This was exciting! There were three or four of us girls, and we all went downtown to a little tea place, and there was Legolas! I had forgotten how cute he was, with his big blue eyes and his fetching grin. A tiny little bit of chest hair peeped out through his open collar, and he smelled good. Even if he did have a girlfriend, I was tickled pink that he was coming over to my house for lunch tomorrow. We kept exchanging looks and smiles over the table, and when Galadriel and her sister drove me home I was walking on air. Sitting on air in the back seat, I guess.

Galadriel said, “Tomorrow evening Legolas and my sister and I are going to have a chocolate-making party at my house. Do you want to come?”

I said “Well of course!” and they said they would pick me up in the afternoon.

The next morning Legolas arrived for lunch, and he was very polite. He talked to my parents, he talked to my little sisters and he was very charming and friendly. Unfortunately, just when things were going well, towards the end of lunch he mentioned the swing dancing convention. My parents froze up in disapproval. After Legolas left, my mother and father had one of their secret conferences in their bedroom and then my mother said “We don’t want you to talk to him anymore.”

I said “Why?” and she said “Because we didn’t know he was INTO SWING DANCING.”

We had an argument about this, and then when I was getting ready for Galadriel to pick me up, my mother wanted to know if Legolas was going to be at this chocolate-making party. I said yes and she blew up, and we had another huge argument. I went outside to wait for the car, and she followed me out, screaming. “FINE. Just go. Go with YOUR FRIENDS,” in a tone of utter disdain. She slammed the door and I sat down on the rock at the end of the driveway, as far away from her as I could get.

Galadriel, her older sister and Legolas soon arrived, and we all just had a wonderful time. We made chocolate, which didn’t turn out very well, then we went to some other friends’ house for a singspiration. Legolas and I shared a book. Every time we were in the car, he and I shared the back seat.

As Galadriel finally pulled up to my house about 11:00, I said, “I’m in the doghouse.” Legolas asked me why, and I said, “Because they found out you’re into swing dancing.” I got out and went into the house, to be met with icy disdain. My mother wanted to know every detail of the evening, and if Legolas and I had “sat in the back in the car.” I was 22-and-a-half years old and had a college degree, and at this moment I took a brief step back from the situation and decided it was all slightly ridiculous. I went to bed and didn’t engage with her anymore.

The next day there were many secret conferences in the bedroom and my father emerged and said he was going to have to call and talk to Legolas. So I gave him the number, and they went out to have coffee together before Legolas left town. I sat in the kitchen on the floor, feeling nervous. Finally my cell phone buzzed, I picked it up to see a message from Legolas: “Coffee went well, and conversation is permitted.”

I was ridiculously excited. I was still allowed to talk to Legolas! The next day our long email conversations resumed, and I discovered that he did not have a girlfriend, in Atlanta or anyplace else. GALADRIEL WAS WRONG, HA.

The next month or so went by in a dreamlike haze. We emailed and texted constantly, Legolas came up on several weekends, and came over to spend the day with my family. My mother behaved charmingly and made delicious food – we were not eating the Nourishing Traditions diet any more at this point – and everyone was on their best behavior. Legolas went on a number of walks and coffee dates with my father. He and I sat in separate armchairs from each other and talked about art and literature, and there were always siblings bounding in and out of the room. No one brought up swing dancing, and we steered expertly around the subject.

At some point in April, Legolas sent me a letter with a wax seal wherein he asked my permission to go to the Bag End Artist Series production of Pride and Prejudice with me at the beginning of May. (“Pursuant to your father’s permission, of course.”) We were not allowed to ride in a car alone together, so someone would have to drop us off at the play, and then drop us off for ice cream downtown afterwards, and then pick us up. But this would be our first real “date” and I was so very excited.

It was spring and I felt wonderful, as though the air were full of new beginnings. I decided that I was going to do everything “right” this time, and obey all of my mother’s rules, and then God would surely bless me. Maybe if I did courtship right, my parents would love me and approve of me. Maybe if I did courtship right, then I could escape the house and marry this wonderful, charming man with the adorable blue eyes.

To be continued.

Everything Had to Be Loose, But I Could Still Wear Pretty Colors: Episode 17

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Way back when I was still at Bag End, back in October, some of my friends had held a Halloween party off campus. (This was the one that Grîma Wormtongue surprised me and came to, matching me. I was Trinity from the Matrix, which I’d just watched for the first time, and he was one of the villains in the sunglasses – appropriately enough.) At this party, I’d met one of my girlfriend Galadriel’s friends – a charming, gregarious fellow named Legolas. He was very, very smart and had a wide grin and a slight lisp, and he loved swing dancing. Legolas and I had a nice conversation about music and literature at the party, and he and I chatted sporadically on Facebook throughout the rest of the semester. It turned out that he’d been homeschooled too, and had graduated from Palantîr Christian College down in Florida, before becoming a computer programmer in Augusta, GA.

