There’s a little girl in bobby socks, me. Young and unaware of the South having Range Rovers, Donna Karan heels, and the lullaby-rubber of navy blue Bimmers, I visited William Faulkner’s hometown for the first time, ate barbecue and frozen yogurt and toured the oaky streets of Oxford, Mississippi, by taxi. I loved it for its mildness of manner, hot Saturday nights, and extra syllables in words like orange. Since then, I have come to love it for other things. It is now my hometown, which I tell you with pride. But pride in a time period, in politeness, and in prose. A deserved pride for a place, not an attitude, not pride for heated leather seats or a sunroof.
Ole Miss is the community. The University of Mississippi is the school. Together, they play host this year to Oxford’s largest freshman class in history, which includes one measly little English major named Mary Marge. Now taller and wiser, but still a little girl, neither college nor Mississippi are exactly what I thought they would be. And being here has made me into someone that I did not think I would be. That’s a generalization. Pardon those.
What I want: to be in a sorority. What I’m not: in a sorority. What I’m doing is not what I want to be doing, and what I want is no reflection of who I am. True, I wait in line at the off-campus drugstore and get birth control paid for by my mommy. But also true, the highlight of the semester thus far is waiting to get into a class taught by Jack Pendarvis. My world is only within theirs. I am separate and I am a part. Apart. A part. Why doesn’t that make sense?
Somehow it works in my brain that I need to make myself comfortable. I mean, okay, I’m comfortable in my dorm room with Christmas lights strung, reading my religion textbooks, or going out to dinner and a concert on the local Square (actually a roundabout), but I want friends. Oh, I already have those? Sure I do, but they aren’t my sisters. Oh wait, I have those too? What the fuck? All of a sudden, I want this? Who am I?! I guess the sororities will know better than I do. I’ll be classified and designated and color-coded and probed, but somehow, somehow this is what I want.
There were social clubs at my high school. I know, right? Two of them, short on variety, but groups that still indulged in rushing, crushing, and mildly hazing fifteen and sixteen-year-old girls, as well as intimidating the hell out of the uninvolved. I would have given both arms and all of my hair—but probably not my leg length—to be part of one. But I wasn’t, surely for lack of trying. My mother was entirely against it, had been for my two older sisters as well, and gave me no opportunity to protest for the sake of starving for friendship.
So, I spent three years watching my best friends make new friends—prettier, more fun, divine in the rite in which they were accepted and a part. Whereas, I, Mary Marge, with both my arms and all my hair, was apart. I felt distinguished in all the briniest ways.
So, because I was not a part, I spent the past years downplaying the designated social scene. I criticized the idea of paying for friends, of feeling forced into circumstances and relationships not of my own making or control. They looked (and they were) pointless. Not for me, never for me. I’d be at the Ivy League of the South, living large at an institution with no Greek scene at all. I’d never stoop to that, not even for the sake of some preppy pre-law boy in the perfect button-down. Not me. Never me.
And now—sans bobby socks—college. I didn’t get into my top choice school, could not afford my second or third or fourth or fifth choice schools, and in April, past all deadlines, there was Ole Miss, a school built on the blood, sweat, and missed field goal tears of men in their sportcoats on Saturdays. I chose it for the sake of my major and its reasonable distance from the people I know too well. It is, to say the least, to say it sweetly and with every syllable of the southern drawl I lack, a social institution. Sororities and fraternities dominate dormitories, parties, pastimes, and each of the many bars on the aforementioned, ever-mentioned Square. They bleed the colors of their Greek affiliations even before the navy blue and red of our sweet University.
The frat boys bask in the sun, eyes shaded by hundred-dollar sunglasses or name brand visors stitched by hand. They also bask in the views of the sorority girls on campus, David Yurman bracelets clanking around their rail-thin wrists, running shorts and oversized t-shirts covering bodies that often look better bare. They are my peers and this is my culture. I want to be one of them, to date one of them, to feel situated and secure among all of them.
But me? I don’t know if I belong in these bright, long tank tops with officially obscure Greek insignia. I have never seen myself as one who wants this, but when I catch a glimpse of a southern gentleman broiling in his colorful slacks and silk bowtie, I see myself as I could be, there beside him and smiling. And I see the girls in heels on college gamedays, already dreaming of the day they’ll have children, or maybe a career, and this cruelly bright culture devours me.
I also see our priorities. Like I should, I live for the glorious few acres we call the Grove, playing landlord to tailgaters and their tents in the midst of football season. The Grove is God’s gift to our people, our Mount Sinai. We stand on the grass in our wedges/pumps/Cole Haans, and enjoy the company, the cooking, the drunken hoots and hollers of all our favorite cheers. Those who belong smile and nonchalantly sip beers from styrofoam cups, or carefully stash their flasks inside their dresses. Those who don’t belong… well they aren’t here. Or they’re black, or they’re hoping not to be noticed pre-recruitment like I am.
It isn’t just that I see them. I know them. I love them. The people at Ole Miss that I love most, that do the most and best things for me, are members of sororities and fraternities. They hug me. They buy me drinks, even when it’s obvious they should stop. They advise. And they are true friends to me, good people, influenced by the material, yes, but so are we all down here.
I don’t have a David Yurman bracelet. I drive a dented hand-me-down SUV. I spend more of my time in famed Oxford at the bookstore than the bars or shoe stores. But no one seems to notice, and those who notice do not care that I am not of the highest caliber. They like me despite me, they like myself for me. Or they say so now, anyway, while I am not in a sorority.
There is something to be said for living in the most backward state in America. Oxford’s spirit of high society seems to exist in order to spite the low standards to which we are held. We click our heeled feet impatiently on the sidewalk. We drown the worst of Mississippi—the assumptions of incest, of lynching—in our more subtle racism, righteousness, and appetite for blush red wine. We know what William Faulkner did to put us on the regional map, but we also know he worked in menial service to our University and carried the name “Town Drunk.” We have found our grotto in Oxford’s grove. Our Greek scene, our comparative royalty and groups to which we pledge all loyalty, helps to define us in the midst of worse stereotypes. Maybe I don’t understand. Maybe this is entirely off track. Now a part of Ole Miss, I still—pre-rush—am apart from the organizations of which I’d like to be a part.
So get this. College is a time for re-definition. I have yet to use that honey-sweet, drip-droppy drawl of the Mississippi N-word, and have yet to wave a rebel flag or kiss a cousin. But I have wandered the grounds of Rowan Oak, have stitched myself a new set of standards, literary and literal. What I want, to be in a sorority. What I’m not, in a sorority. Nine of them on our campus and over 1100 girls making a mad-dash at first impressions to join them. The time is coming. I’ve got my makeup on. We discuss our preferences and anxieties every night. I don’t know what it means. I don’t know what to expect. Whoever it is that recruitment will make me, well, I guess that’s exactly what it is I want to be.
Or at least, you know, we’ll see.