We met about this time many years ago—Anthony and I—in a cold classroom in an antique brick building at the University of Nevada. I remember his laugh, full-bodied and genuine.
I often sat at a narrow desk in the classroom’s back corner, dressed in my black snowboarding jacket and flared jeans. My brown hair was styled in a punk-inspired pixie cut. I felt so empowered with short hair, as if I had to prove my femininity in other ways than long locks.
Anthony had longer hair then. It grazed the nape of his neck and flipped to the sides. But he was always clean-shaven, except for the tuft of chest hair that peeked above his Threadless T-shirts. His denim jeans shredded at the hems, and his shoes featured holes that revealed his gray-toed socks. He wore those “animal shoes” every day, even in winter.
We met in winter, in January. But I wouldn’t truly notice him until spring more than a full year later. In class, he was just the funny guy. He cracked jokes, quoted “South Park” with reckless abandon, and laughed without restraint. He also had a knack for having all the right answers, sometimes to an annoying degree. But the guy did his homework. I appreciated that fact.
That semester, we had both registered for a class that became the basis for our friendship. Although the course was billed as Twentieth Century British Literature, the course description made its field of study quite clear. This class focused exclusively on author J. R. R. Tolkien. Anthony and I independently chose this quest for our mutual adoration of The Lord of the Rings.
Now, five years later, I can think of no better starting point for our adventure.
In the pages of Tolkien’s book, we discovered tales of men and women who suffered hardship, endured grief, and received for their toils the greatest joys of all. In its pages, the word “hope” appeared in earnest. In Tolkien’s Middle Earth, committed people do what they must for the good of others. In doing so, they find the good within themselves, even if they might misstep into darkness along the way.
Hope always exists, and good always wins. This story enlivens as a metaphor for our own world. But its symbolism changes, walking alongside our perceptions as we absorb each word.
That’s the power of stories. No matter who you are, you can find yourself amid the pages. You relate. Not to the literal situations, but to the emotions characters feel as they survive those fictionalized moments that, in the moment, feel all too real.
We’ve been here before, we realize as we read.
Isn’t that why we read?
Now the stories of my books become my stories. We march in tandem as I flip each page, knowing and believing and understanding and feeling.
It’s that feeling that brought us here in the first place.
Had we not taken these steps to grasp the cover and peruse the pages, to so desire to immerse ourselves in the world and to take a chance on awaiting adventure, we may have never met at all.
“I’m glad you’re with me” for we were meant to go together.
Photograph credit: Jamison Frady of Quiet Art Photography © 2010 (Photos feature Ally and Anthony in January, two years after we met.)