I'm feeling particularly fratty today. Which is probably not a sentence you hear a lot outside of college, and definitely not a sentiment I find myself expressing a lot ever since I graduated over a year ago.
Still, though. It's Friday, the sun is bright in the California sky and I also just got my brand new California ID. I feel like I've finally taken this step forward in a solid way. I have the state-approved seal of approval. We have a foldable table behind our place, a table perfect for beer pong. I'm smoking a cigarette in the morning sun and trying to shake the sleep from my limbs with nicotine and it feels so familiar, but so distinctly different at the same time.
How many mornings did I wake up in that little honky-tonk town, stumble my way outside (or at least as far as the living room) to spark up a remedial morning smoke? Most of them. Not many of them had the glory of this sunlight, though.
How many cigarettes have I smoked standing around a folding table burdened with red solo cups, all filled to varying degrees with varying fluids? Hundreds.
This is another cigarette in the ashes of my living story. It feels stupid and antiquated to measure time or significant periods by cigarettes smoked, but I'm a hack anyway, so I'm working with what I've got.
I digress, though. The point I went in here trying to get across was this fratty feeling. I look at my Facebook and see that the newest batch of kids just became brothers at my home chapter. I don't know these kids or their stories. I don't know the kids who preceded them either. Since there's a new crop with every semester, in the now year and a half since I've graduated, I've missed three batches.
I'm not really beat up about that fact. I had my heyday in college, and I know that when I had it, I had it while it was the best. As campuses grow more and more intolerant of Greek life, and as more and more stories pop up about these fucked up racist events or lethal hazing practices, the institution of Greek life is probably all but doomed.
For what it's worth, I was in a large national fraternity. Despite the horror stories you hear about some places, my chapter never conducted anything with racist premises, and we never jeopardized the lives of our members or candidates. That's not to say there weren't a pile of shenanigans, or that pledging was a breeze, but we never did anything that would seriously hurt someone.
The fraternity offered me and my brothers a safe space, a place where we could be unabashedly ourselves. We were a motley crew of losers and boozers but it was a family. I really expanded on my social abilities and found new ways to interact with people. I got to meet a lot of people and I got to be on the inside of something where I felt belonging.
On our campus for my tenure as a student, we were the runt of the Greek system basically the whole time. The few updates I see from the kids who're in school now tell me that things have gotten better. Again, it doesn't affect me much, but I take some pride in knowing I helped build that. I helped write the by-laws. My name is on the charter. There is that level of legacy for me there, for better or worse. If nothing else, it's a couch to crash on. It's also the place where I've met some of my best friends.
I know fraternities get a bad rap nowadays, and for the most part, it comes deserved. The time for insular, exclusive society groups is at it's end. Too much of what these organizations represent is about excluding. Part of what I loved was earning the privilege to bear the letters, but I understand that my chapter and my fraternity aren't the standard for the system. We never had an exclusionary clause based on wealth or race; ours is a merit-based organization. Not all Greek orgs began like that, or even try to be today.
There are values I'll forever hold fast to that I learned from my time in the fraternity. Values like supporting your team, your 'brothers' metaphorical or otherwise. Or the value in charity, and giving back to the community that you call your home. The value in a good conversation with a stranger, the value in being a good entertainer. The effort it takes in funding an organization, the co-operation necessary for it to run smoothly. Leadership, and knowing what the power of your voice can be.
I learned all of that and more from being in a fraternity. I made plenty of mistakes, too. It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. I fucked up a lot. Every time, though, I had a pile of brothers around me for support and criticism. For a kid who was a loser in high school and struggled with depression and issues of self-worth, I found reinforcement in my brothers.
So when I say I feel fratty, I guess I mean I feel a combination of pride and nostalgia on this sunny morning. The feeling of having passed a gauntlet, found yourself at home, and knowing there is a home to return to, from anywhere. Even if that home is in the scattered hearts of your brothers.