After I told my mother about Grîma Wormtongue , she took away my phone and told me I had to shut down my Facebook immediately. (In her mind, Facebook was some kind of source of contamination that allowed me to communicate with the outside world and meet unsavory people.) I logged on and, before canceling the account, I sent a quick message to a few of my friends, including Legolas, saying that I’d just broken up and I was “taking a bit of a media fast.” (Such a spin artist, I was.) Legolas said “BTDT,” so I was glad he understood.

My good friends Bilbo, Galadriel and several others still communicated with me via email. I am not sure whether my mother knew I had a Gmail address or not, and I wasn’t about to draw her attention to it if she didn’t know. Sometime in mid-January, Galadriel emailed me, “By the way, Legolas asked me to give you his phone number. He said you should give him a call sometime.” And there was the phone number.

I said, “Is he interested in me or something?” And Galadriel said “Oh, I doubt it: I think he just wants to be friendly. He’s a very friendly person and people always think he’s flirting with them. Anyway he has a girlfriend in Atlanta, I think.”

Well, that was a little disappointing, but still, I liked Legolas and enjoyed talking to him. I wrote down the phone number and put it in the top drawer of my tiny dresser and figured that if I ever got another cell phone, I’d give him a call.

Around this time, Bilbo told me that I was doing awfully well as a cashier, “upselling” a lot of things, and he was thinking of promoting me to some sort of manager. I came home and excitedly told my parents this news. A few days later they said to me, “It’s not really working out for you to have this job because it’s too far out of your father’s way to drop you off in the mornings, so you’re going to have to quit.” I was very bummed out about this, but we lived in the backwoods of Greenville, away from any bus stops, and I didn’t really see any other feasible way for me to get there. So sadly, I told Bilbo I would have to quit working at the café. This was at the beginning of February, 2011.

My last day at the job, I had to wait a while for my father to come and pick me up. So I walked a long way down to the Verizon store downtown and used some of my last paycheck to buy a small, pay-as-you-go cell phone. Then I texted Legolas’s number, “Who is John Galt?” He soon figured out it was me, and we had a long, nerdy text conversation.

Eventually the text conversation spilled over into emails, with long discussions of everything under the sun, including shared thoughts and dreams and poetry. Then we started talking on the phone. I was having so much fun, and in a nerdy way, I was definitely flirting. I tried not to think about this girlfriend he had in Atlanta. He was just being friendly, I told myself. But it was so much fun.

He asked me if I wanted to go swing dancing the next time he was in town, because they had beginners’ classes. I thought: It’s a date! He’s asking me out! Maybe? No, he’s just being friendly of course. I said my parents didn’t approve of swing dancing, so I couldn’t go, but thank you.

Now that I wasn’t working at the café, I felt like I was kind of at a loose end. I started sending my music resume to all the schools and studios in the area, seeing if they needed any teachers. I got set up as a teacher at one studio, and I pulled in exactly one student, a young man who asked me out after a few lessons and so of course I told him I couldn’t teach him any more, so that was the end of that. I did some accompanying for the spring festival at a middle school, which was fun, and I met a lady through Craigslist who wanted an illustrator for her self-published children’s book. After getting halfway through the project, she told me she wanted exclusive rights to all the drawings and I couldn’t agree to that, so I gave up the project. I kept on having meaningless fights with my mother, trying to stay out of her way and not succeeding, and having to ask permission for every tiny detail of life. I felt very directionless, and like I was just flapping my wings. My conversations with Legolas, and my occasional outings with my friends from Bag End, gave me something to look forward to.

Then one day Legolas sent me an email that said, “I’ll be in town this weekend for a swing convention. Can I stop by your house for lunch on Saturday?”

Very casually, I went to my mother and said, “You remember that nice young man I told you about, from Palantîr Christian College? Galadriel’s friend? (Mom liked Galadriel.) He wants to come over to our house for lunch on Saturday.” I tactically left out the part about the swing convention, because I was sure that would not go over very well. Surprisingly, she agreed to let him come over for lunch.

I was so excited! Next time we were out, I asked Mom to drop me off at Goodwill and I bought a pretty pink sweater with roses on it, which I knew I would be allowed to wear because it had a high neck and it wasn’t tight. But it was a very pretty color on me.

To be continued.

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.

Episode 15: TW for sexual assault.

Standard

My parents had taken an immediate dislike to Grîma Wormtongue (which really doesn’t show exceptional forethought on their part because they’ve disliked everyone I’ve ever gone out with). They did not forbid me to see him, but they told me I was only allowed to date him on the Bag End University campus, or to have him over to their house on the weekends. I thought this was unreasonable of them, since they were the main reason I had started going out with him in the first place. That was why they had sent me to Bag End, to find and marry a nice preacher boy, right? Nevertheless, I conscientiously saw him only on campus and at church activities.

