Alone at Last-part 2

Her hair was a different color from the last time I saw her. Previously it had been much darker—auburn I think. Now it was blond—that’s why I didn’t recognize her at first. She asks if she can sit with me and I jump up to pull out a chair. Her name was Sally and a few semesters earlier I had fallen in love with her.

She was a teaching assistant to a prof. I’d had an anthropology class under 2 semesters before. She was in an Ethnographic Anthropology doctoral program and was an ABD. She was writing a thesis on a subject area I knew a great deal about—coincidentally enough. It was one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” situations. I fell in love with her as she lectured on Colin Turnbull’s work and I knew (or had known) Dr. Turnbull.

“Sally—hi—haven’t seen you since Dr. Blanchard’s class,” I said, trying not to be too obvious. I held out my hand and squeezed hers.

“Yeah,” she responded with a little smile of tentative recognition—you could tell she was pleased—almost relieved—to run into someone familiar but only half remembered me. “I remember you. Jim—isn’t it?”

She was just guessing at the name. I said “no”—“I was the guy that sat in back of Jim.” We both laughed—a little awkwardly. It was one of those moments when two people—wandering through the randomness of life—have an encounter knowing full well what each wants from the other—but not quite sure how to make it happen.

“She’s the girl—she put herself on the line coming over to my space,” I’m thinking. “I’m the guy—the ball is in my court.”

The next 5 minutes would decide if the weekend would be a bust or become a sweet, beautiful memory for both of us. The trick, I’m reminding myself, is to be confident and interested but unaffected—an attitude of, “I’m attracted to you but there are 20 other girls right behind you if you’re not interested in me.”

She offered me some of her fries—I declined saying I had supper plans for later.

“How’s the thesis going?” I asked, “I apologize—I can’t remember what your subject was.”

I knew she hadn’t told me but in fact I did know—very well.

I had been trying to hatch a way to get to know her when she was helping with the class. I was a good student—often made comments and asked questions—so Dr. Blanchard liked me. I had learned he was Sally’s thesis advisor so one day after class I simply told him I was trying to figure out a way to get to know Sally and asked what her thesis topic was. He laughed and said he couldn’t discuss that with me but told me to read an article she had written for the anthropology department newsletter a few months before.

I did. The subject of her paper was, “The Molimo as transgender symbol and resulting trans-personal psychological implications for both the Elima Celebration and the Nkumbi initiation of the Mbuti people of Zaire.” Turnbull was one of the acknowledged authorities on Mbuti ritual and ceremony. I decided I was seriously taken with this girl and started preparing a multi-faceted strategy—doing a lot of reading for example. Then she just disappeared. Again I asked Dr. Blanchard what had happened and again he said he couldn’t discuss that but this time there was no article for me to read.

Colin Turnbull’s partner Joseph Towles wrote a paper on the Asa origin myth of the Mbo people of the Ituri (who interacted with the Mbuti and shared some common history) which Turnbull annotated. The paper was not published until after Towle’s death quite a few years later but was quoted in Turnbull’s 1959 book on the Ik people.

During the several years Turnbull taught at Virginia Commonwealth University  I was a student there for 2 semesters and took a few classes under Turnbull. For all of one semester and part of the other I was a research assistant for him and read a number of his papers including Towle’s paper on the Asa Myth.

Sally nibbled at her fries, told me what her topic was and said she had run into a snag—she was having trouble tracking down reliable translations of Dauguerre’s 1960 field notes on the Mbo and their interactions with the Mbuti.

“You may not want to rely too heavily on translated notes,” I said. “Almost any dissertation committee will have members that speak French and will tear your defense to shreds based on your application and interpretation of Dauguerre’s material.”

She nodded sadly. This was something she had thought about but the way her thesis was argued she had no other sources of material. But her interest in me was piqued—I could see that. She had not expected me to know about these things.

“You could just drop Dauguerre’s material,” I said as she sipped her coke, “except to beef up your footnotes—and shape your position around Towle’s paper on the Asa Myth and how it expands and illuminates the Molimo ceremony.”

Her eyes grew wide and she almost choked on her drink.

“I thought you were an undergrad student,” she said visibly, but pleasantly surprised.

And how did you know about Towle’s paper?—it’s never been published—only quoted. Most people thought it was lost.”

“I know,” I said, “Turnbull quoted it in the 1959 Ik book and it has not been lost. I know about it because I read it. Colin loaned it to me and asked for my comments.”

I figured this would shake her up—I was right—she looked like a bomb had been exploded in her face.

“You know Colin Turnbull?” she asked incredulously, “You read Towle’s paper?”

“Yes and yes,” I said with mischievous smirk on my face and in my voice.

End part two

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