I started my sophomore year of college on Monday. A year ago, what I wanted was to survive rush and end up in a sorority, and also to take a class with Jack Pendarvis. Now here I am, wearing my oversized Sorority H T-shirt and snagging lunch at the sorority house on my way to a class on horror stories with, you guessed it, Pendarvis. I got what I wanted, if not necessarily as quickly or easily as I wanted. This year is going to be great. I took a weird route to get here, but words haven’t failed my yet, and I’ll stick by any and all of those I’ve used so far.
Let’s say, for the hell of it, that I’m now done examining. Freshman year, with its ups, downs, make-out sessions, rejections, essays on Faulkner, and breakfasts on the Square, is in the past. And despite my constant knack for living in the future tense, I’m in the present. This year is going to be a decent GPA and eighteen credit hours, more parties on weeknights, and no third-person observation and narration.
I fretted and I wrestled with myself during and before recruitment, then I made a decision and the sorority made its own, and I never looked back after that. Regret isn’t really applicable to something as surface-level as a social life, and shouldn’t be applicable at all to a person my age. I just recently entered the third decade of my life—and I’m not one to make a big deal out of milestones like that, but hitting twenty felt really beautiful. I’m entering what is likely to be my best decade, and according to many of my friends, it’s the decade I’ll meet Mr. Right and probably start a family. Already? Who knew? I thought this was the decade to move to Paris or take classes in sign language or wear belly-bearing crop tops or join a roller derby team and date the hundred and a half men that the world might have to offer me. Basically, it’s common knowledge that these are to be the Best Years of My Life. And the angst of exclusion—whether you’re the one on the outside or the one who’s joined the force of the excluding—is not trouble enough to detract from how wonderful these years have got to be. I can’t take any of it seriously, for my own sake.
What I have gained from my sorority is association. I who was always and only myself—the youngest daughter, the desperate weirdo, the high school social club outcast—have become a part of something bigger. It’s okay that it’s a silly association to some people, because besides being the farm girl and the writer and the problem child, I have something that isn’t all about me with which to identify. I don’t know if I’ll remain in my sorority for three years (or if I’ll be able to afford to). What I do know is that despite the private school dreams and the self-obsessed standards I once had, Ole Miss has been an achievement. Adapting to its culture has given me a new perspective for the incessant observation and narration, but it has also given me real things—a new sense of self, and a reminder that I’m not better than anybody. I still don’t have a David Yurman bracelet. I still don’t drive a Lexus. Being above—and without—luxury or brand names doesn’t make me special or honorable. But it’s all okay, because it makes me, well, me, and leaves me room for the wanting of something so much more wonderful that is to come.
So call this life trivial, I’m not offended. Call this collected work a navel gaze, cool. What I want is for any of it to have been informative, tangible: a slice of a life you haven’t lived. Because despite that I am not highbrow in my observations, I am comfortable, and beyond comfort, I am happy. I made friends who are real. I made my own decisions beyond the stereotypes. And for better or for worse, I learned something new every day: disappointing things and wonderful things, and that boys you love don’t like to be written about. My freshman year, my first year on my own but barely ever alone in terms of sisterhood, wasn’t anything other than a culmination of what I wanted—which was the freedom to find a home for myself and to make a place for myself, that meets my own standards and feels like it could really mean something, within it.
So what do I want now?
I want to have fun, mostly. I was required to be way too much of an adult this summer, which taught me a lot but wasn’t necessarily fun in the narrowest terms, and reminded me that being angsty and going to unbearably long and constant rush meetings is not actual work, nor is it without reward.
My goals for sophomore year are at least as superficial as the goals of rush: drink more coffee, stay up later, read a few more books than usual, go to parties at different fraternity houses than I frequented this past year, make more friends. But if you peel back these glaringly straightforward aims, you’ll find the unwavering goals of maintaining manners, ground rules, and—most importantly—a sense of humor. If not objectivity, humor. That’s all it really takes.
As for the things that have been difficult this past year, they were difficult because of me, not because of my circumstances or sorority. I still wouldn’t regularly call myself a sorority girl, but I can’t think of anything else I’d call myself instead. An English major? An Ole Miss rebel? Both correct, neither all-encompassing. But what would be all-encompassing? All I can think of would be a Sorority H member—ah, what the hell, a Tri Delt—with more on her mind than being simply that.
To the freshman me, one or two of whom I know are out there, biting their own nails about recruitment and staring hard into the dormitory mirror trying to remember why they want this—you’ll be fine. If you find yourself somewhere in the nearly half-alphabet of sororities on campus, good for you. If you don’t, for reasons of exclusion or a realization of some deeper personal integrity, good for you, too. Belonging to a sorority won’t be life-changing on the grand scale; it won’t define you and it won’t seal your fate. But it will change your life, at least in small ways. You don’t have to start wearing your t-shirts too big, you don’t have to binge drink or diet. But you don’t have to judge anybody either; you don’t have to obsess, observe, and narrate. You don’t have to come of age because of any of it, you don’t have to emerge with some thesis on meaning and self-worth and potential. All you have to do is enjoy it.
That’s how it went for me, at least. Maybe that’s just how it goes.