condescending twatbags, Ex, memories, narcissists, nostalgia

“Dick”… a man who doesn’t know dick! On not “suffering in silence” anymore…

Last night, I was on Facebook, reminiscing with fellow Longwood University graduates about a wonderful professor we all knew. In my case, she was the very first Longwood professor I met when I came to orientation during the summer of 1990. I was immediately impressed by her optimism and enthusiasm. She was friendly and fun and dynamic, and it was all 100% genuine. She really set an exciting tone for me during those early days at Longwood. I’ve never forgotten it, or her. She was the first of MANY excellent professors I had in college.

For many years, this professor taught speech and theater. I was an English major, but I had double minors in speech and communications, so I did end up having her for one of my classes. I always remember her to be a wonderful, kind, and energetic role model.

A little 90s era mood music for people like “Dick”…

During my junior year at Longwood, I had this professor for a course called Interpersonal Communications. It was a large class, so after class began, she decided to split it into two sections. She wanted me to take the later section, which was co-taught by a teaching assistant. I had a conflict, though, because I was also taking voice lessons in the music department, and my lessons were scheduled during the time the other section was being held. Voice lessons were arranged privately between teacher and student. Obviously, my Interpersonal Communications professor had looked up everyone’s schedules, saw that I didn’t have another scheduled class, and figured she could just stick me in the other section.

I don’t remember why we did it this way, but I ended up attending both sections of the class. On the days I had my voice lessons, I went to the earlier session. On the other days, I went to the later class. It worked out fine, and I got an A in the class, although I wonder what would have happened if I’d had a job or some other commitment… but then, it was Farmville, Virginia in the early 90s, and jobs weren’t that plentiful in those days.

This professor’s class was always interesting. I remember she had people come in to speak to us. One day, a physical education professor, notorious for being a very tough grader, came in and told us about how he and his ex wife had lost a child to leukemia. I didn’t have this P.E. professor myself, but I remember my friends talking about how difficult his class was. When I heard his tragic story about how he’d lost a child and it ruined his marriage, I saw him in a very different light.

The professor also told us a lot about herself, and her history. I distinctly remember her talking about her first husband, the father of her sons, and how he was a severe alcoholic. My father was an alcoholic, so I empathized a lot with her story about her ex husband. One day, I wrote in a paper about my father and this professor gifted me with an insightful book about how to deal with alcoholics. I ended up passing it on to my mom, and she was so very grateful, because the book was helpful to her. I also remember going to this professor’s home one Saturday, along with the rest of our class, and being treated to a wonderful home cooked brunch. I still remember her delicious breakfast casserole.

Suffice to say… I have some very warm and fuzzy memories of this professor, and my college, where I got an excellent education in a supportive environment, and found so many lifelong friends. The professor is still living, but is currently in a nursing home/assisted living housing. Her health is declining. So we were all in this Facebook group, remembering her, and I was really enjoying all of the stories and memories… Someone shared her mailing address so people who love her can send cards to her.

And then, he showed up…

There’s one in every crowd, isn’t there? That person who just has to come in and shit on everything. That person who has to break wind in the middle of a room where there’s nothing but good vibes, sunshine, and fresh air. I’ll call him Dick, because frankly, that’s what he is. But that’s not his real name.

I kind of knew Dick when we were students at Longwood. We were both involved with the radio station. It was an activity I had really enjoyed and had a knack for doing. My junior year, someone nominated me for music director of the station. Dick was also nominated. He had ambitions to work in radio. I probably did too, although I don’t have the same kind of overbearing, domineering personality that Dick has.

I remember that Dick had rather forcefully inserted himself in the business at the radio station. He used to lecture everyone about the FCC regulations, warning the disc jockeys about not playing music with swear words, lest we get a “$50,000 FINE!”. I don’t remember why he was lecturing people, as at the time this was happening, he didn’t have any kind of official authority. We were all volunteers anyway.

