Less than 24 hours after the first celebration of sisterhood, we are informed of our first swap and first formal. It is exciting, but it really doesn’t go over very well. Within two weeks, we’re supposed to find and ask a date to our sorority Fall Formal, and within the next twelve hours we’re supposed to devise clever costumes for a swap.
Swaps are named not for the swapping of oral bacteria that often occurs on the dance floor, but for the social swapping of one sorority and one fraternity on campus. These parties are weekly, sometimes bimonthly, always on school nights, and hosted at bars that, on regular nights, freshmen are barely even allowed to approach. So it makes for an out of the ordinary and fun night already, even before the incorporation of a dress-up theme.
Sitting in the kitchen of my new sorority home, our pledge trainers try to explain the concept of our first swap, to be held tonight. Its theme is a wedding. Since most of us are majoring in hospitality management, this is a very good theme. Guys aren’t considered dates by Ole Miss girls, they are considered Potential Husbands. Our pledge class has many golden girls, but one who is particularly golden is designated the bride, a few others her bridesmaids, another her mother, and the rest of us are stuck in the broad category of GUESTS.
I’m okay with that. After a quick trip to the Goodwill (packed with Greeks each outdoing the others’ costumes) and then to the Salvation Army after Goodwill is entirely picked over, I find a costume, a clever-but-not-too-clever-don’t-worry-someone-else-will-be-dressed-the-same costume. I’m going to be a wedding crasher! Hah! Wow, originality, oh yeah, let me throw on boxers and a button-up and a tie and a garter, why not.
The swap is our first sorority-sponsored event, and I’m nervous about it. Not only do I need to impress my sisters with my behavior and sense of humor, but the corresponding fraternity as well. Tonight’s is among the best on campus, and its freshmen pledge class contains probably the most attractive boys I know. So my crasher attire will be inviting, right? Subtly, one would hope.
I dress for the swap with Abbey, my best friend from home, also a new member of Sorority H who has suffered all the ups and downs of the semester thus far along with me. We don our wedding guest attire and look… cute? We look stupid, actually, really, really stupid. This leaves us with little confidence to roam the dorm to meet up with more friends. It’s almost 10:00 pm when our group realizes we haven’t left yet, and that the two “pregame” parties have been shut down by cops or lack of alcohol, but we manage to find sober drivers, half gallons of cheap vodka with girly chasers, and our ways to The Levee, Oxford’s most despised bar, the location of the evening’s ceremony.
Still sticking together, as freshmen should on the bar scene, Abbey and I are greeted just beyond the bouncer by a junior boy, also from our hometown. He’s having a grand old time, congratulates us on our bids, poses for a quick “reppin’ the hometown” picture, and proceeds to the bar to buy us shots.
They are, appropriately, called Alabama Slammers, and they are really, really good. The next thing I know, Abbey is gone and I am kissing the cheek of a boy in tortoiseshell glasses, apparently only for the reason that I love his tortoiseshell glasses. Something is off. I have had minimal amounts to drink, but something feels really off, I’m alone and not bothered by it, the crowded bar feels like my friend, I’m making it, this is okay—and then I see freshman bachelor #1, a fellow counselor at the summer camp of my past. He is someone I barely know, but with whom I share common interests and even a random night out of our right minds on a lakefront. He’s dancing.
It’s not clear how, but I make my way to him and suddenly he isn’t dancing, he’s listening and then shushing me as I profess to him my undying love. I think this lasts more than ten minutes. No one but him notices, but I slip in the soiled muck on the bar floor known as “Levee juice” and he has to lift me to my feet. He is generous with the whole scenario, owing me nothing, but taking care to be sweet with all he says, keeping our conversation low-key.
Potential husband? Great job, Mary.
The next morning, I want to kick myself. I wake up to a text from him, yes, him, summer camp frat star, which says: I love you girl. Glad we had that little chat. I want to die. I apologize in a not-too-eager text, because good God, I don’t actually have real feelings for him. To explain the night, I decide my single shot must have been Xanaxed or something. Maybe it was, probably it wasn’t. Either way, he never replies.
Swaps are apparently not my forte. Over the course of the day, I gather firsthand accounts of minimally ridiculous things I did at the bar. My pledge trainer walked up to me in the bathroom, excited to see me and even more excited that she remembered my name.
