When I get emails or questions about how it’s going, how Ole Miss is treating me, how my sorority is handling what I wrote about it, I usually just put those thoughts aside. To be quite frank, I have spent my sophomore year leisurely, drinking a lot of codeine, making decent grades, getting to know new people, and learning about the place I call home. I call Oxford home by choice—this past year my physical house and my intangible definition of home changed significantly back in Alabama. My mom moved out of my two-decades house, off my two-decades farm, very suddenly, while I lived alone in Arkansas as an intern. I came home to a new house in a smaller town and looked hopefully toward the promise of another year in the Ole Miss dorms.
But then I got there, to the dorms, and I nearly jumped out the window of mine. I got really depressed. Like basic-functions-impaired depressed. After dealing with the insanity of my magazine job and the pure grace of being on my own and, you know, handling it, I was thrust back onto our designated floor of eighty sophomore girls in my sorority who had spent their summers taking classes at community college or drinking daqs by the country club pool. I felt like I’d done something and they hadn’t. Basically, I was a hella snob.
It got better. I made new friends outside the sorority scene: people who got the bookstore jobs that I’d always wanted, people who frequented the same bakery on the square that I did, and even a few girls in other sororities. But every time I climbed the stairs to my corner of Dorothy H. Crosby Girls Dormitory, I snapped into self-indulgent bitch mode. I napped way too much. I drank way too much. I did not know how to explain with my voice what I can’t always even explain on paper: that after a hard, hard summer (hard because of my job, hard because of what changed in my family, hard because it was the first time in my life to be confronted by the fact that no one was there for me but me) I did not think I could relate to the world I had learned to love my freshman year.
Then came the kicker, that almost kicked my out my third-story window once more. I got called to Standards.
Standards is technically a support system within the sorority, a group made up of several different important officers and the chapter adviser, an adult alumnus. But ask any sorority girl about Standards and they might shake their heads a little or look a little nervous. Standards is where you go when you’ve misbehaved. Standards addresses underage drinking and unruly partying, inappropriate social media postings, and general expectations the sorority has for its members. So, I got called, and I didn’t know what to do about it. I wasn’t drinking codeine much, and no one knew when I was. But I was drinking vodka often, and everybody knew about that. My friends had expressed minimal concern, even. They said, Margey, we know you got wasted every chance you could in Arkansas, because it was hard, but Margey, we don’t want you to think that’s okay. I was ready for Standards to reiterate this. I was ready to pledge myself a new woman, a new member, then head back to the dorms and get sad enough to hit the town. I wasn’t ready for anything else.
In the office of my sorority house, they formed a semi-circle around me. “Mary Marge, do you know why you’re here?” And I didn’t, but shit, the way my chapter adviser was looking at me, I knew it was not alcohol, I knew it ran much deeper and dirtier than that.
“It’s about your blog.”
All I wanted to say was fuck you don’t ever call me a blogger, but instead I just cried. I cried really hard. I cried so hard that they pressed their manicured hands against my back, and no one was speaking, and my mascara was all over my shirt, and the plastic office chair creaked with my back-and-forth sobbing, and when I looked up, finished with crying, they were all just looking at me. The national branch of my sorority was not impressed by my internet humor. They were not impressed by my stories of self-worth and coming-of-age. They mostly, though, were not impressed by my underage drinking, by my make-out sessions, or by my fervent thought process of fuck fuck fuck.
I left with more tears and an assertion from my chapter adviser that they would fight for me, that I was decently talented and they were moderately proud. This didn’t say much and I was ready to recycle my t-shirts, find a new place to live. I didn’t tell anyone. I let it lie. It would happen how it would happen—maybe being terminated as a member would absolve my alcoholism, my loneliness, that weird feeling of knowing my sorority sisters better than they would ever know me.
To deal with this, I started leaning harder on the new friends, the ones not associated with my—or often any kind of—Greek life. I made a best friend in my fiction workshop, and I poured myself into this friend. I shrugged off the swaps and the chapter meetings and the formals and the frat boys, and I got really really into my work. I wrote good stories, and so did my friend. I had this pastime and I had this person, and from there, from the role of Honors English Major, I was able to affiliate differently. My fiction friend gave me other friends. I quit making it to meals at the sorority house.
I drank the codeine at night so I wouldn’t have to talk to any of the eighty girls I lived with. I tucked myself in early and I slept through the girl talks and the parties and the marathon watchings of Girls. I never heard from Standards, and I never heard from Tri Delt Nationals. Maybe they’ll see this and they’ll remember.
As for the drinking and the codeine, it got better with time. I started to forget that I’d ever lived and been brokenhearted in Arkansas, and I remembered that these girls who had been my friends really were my friends, that daqs by the pool didn’t change that. You could make a montage of my efforts to become close with them again. But I quit going to frat parties. (I haven’t been in one of their houses since October.) I figured out what I wanted. I’m twenty, and it’s such a gift to know that What I Want is allowed to change. Or maybe it’s not that my desires are changing, maybe it’s just that I’m figuring out what it is they actually are.
Outside the emotions and carpal tunnel syndrome of my own life, Ole Miss had its own rough fall semester. On election night in November, while I was at a grad student poetry reading celebrating Obama’s victory with a very American Miller High Life in hand, in the Grove on campus, freshman boys were burning Obama/Biden signs. And these few boys were drawing the crowds.
Imagine the hurt laughter of a half-filled movie theatre during Django Unchained when the word MISSISSIPPI drags itself across the screen, indicating the most horrible place in the South. But the crowd is hurt because it knows it should be. Mississippi knows itself, especially in a college town full of academics and young professionals but not many black people. Mississippi remembers the James Meredith riots of 1962, the bullets still framed in the brick of our symbolic Lyceum. Mississippi sees its college boys burning signs and slurring racial epithets on a November night in 2012, and Mississippi does not think about the present. Mississippi thinks about Emmett Till, Mississippi thinks about Freedom Summer, and Mississippi also shakes its head for the future of Mississippi.
Not all frat boys feel this way. In fact, it was a really small group that night in the Grove. But from their hate came the masses of tweeting and facebooking and gossiping other students, and when I stepped back to look at this web of social media and this issue of Ole Miss’s pride, I sort of understood sorority Standards. Not enough to change my vocabulary or my drinking, no way, but enough to be embarrassed by the place I’m part of. I love Ole Miss with my whole heart, even if the fall didn’t really convince me I still loved my sorority.
But then came the spring, and it changed that.