I also remember that he was constantly ordering people to play new music instead of whatever they wanted to play on their shows. A lot of the music he wanted people to play, quite simply, sucked. But he was bound and determined to be in charge, and was trying to force everyone to do things his way, even though the station only had ten watts of power and could only be heard within a six mile radius of the school. He wanted to take over, come hell or high water.

I remember that Dick set his sights on vanquishing me in our mutual bid to be music director. He harassed me when I was on the air and complained about me to the station manager. He got his male radio station friends to gang up on me, even blatantly getting them to publicly endorse him during our meetings. His friends were popular and into music, but they were otherwise slackers who didn’t really give a shit about their educations.

I had worked very hard at radio, taking time slots for shows that no one else wanted. At one point, I was on the air from midnight to four in the morning on Saturdays. I did those shows because I truly loved radio, even though I’m not naturally a night owl and people weren’t always listening at that hour.

And then Dick came in and RUINED it. I have not forgotten that, nor, if I’m honest, can I say that I’ve forgiven him for being such an insufferable control freak and shitting on an activity I enjoyed so much. I’m not very good at forgiveness.

I couldn’t stand Dick, and since I was not as resilient or assertive back then as I am now, I ended up quitting the radio station so I wouldn’t have to deal with him anymore. I regret that I did that now. In fact, even then I hated to do it. Unfortunately, once the radio station was overtaken by Dick and his cronies, I just couldn’t stomach it, or him.

Of course, today I would politely tell Dick to go fuck himself. Therapy is a good thing.

I never forgot Dick…

So last night, there we were, posting our memories about this beloved Longwood professor. In comes Dick.

Do you know what that asshole did? He related a story of his own about the professor. He’d had her for a class. Because she was a very caring and engaged teacher, one day she pulled him aside and asked him why he wasn’t participating in class. And Dick wrote that he told the professor he’d already read all the books she’d assigned when he was still in high school. He related this story in a smug, superior way, as if we should be impressed.

Then, to the rest of us, he wrote that Longwood isn’t a prestigious school like the University of Virginia or Rutgers University (Dick is from New Jersey). And that none of his employers ever cared that he went to Longwood.

Before I knew it, I posted “You were a total jerk in the 1990s, and I can see that nothing has changed.”

Someone else asked him what he was doing in the group, since he had such disdain for Longwood. Clearly the rest of us love the school, even if it’s not the most prestigious university. And, actually, Longwood is a pretty good school, especially for teachers, although there’s a lot more to a good college experience than reputation and acceptance rates. My husband, Bill, is a graduate of American University, which is a well-known, prestigious school. But he marvels all the time about the wonderful experience I had at Longwood, and the fact that I still know professors and fellow graduates almost thirty years post graduation.

Dick’s self-congratulatory post about how “above” Longwood he is, especially in a thread about a wonderful teacher, was bad form and totally out of place. It reminded me of something Donald Trump would do.

Maybe Longwood isn’t for everyone, but it’s a fantastic school for many people. Dick has no right to come in and take a dump on other people’s good memories about a beloved professor with his negative, pompous, arrogant bullshit.

Dick responded to me. He wrote, “I don’t remember you at all.”

I’m not at all surprised that he doesn’t remember me; and, in fact, I am relieved. So I wrote, “Good. I’m glad you don’t remember me. Let’s keep it that way.”

This morning, I noticed that Dick’s comments were deleted. I hope he got deleted from the Facebook group, too, since he obviously has such a low opinion of our alma mater. What a narcissistic asshole!

Although maybe it was wrong for me to call Dick a “jerk”, it was obviously something he needed to hear. Or maybe it was just something I needed to tell him. I know I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t stand him back in the day. Based by the reactions he got last night, I’ll bet I wasn’t the only person who was shocked by his comments about our teacher. I’m sure a lot of people were suffering in silence.

Obviously, Dick hasn’t matured beyond who he was thirty years ago. But I have done a lot of growing… and I have Longwood, in part, to thank for that. It’s too bad Dick wasted his time at such an “inferior” school for his prodigious “gifts” and “talents”. Wish he’d gone somewhere else.