“Oh my gosh, hey, I’m so sorry,” I apologized. “Where do I know you from? You look so familiar.”
Apparently she found this funny, but if I could I’d be kicking myself even harder.
Then, in doing my best to get over my completely inaccurate, yet somehow still inadequate, profession of love on the dance floor, I revisit other text messages I sent last night. One, to a girl in my pledge class who I’d secretly like to be best friends with, who I met for the first time last night, reads: riding on the bus for your birthday! you go girl. At lunch she tells me it wasn’t her birthday, and that she doesn’t know why I would send that. Solid. Awesome. Go Rebs.
But in the grand scheme of things, this was a tame first swap. Our golden girl bride got her very first kiss (from the handsome frat boy groom, of course), and that is the most interesting piece of news. It’s cute, not in any way embarrassing like my outburst could have been. I promise myself—because no one else noticed—that I will take it easier next time.
But then, you know, it’s almost formal and I barely know a masculine soul besides friends of Abbey’s boyfriend, all sophomore fratdaddies. I’m working up the nerve to ask a certain one to go with me, one I find very attractive but do not know well; but then I convince myself to ask one who is just a friend, somebody I’ve kissed once or twice or a few times for no apparent reason. So I’m excited. I’m making plans. Then my very own roommate, now a sister, decides she will ask my crush instead. She asks my permission after it is done. Drama drama drama. I’m mad for maybe eleven hours, then it doesn’t matter, what’s done is done is done. He’s not as cute as I think he is.
So formal night arrives, and I look pretty, I mean wow, seriously? Like, I look good. My roommate and I—all potential rifts appropriately mended—decide to make ourselves a quick few drinks while we put on makeup. Next thing I know, the lights are out save our hipster-moody dorm Christmas lights, and we are blaring “The Only One” by The Black Keys on repeat. This. Is. So. COLLEGE!!! Maturity! Adulthood! Drinking (pretty much) in solitude! Cool!
Call me Queen of the Lightweights, but when our dates arrive (together, almost awkwardly), I’m already bested. My date looks great, but no, I’m not sweet to him, I’m a belligerent tease.
Formal happens—one minute I’m laughing with my date
—the next I see summer camp boy on the dance floor and nearly repeat my wedding swap antics
—the next I’m arm-in-arm with upperclassmen friends, who are casting me glances, sideways and concerned
—the next I’m alone in the chilly night weather, a cute boy smoking telling me he can’t find his date either
—the next I’m back on the bus, opening and reopening my purse, making sure I haven’t lost anything, smiling, feeling faint, not showing it, I hope, braided bun falling, falling, and then falling fast asleep.
I can’t forgive myself in the morning. Not only do I feel like a victim of a cruel, continuous beating, I’m humiliated. People have called and texted me to make sure I’m all right, which, really, says it all. I skip the Grove and the football game (as if we had a chance of winning anyway). I head to Wal-Mart instead and buy two small cakes and frosting, which I use to spell SORRY on each of them. I leave one at the sorority house, addressed to a friend who looked out for me, and have Abbey and her boyfriend take one to my date at his fraternity house.
Not just that, I’m irresponsible, incapable of holding my own. This is me: a newly pledged member of a sorority I’d like to call home. I thought it was home already? But apparently it isn’t. I haven’t earned that yet. I’m not belligerent, I’m not “that girl,” but last night I well may have been. College! Maturity! Yeah, right, okay.
I’m a nice girl. I buy cakes and decorate them.
Part of me thinks I should be unconcerned. Mary Marge, you know, that girl who doesn’t care about conforming or belonging, that girl entirely her own. Who cares if I was nuts last night?! It affects no one’s life but mine.
Well, the rest of me realizes that this isn’t true. Stupid or overrated as it may sound, I’m part of something now, something I have no business representing poorly. Have I been brainwashed? Nah, I’ve just been kicked in the shins with a reality check. No matter how dumb the recruitment process, it landed me here, among people I like and respect for the most part. I can’t like and respect the whole of my sorority unless I can totally like and respect myself. Clarity understanding purpose motivation.
So without becoming someone new, here’s to becoming a better, milder-mannered me. I’ll drink—well, a little—to that.