Against bets I wager heavily, no one drowns and no one gets arrested. For the second week of March, the majority of the Ole Miss Greek community moves itself as a whole to the beachside city of Destin, Florida, and its surrounding gulf communities. And despite our reputation in the undergraduate realm as the standard-setting SEC revelers, no one from Ole Miss drowns, and no one that I know personally gets arrested.
Before taking off in my friend’s Lexus and heading the seven hours south, in my liberal arts seminar we plan to pick apart The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock after break. I’m a huge fan of T.S. Eliot, second only to Auden in case you’re interested, and I find stream-of-consciousness to be very stylistically relatable to my own mindset. So in preparation for our careful dissection of one of my all-time favorite poems, as I sip and swim and suck in my belly weight on the beach with the other thousands and thousands of collegiates, I find myself constantly coming back to next week’s imminent discussion of Prufrock.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening—
when the evening is purple and gray and hazy for want of a spring break vacation that is actually during the spring…
It’s an early holiday, but it is a holiday nonetheless, and eighteen members of my pledge class book a rental house together. I only get a spot because another girl decides not to go after she’s booked with a cash deposit. Our plan is to try not to get evicted or busted or in trouble for having boys over or anything else that may be deemed inappropriate. I’m nervous. I’m not necessarily a nervous person, never outwardly anyway, and a vacation should be relaxing, not anxiety inducing, right? Wrong. I’m going to the beach with probably the wildest girls I’ve ever met, the kind I can never keep up with, even though among the general population I can usually hold my own. They go hard. They break chandeliers and get kicked out of parties, and have to be collected, still drunk, just about every morning from some house full of boys by tamer members of our group, namely me.
Not to speak ill. These are some of my very favorite people! And on the whole, our sorority is not so… free-spirited. So I know no surprise when one of my friends gets a Minor in Possession charge, even though she unintentionally gets out of it by being too drunk to accurately remember all of her identification information. She is our, and T.S. Eliot’s Lazarus, come from the dead; she recovers from passing out facedown in the sand one day and another pledge sister from the humiliation of being resuscitated in the surf. There’s something fearless in the way these girls know no shame. I take mental notes in want of being just as fearless.
So, feeling fearless, one night after dinner at one of the Gulf Coast’s sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells my sisters and I stumble upon a sad-faced frat star that we do not know needing a ride to his condo. OK, we decide, can we score some good karma on this one? Or at least a story or two? Fearless. He hops in the car, tells us he’s lost his phone and stolen someone else’s, and to head in the direction of Miramar beach. Somehow we’re all sober, but this poor boy is not. He is belligerent and bipolar and flirting up a storm one second with Sally or Jennifer and then insulting Rachel or me the next. We roll up to Miramar and ask where to take him… but he doesn’t know. He can’t recognize anything, his brain as cloudy as his unsure eyes, and we proceed to continue driving, trying new possibilities and begging him to call one of his friends for directions. But he can’t, because his phone is stolen and he, in return, stole someone else’s and has no idea what the numbers of his best friends and frat bros could be.
So an hour later, Sally and Jennifer sympathizing, Rachel and I at the end of our wits, we drop the kid at a Ramada Inn and tell him to go get on the computer or find a phonebook or, worst of all, call his parents. It was a little harsh, yeah? But there wasn’t much else we could do. I hope he didn’t die or anything.
In the rental house, semi-women come and go
Talking of Michael and Angelo…
(and Tyler and Andy and Nick and Sam and Parker)
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
My phrase is formulated frontward and backward. I’m the girl who doesn’t stay out as late as those that I’m with, who gets sick of the social scene within minutes, who prefers beach trips devoted to Brett Dennen playlists and the new anthology Indie-Bookstore-Boy picked out for me. But I’m going to reformulate myself this week—it’s decided. No inhibitions, no specific plans, going with that age-old flow of wild collegiate life. I’m not me this week, I’m the Better Me! Wooo!! I think, with a nervous determination.
But instantly, it’s impossible to be as fun as my friends are. I stick strictly to a diet of my favorite drink, one I personally deem refreshing and worthy and tropical enough in its own right: gin and tonic with lime. This earns me the nickname of Grandpa. (I grow old, I grow old.) Not Mary Marge the Party Barge or anything as promising anymore… Grandpa Margey. So it’s obvious that I lose a little steam in the fun department, grasping now at the straws of free-spiritedness, but constantly gripped and clawed by the constant nag of being innately, almost awkwardly, responsible—politic, cautious, and meticulous—not too much of any of these things, simply a bit more aware of things in general than the fellow girls of my rental house.
And then the introverted questions on the shoreline persist…
“Do I dare?” and “Do I dare?”
Apparently I do dare to wander around with boys from Auburn, Alabama, Georgia Southern, regular Georgia, Texas A&M, Virginia Military Institute, etc., and hit up the beer bong (sorry, Sorority H, but I promise no one took any pictures!) and make a place for myself among the fumes of their Keystone Light breath and springtime hormones. I dare to take off my Ole Miss Sorority H tank top and bask sunward in bathing-suit-only. I dare to go for a quarter-mile swim at the peak of all fretful drunkenness and almost die, I think. I dare to indulge in Whataburger for five different meals of my week—4 a.m. honey butter chicken biscuits, I dare you to enjoy anything as much as one of these. I dare to look desirable, top-down on the scenic highway in my new friend and pledge sister’s very Oxford-esque Mercedes convertible. I dare myself to drink this all in—literally, drink it—for one week only, because fuck knows I will never be making this trip again.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
No, I wouldn’t eat one for the messiness factor, because I’m not capable of pulling off that juicy sort of sexiness, but grab a can of concentrate and let’s turn the blender on high, bitches. And the part of my hair sucks, beach hair in general sucks, so I’m going to put on my sorority-labeled baseball cap and knock back this peach daiquiri real quick, just like I swear I was born to do.
I wasn’t born to do it, though. Thursday night, six entire nights of wildness into the trip, I see the moment of my greatness flicker. Another sorority from Ole Miss is renting a four-story house two doors down from us and, on the occasion of their last night, decides to host an Eviction Party. It’s something out of a movie, marble countertops destroyed, hookups in the hot tub, people throwing chairs off the fourth floor balconies and then cannonballing from there into the courtyard pool. I’m overwhelmed. The cops come. I run into all the wrong people. To be adequately vague, my week of freedom and unconsciousness flickers before my eyes and I am reminded of who I am and why.
I leave Friday morning, thirty hours early, with a friend from home who stayed elsewhere and head back to northern Alabama instead of Oxford. I’m exhausted, sunburnt, and out of liquor. The eternal Footman holds my coat, and snickers. Destin defeats me. My personality falters. It was a whole week, and I almost made it, but I didn’t. And I might as well decide that’s okay.
On the way out of town, passing down the coastline, I see the mermaids, my friends, who do not sing to me, instead sing only to each other in the secret tongue of those who belong to something, even if it is only the sea.
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
But then again—That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.