After skit round, I apparently have my pick of the litter. I’m asked back to all three of my top-choice houses, and I’m pumped. Really pumped. I’m going to be a srat1 star! Boys will like me, and I will like me too! All goals, in short, will be achieved.
My selections for the final round of rush are Sororities A, D, and H. A—the diverse, funny group with whom I have an automatic legacy “in.” D—the tie-dye wearers, the many-braceleted future leaders of America. H—the one I want to join. I said it. I felt committed. I think I meant it.
Pref night, short for “preference,” is what we’ve really been preparing for. It’s the serious segment of recruitment, and tears are apparently pretty common. I’m working on it. I don’t really care for wasted weeping or anything but, you know, hey, we can hope. We dress up really nicely tonight, making final impressions and having heart-to-hearts with the girls in each house who know us best.
At Sorority A, I am the very first girl called inside. The things they say are sweet and somber, real odes to sisterhood and what the members of the group mean to one another. I have a good friend here, and she and I sit down together for the individualized portion of our allotted time in the house. We have a funny conversation, but it takes a more serious turn.
“Mary.” She wants me to join this sorority. “I know you would love Sorority D, and Sorority H, but Mary Marge, this is it. You would be a perfect A.” I’d make such good friends and have such sweetly nuanced experiences, and I’d be a really great officer when that kind of time rolls around, and yeah, of course, uh huh, sounds good.
Then she surprises me. “I’ve got something to give you.”
Red alert. Dirty rushing!! No gifts are to be given to potential new members, under even the most desperate circumstances, but I’m thrilled. A new element has been added to the game. From her pocket she draws a sheet of computer paper, folded into quarters, and hands it to me. It’s from my sister, my legacy into Sorority A, and if it were not the most intimate exchange to ever happen between my sister and me, I’d put it right here to be immortalized. I can’t make it four lines before crying.
Girls, teary-eyed at the promise of friendship, suddenly turn to see me bent over in legitimate tears. The note tells me I’m probably nothing like the other girls rushing, that they have probably never achieved the level of personality she sees in me (true only because she is my sister), and that maybe I’m not meant for this. The letter is not about Sorority A in the way that I imagined it might be; it is instead a love letter, a real life love letter of a support beyond the bond of sorority sisterhood, of real sisterhood, of blood. And tears now too, Goddamnit.
I don’t know what to do with myself but hold the note in my pocket, fingering it gingerly when I get confused by what I want2. Leaving Sorority A, I tell my friend how much she means to me, how grateful I am for her kindness during rush. She says she hopes to see me tomorrow for Bid Day.
From there I migrate to Sorority D. They look gorgeous, hell, they always do. Their members sing and play piano, light candles, tell stories of what D means to them. Suddenly D starts to mean something to me too… I thought I knew what I wanted. Apparently I don’t. This sorority doesn’t simply give off a vibe of friendship. This sorority means something to these girls. They are the good, and together, as D, they are the greater good. Should I be one of them, that is the question, and the hand-holding, the anecdotes, the girls I have begun to know who I now feel want even to understand me, convince me that yes, yes, I should. It’s a cohesive feeling and a great one too. This might as well be it for me. I get big hugs on the way out, and a girl I am willing and wanting to get to know whispers, “I hope I see you back tomorrow.”
I go to the H house unsure. I know just who it is that will pref me, and together we sit down to talk, which I expect to be a really big deal, maybe a definitive point in our friendship. But she says, “Hey, do I really need to pref you?” and we spend the minutes laughing, her happiness in Sorority H subtle, but apparent. She is a really popular person, some kind of big shot officer and so after a few minutes she gets up to address the whole group, not just me.
Thirty minutes ago I belonged in Sorority D. Zero percent of a doubt in my mind, I had overcome my own expectations for the evening and had vulnerably experienced their sisterhood without criticizing it for anything. It is the only group that spoke to my insides, said to take a look at all that I could be a part of, that I could take so seriously and love. Whereas here, at the H house, I’m laughing with friends and not even thinking about collectiveness, about sororities. Is it better to be happy and realize you’re in a sorority or to be happy without all the effort? This seals the deal for me. My mind is made up.
My friend walks me out of the H house, saying hey to every person she passes, and gives me a hug with which I’m actually familiar. “See you tomorrow?” she asks.
My dire need for drama, to seem like this decision is torture, bubbles inside of me. I don’t want to let anyone down. I don’t want to have given the wrong impression. I know which sorority feels best as a sorority, and I know which sorority feels like home.
I wake up the next morning eager. All of us in my building—stoners, Catholics, westerners, Honors students—begin a countdown to two o’clock and Bid Day.
