It was January 2002.
I’d come home from studying in Italy and my brother — in his infinite wisdom and willingness to help — had secured me a room for spring semester in a sorority house. Possibly important to note here, I am not in a sorority and never have been. But he’d met a girl in Italian class who was headed to Rome as I was coming back, so he snagged her room for me.
I have memories of my parents coming up to move us both back in — but I must have driven, too, because at the time, I was the proud owner of Helen, my shiny red Honda Civic.
It wasn’t snowing when we arrived and carted all my boxes into the room that would be my home for the next few months. We might have gone out for lunch. I don’t remember. I do remember that after everyone left, and I was alone, it began to snow and I listlessly began to put my things away. I was living in a house full of women I didn’t know. Back in a town that — until that point in time — had not been very kind to me. I wasn’t in Rome. I was alone in State College.
It’s hard to remember all the details, this many years gone, but I know that I was terrible at feeding myself (I didn’t really start to cook until I was nearly 30) and I was very sad. I remember meeting the girl in the room next to me — far too chipper, far too happy about life. Her hair fanning out like a fountain from her high pony tail. She seemed nice enough (and we are friends to this day!) but I wasn’t very enthusiastic about anyone at that point.
I think I suffered through the entire next day putting my room together. I don’t think I went anywhere, because the snow had come fast and furious, and the roads weren’t inviting. It was probably dusk when i decided I couldn’t possibly stay in that house for one more minute. I bundled up, locked my door, and headed out to walk the streets.
It was bitterly cold. The wind was wicked, spreading the already fallen snow across bare surfaces, numbing any exposed skin. The snow was like powder, a fine dust in the twilight. The streets were fairly empty; both of cars and people.
When I went to school at Penn State, there were two downtown movie theaters. By this time, the small, one screen cinema had closed and was in the process of being turned into something new. But the multi-screen one across from the metered parking lot and next to the Gingerbread Man (also, sadly, extinct) was still there. When I couldn’t bear the cold anymore, I stumbled into the lobby, hoping to find a movie that was starting soon. I’d seen “Ocean’s 11″ over Christmas break, and I would’ve watched that again.
But absolutely nothing was starting within an hour except for “Fellowship of the Ring.”
I remember taking a keep breath and weighing my options. Go see a movie I had absolutely less than zero interest in ever seeing and be alone, in the warmth, for a few hours (and thus avoiding returning to the sorority house). Or continue to wander the streets, and have to go back to that house.
I bought a ticket.
The movie theatre had multiple screens, but some were very small, with only ten or twelve rows of five or six seats. It was playing in one of those, and I shuffled into a seat near the back. There was a smattering of people in the seats in front of me. I peeled my coat off, and tried to warm up. I think I’d bought myself a soda and some popcorn. It wasn’t long until the theatre dimmed.
There were no previews.
I sunk low in my seat, wondering if I could possibly sleep. I was tired, and that house was so unfamiliar. It was so cold.
And then the movie began. And I was completely transported from the first moment. I found Hobbiton endearing, and the Riders in Black terrifying. I loved Merry and Pippin and the dogged loyalty of Samwise. I loved the stoic nobility of Aragorn and the majestic beauty of Legolas.
In a strange, surreal sort of way, “The Fellowship of the Ring” saved me. Those first few weeks living in the DZ house were rough. But I didn’t care anymore, because Tolkien and Peter Jackson had completely transfixed me with the story of One Ring and Middle Earth. It didn’t matter that I didn’t want to be back at school, that I felt as though I had no friends. None of it mattered, because I had Frodo, and Merry and Pippin and Samwise. I had Gandalf and Gimli and Aragorn and Arwen and Legolas.
To this day, my husband puts on “Fellowship” when I am sad, when I am tired. When I need comfort. We have watched it more times than I can count. I know most of the lines. It feels magical, even fifteen years later. Literature – creativity and imagination — those are the things that have always saved me across the years. When I’ve been alone, deserted, lost. Something that lifts you up and takes you somewhere new. Somewhere exciting and unknown. Something created from nothing.