I didn’t tell anyone what was going on, because would you have told anyone if you were me? You know how it is – I wished there were some way to talk about it, but I didn’t trust anyone, and anyway I didn’t want to have to break up with him because I was supposed to marry a preacher boy. It got harder and harder to come up with innocuous-sounding spiritual struggles to relay to my Accountability Partner and my Mentor when they cornered me for coffee. However, I could always fall back on “I’m having difficulty trusting God for the strength to get all my projects done,” because that was of course true.

Anyway, that’s about where things were when I got called into the kangaroo court of anorexia. Grîma Wormtongue’s take on the story was minimalist: “They’re all jealous of you because you’re skinny and sexy.”

My mother’s attitude was the simplistic attitude of an outraged mother bear. I called her afterwards, still crying and choking, and she declared that I was not staying in that apartment another night with those girls, and she was driving over to get me right now so pack an overnight bag. She not only picked me up, she marched in, pointedly insulted Amelia and Bedelia and said they were jealous because they were fat. How dared they. This wasn’t going to stop here, she said. Oh, no. She was going to get in touch with Elizabeth Taylor and demand an apology and a full retraction and a change of dorms for me and… It was very embarrassing.

I sheepishly went home to my parents’ house and, until something could be arranged about the dorm, slept on the couch and commuted to school every day: making periodic furtive forays into the tainted apartment to retrieve items I’d forgotten. If I saw one of the girls, no one spoke.

This wasn’t the best atmosphere for doing final projects or grading papers, as you can imagine. My sleep, my schoolwork and my job all suffered. My last few projects for all my art classes were really miserable – looking back on them, I kind of cringe. In Mrs. Saruman’s class, which was supposed to be sort of conceptual art, I just gave up and created what I said was a depiction of the Body of Christ – a bunch of little glass marble pieces with faces painted on them, arranged on a board into the larger shape of a human silhouette. I believe Mrs. Saruman, whatever her other faults, was perfectly justified in giving me a low grade for this.

Thanksgiving 2010 – wow, this is almost four years ago now. Every year, the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend, I have problems because I start remembering this again. I will try to be brief and not particularly graphic.

By the week of Thanksgiving, my dorm had been switched and all my possessions, including my skeleton, had been moved to an empty room on the second floor of the building. My father and brothers helped me carry everything from the apartment to the dorm room, under the silent stares of Amelia, Bedelia and Lobelia. I was settled in and living on campus again.

My family went to our cousins’ house for Thanksgiving – during which time Grîma Wormtongue’s texts continued – and we returned on (I think) Saturday or Sunday. I was dropped off back at school. Classes did not start again till Tuesday, so on Monday I was just on campus, which was pretty much dead, with nothing to do.

On Monday morning, Grîma Wormtongue called me and said he would come over and eat lunch on campus with me. I assumed we would go and eat in the dining common like we usually did, but it turned out that they were closed, too, so he said he would just bring a pizza over and we could eat it in my office. (I had a little cubbyhole office in the Fine Arts building where I graded my papers.) Something felt vaguely exciting or taboo about this – I’m not sure why in retrospect, but it just did. Before he got there I remember I curled my hair and put on this sheer-ish pink top with a strappy tank top underneath. And then a sweater over it of course, because this was Bag End University. Then I walked over to the office building to meet him.

We sat in the little office chairs at the desk eating pizza, and he kept looking me up and down. The last thing I clearly remember him saying is “You’re such a pretty little girl.” Then he turned out the light and pulled me on top of him in his chair. I leaned in to kiss him, but he pushed me away and said I had garlic breath. Then he began to touch me in places, and in ways, that I had not been touched before. I remember kind of freezing up and thinking: This isn’t right. This doesn’t feel good. Then he grabbed me and said “Do this thing.

I said “no” and pulled away because I did not want to do it. He said, “You have to, because I’m doing stuff to you.” Then he grabbed me, pulled me towards him and made me do it. I realized I couldn’t really get away, so I did it, and after that I don’t really remember what happened exactly; I felt like I wasn’t there.

Some time later, Grîma Wormtongue turned on the light and went to the bathroom to clean himself up, and then came back. And he said: “I thought you were such a good Christian girl, but you know, you just let me do everything I wanted to do. That wasn’t a very good testimony.”

Then he said we had sinned, so we had to pray about it. Then he drew up something that he said was a contract, that we wouldn’t touch each other again till we got married, and made us both sign it. Then he left.

The campus was very cold, and I went back across to my dorm feeling all floating and weird, and like I wasn’t really there and didn’t know exactly what had happened. My mother called and I said cheerily “Oh, I’m not doing much today, just getting settled into the new room.” Then I went to sleep and I slept and slept and slept.

To be continued.