A lot of parents are coming to see us off to our new homes on Sorority Row, but my mom wasn’t in a sorority or anything. She didn’t go to my older sister’s bid day. It seems natural that she won’t be here.
No bouquet has been sent to the dorm lobby for me, smelling sweetly and urging me to act perfect and stay poised. Apparently that’s a tradition here at Ole Miss, the flower thing. I felt too stupid telling my mom about it, so I just spray Febreeze around my room and it smells so good guests assume I’m hiding my massive bouquet. So modest. That’s me.
But at eleven o’clock, my phone rings, and my mother is 30 minutes from Oxford.
Her cell service breaks up on the backroad drive to visit, so she texts me from her next pit stop.
coming 2 oxford. thought it would b fun. xoxo
bringing u cookies 2.
So she arrives outside of Martin Hall, a tray of homemade cookies in hand, wrapped in coordinated curly ribbon. “Oh shoot,” she says. Before I can manage my next murmur of confusion, she turns back to the car. “These are Sorority H’s colors! You haven’t even gotten a bid yet!”
I laugh because she knows their colors, because she is invested enough in this to show up, but mainly because it’s Bid Day and I’m at Ole Miss and I don’t really know who I am right now. But it’s a humorous feeling, a welcome one. I keep laughing.
I’m always laughing, though it’s nerves now. We stand, all remaining thousand-ish, waiting for the official business of receiving our bid cards. The order of business is more than order here, it is untainted tradition: we are to be handed our envelopes, to open them with arms adrenalized by the prospects of our futures, and then to spring to our new homes on Sorority Row.
My friends are ready. And I’m ready! I have a feeling that my envelope contains exactly what I want it to, and you know, whatever, if it doesn’t then that is that. That’s how it goes. That’s how it always has gone, I guess, and always will. Until sororities are eclipsed by a new means of social exclusion, probably some Facebook group spin-off. Or whatever, right?
But I get my envelope and—for the fraction of an instant that I go without opening—I’m a little bit terrified. I’ve put a surprising, self-serving, self-deprecating amount of effort into this process, and I am ready, but terrified. There could be a fluke. I could have given or received wrong impressions. I could have, I might have, what if I—
—SORORITY H WOULD LIKE TO INVITE Mary Marge Locker TO JOIN—
blah blah blah, something else, a signature, and then a blur, I’m fucking out of there, I’m like a hunting dog chasing falling birds, I’ve got tunnel vision, I could run like this forever. I could keep on keeping on forever; I’m a jet, you should see this shit, seriously see it, me, Marge, running for the first time since middle school PE—really, really running.
I can barely recognize my path across campus. Frat boys and pledges line the sidewalks, dressed in sport coats, cheering, teasing. Hipsters far above the Greek scene also cover campus, laughing at These Dumb Freshmen Bitches who are paying for friends. Fuck the man. Fuck the freshman girl embodying him.
But oh, man, I’m not stopping for anything. I’m nearly there. I’m high-fiving the bros like I was born to do it, and Bam! I make it to the H house alive, one of the first, barely breathing. My friend who preffed me, Brittany, the big shot, loads me down with presents and general enthusiasm. Yeah! Friends once, sisters now! It’s honestly pretty cool, to be able to take a female, heterosexual relationship to a new level. Give us a new title! Sisters. That’s it, right there. Sisters.
It makes me think of my sister and the note, and I wonder what my family will think of all this, when suddenly I see my mom. Low-key, she stands beneath a massive magnolia that apparently wants to hug her, and she waves to me saying, Hey kid, this is your shindig, not mine—see ya when I see ya.
We aren’t a social family. She knows this will come and go.
I see her for a second, then head inside among the 121 girls of my pledge class. Our massive freshman population grants Ole Miss the honor of second-highest sorority quota in the United States. I’m overwhelmed. Hey I’m Sally. Hey this is Brooke. And Jess, Claire. And Ali. And the double names like mine, even harder, Mary Adele, Mary Margaret, Mary Charles, Betsy Kate, Rhea Kay, generations more, and more, and keep counting, there’s more.
I smile and I’m ready, or I think I’m ready. Okay. Sisters. Let’s do this. We made it. We’ll be in each other’s weddings. We’ll live together for the next three years. We’ll share our hopes and thoughts, and—more importantly—our hookup stories and psychology notes. We’ll bond over late night meals in the sorority house kitchen. We’ll do crazy shit when we drink. 121? I got this. Yeah.
“I’m Mary Marge,” I say, and I’m laughing.
1 Derived from the abbreviation “frat” for fraternity as an adjective, “srat” is short for sorority.
2 To be in a sorority!