The real week of rush—water parties, oh man, that’s nothing—is kicked off by our Panhellenic Recruitment Convocation lecture. We titter nervously in sundresses as a whole, donned sportingly and appropriately, though I’m the only one wearing pants. Fuck. We make our light-footed, high-heeled ways to our seats, and up I go, laughing with two Texans, to the highest level of the amphitheatre balcony. The nearly 1300 of us cram, smile, and wait for our speaker, the Ole Miss Dean of Students.
“Reserve the breaking of your heart,” he says.
I decide that I should listen.
“Reserve the breaking of your heart.” Is his repetition dramatic? Yes, but almost necessarily so. “Don’t let sororities do that. Don’t see yourself kicked to the curb by them and define yourself by the groups that don’t want ya.”
He knows what percentage of us will not be joining sororities at all. “Ladies, sweet girls”—endearing?—“reserve the breaking of your heart for pain in your family. Reserve it for the loss of love. Reserve it for the moments that will define you, because these are moments that will not.” I quit paying attention. It’s well meant, but it’s dramatic. Instead, the Texans and I joke about flinging ourselves from this balcony if and when we aren’t offered a bid.
The days leading up to the first real round of rush are weird ones. There are issues back home; my friends are having tough times adjusting to their own schools—SEC like mine, as well as Ivy League—and to family trials, too. Some problems are trivial. Some are not. I flatter myself because of my comfort level. I am not well-informed of what is going on at home. I am too busy meeting girls and working my way into a good sorority.
And in the middle of my weary self-infatuation, a minute-long phone call during French class reminds me why hearts should really break. After six years of illness, after always, somehow, coming out on top, my best friend’s mother has died. And it doesn’t bring me to my knees, not even to tears, not here, not now, not yet. But then classes, the day, exams, all end, and I leave for home and ceremony still dry-eyed, managing to function, still wearing makeup and choosing just the right shoes.
In the middle of what I think is important—rush—I’m reminded in sheer humiliation of what actually is. My heart has not properly reserved its breaking.
There are ways to turn grief into humor. I do not know them. If I could criticize the brouhaha of the funeral-goers, if I could categorize the bleary-eyed, the teary-eyed, the coughing criers, the stoic, if I could break their sadness up into just another sharp social commentary, I would. I would paint a picture for you—figuratively, because I can’t paint—of a waxy lady clutching locks of her children’s hair, and it would make sense in some strange profound way, and I would realize how small the thing I’m seeing is. But I am not capable of making these things pleasant, even in a heartbreaking, indulgent sort of pleasure, and I sit in the pew thinking about having dinner with a boy from high school, and how he would much rather have dinner with my friend who mourns her mother, and this is the most grotesque sin.
It isn’t an easy week. There is a second funeral—which I feel should still be in honor of the first one that week—for a second family friend, which I miss because of sorority recruitment. That guilt is a monster. Though I wasn’t as close to her as to my best friend’s mother, she mattered a lot to the context of my family and community. Mattered… it’s weird to shift a person’s life into the past tense, especially for someone to whom words matter so much.
But I keep right on, back in Oxford, with the festivities of rush. I don’t even pause mid-small-talk for a few seconds of reflection. Who am I not to have my everyday life affected? The Dean told us to reserve the breaking of our hearts, and I thus far I have, even though my brittle heart should be breaking. I trip up or choke up for just the fraction of an instant, and then I’m back on my game, back repeating my major, avoiding assumptions.
It doesn’t get better. It just gets normal. The awkwardness of not wanting to bother my friend with a phone call is replaced by the potential awkwardness of bringing her thoughts back to death. So instead of calling, I bury myself in the first round of recruitment, and it’s hard, and it’s oh so hard, but I guess not as hard as it should be.
The first round is philanthropy, and each house’s chosen charity is worthy, blessed, inspiring, well presented and precise. No effort to do good should be criticized. After a presentation of each sorority’s special skills and awards, small talk returns, meeting new girls and laughing, our facial muscles aching in an enthusiastic amalgam of likeability and comfort. Even groups I didn’t originally prefer find their way back into my favor, as if their successes are an apology, as if to say, “Marge, darling, you belong with us, here, you belong with us, now, here, you fit.”
I want to focus and love this, but… but I don’t! My best friend’s mom, whose house we played inside of and later got drunk inside of and later could not stand to walk inside of for the absence of an echo, is dead. And I’m not dead and I’m not particularly struggling, so why do I deserve any stress? Perspective. Spell it out. Perseverance, respect, inventive: put it all together now… perspective. I’ve got it, oh I’ve got it bad. I can’t take myself seriously at sorority tables. I want to go to the dorm, to my bed, to sit and think and will myself to tears. They do not come in sorority houses. Then they don’t come at all.
Angst angst angst metaphor metaphor metaphor.
After a blurred first day of rush, we have our callbacks post-first-cuts-of-recruitment-omg. We are allowed “up to” six houses, but the median number of houses to call a girl back is three. Didn’t think I’d be nervous, shit, not me, but I am as a I head to the Grove in my Round Two attire.
It’s a really windy day and the walk is a decent length. My eyes water. Once at the Grove, girls are crying. And my eyes, weathered, deceive the crowd that so am I. Which is pretty much a good thing, because the ranks of assembled freshmen are heaving back and forth in down-pouring sobs, in a manner that reminds me of those who sought recognition at the funeral. My friends have their offers already, most are surprised but not unhappy, and I am late to the Grove, surprising no one, so they surround me and breathe what I am bid.
I have six houses left. I see granola D, and overall champion H, and I am pleased and unknowingly disregard the rest. The houses I did not request are gone, or at least—wait, what? What the fuck? Sorority G has dropped me? I miss a breath or two, much in the same way I did when I heard the funeral plans. Then I move on, as always. I did well, lucky me. I want to tell every girl that I pass—in between swift kicks to her shins—to reserve the breaking of her heart and to learn from this process and to take it in stride. But then I’m sure they’d ask how many houses I was asked back to, and they’d hmmph and toss their curls.
So the second round of rush is skit round. Song and dance routines, brilliantly and simplistically choreographed across the board, aim to convince us which house we belong inside. Oh la la, more decisions that they pretend we get to make, more pseudo-seismic, life-altering choices. Some houses that, to me, suck, are great to others. Vice versa. Two houses impress everyone they invite back. No one is surprised by that.
I don’t have much to say about skit round because I never really think about skit round. I think of death (#broody). I think of who it is that these other girls have lost, how it isn’t only me or my hometown, how I need to calm my insides the fuck down, how I need to reel in the thoughts trailing off from my seat in a chapter room.
Rush is bringing tears to the eyes of the young women around me. Not even death is stirring tears in me. I’m a traitor, right? To what matters as well as to what doesn’t? But we are all the same. That’s what I hear in sorority houses, between classes, on the drive home to a funeral, after a funeral in a dead person’s foyer. We are all the same. Skits are similar. So are attitudes and smiles and notions and the places we feel at home, different in only the smallest ways.
And in the smallest ways, I love recruitment, and sororities, and what I will gain from them, or it, singular—one. Love, maybe, but no broken heart.