And now for a somewhat related segue about narcissism and how the universe allows us to fix recurring situations…

Bill and I have both noticed that sometimes, the universe gives you a way to fix wrongs from the past. Last night, I got a chance to tell “Dick” that he’s a jerk. I wouldn’t have ordinarily called him a jerk. Ordinarily, I would have used more profane language. But, because I was commenting in a thread about a wonderful Longwood professor, I decided to keep my comments rated PG. Yea for self-control! That’s something of which impulsive narcissists don’t have much!

Bill and I have had a lot of dealings with narcissists. Each time we deal with someone who is narcissistic or has a “high conflict personality”, we get better at handling or flat out avoiding their bullshit. Slowly, but surely, we’ve found ways to deal with difficult people more effectively, and in a healthier, more assertive manner.

It started with Bill’s ex wife. She is an extreme narcissist, and Bill’s years with her have severely affected us both. We still talk about her, although not nearly as much as we used to, since we’ve managed to process and completely recover from the damage she wrought on Bill. She still comes up today, though, because Bill has been talking to his younger daughter. Bill’s daughter is still extremely affected by her mother’s narcissism. She still talks to her mom, so she still gets injured by her. And then there’s all those years she spent growing up with her mom treating her like a possession/servant, rather than a separate human being who should have been allowed to be a child.

Bill and his younger daughter were kept apart for many years, so every time they Skype, they have a lot of ground to cover. The Ex inevitably comes up in every conversation… and with every conversation, new and shocking things are revealed. Last night, as I was reeling from “Dick’s” nerve, Bill was hearing the latest about his ex wife, and how she continues to use and abuse the people closest to her– especially the people she’s birthed. And she apparently HATES #3, but stays with him, because otherwise she’d either go on welfare or– horrors– be forced to work!

We really shouldn’t be shocked by Ex’s shenanigans, though. She’s just doing what all narcissists do. They behave in shockingly self-centered and inappropriate ways, leaving more reasonable and empathetic people with shaking hands and nausea, or maybe just a sick sort of amazement and head shaking at their incredible nerve.

I shouldn’t be so shocked when I hear stories about how, when Bill’s two daughters were growing up, they’d spend hours doing the laundry, folding and delivering the clean clothes. Ex would address the girls while looking at her cell phone. The piles of laundry would be sitting on her bed, and Ex would say, “Well, this is all fine and good, but you should be putting the clothes away for me, too.”

Younger daughter, to her credit, refused. She and Ex butted heads about a lot of things, because even though younger daughter is as kind and empathic as Bill is, she’s not a doormat. I saw this tendency in her when she was a child, and I remember telling Bill that I knew she and Ex would fight a lot as she came of age. At the time, I thought younger daughter was like her mother.

I knew she’d eventually get in touch with us, and I dreaded it, because I figured she’d try to manipulate us the way Bill’s former stepson had. But it turns out that, actually, younger daughter is a very good person who, underneath all of her empathy and kindness, has a backbone and a limit to what she’ll tolerate. And she very wisely got the hell out of her mother’s house as soon as she turned 18.

Unfortunately, older daughter is now 30 and still cleans her mother’s house, does the laundry, babysits her younger, severely autistic brother, and languishes with student debt that her mother forced her to take out and share the excess with the household. Older daughter doesn’t get along with the 18 year old daughter Ex has with #3, and she told Bill’s younger daughter that she was so happy because she’d gone into her sister’s room to change the sheets and suddenly realized her sister was at college.

Yes, it’s a shock that older daughter, who has a college degree and life skills, is still enslaved by her narcissistic mother and changing the sheets for her younger adult sister. But you get what you settle for, right? Ex’s daughter with #3 is allowed to go away to college, because she stayed in state, and Ex can exploit her student loans, just like she did with Bill’s daughters. But Ex didn’t want younger daughter to go to BYU… in fact, she even told younger daughter that she hadn’t turned out the way she was “supposed to”. She wasn’t supposed to go to BYU and marry a guy from Utah. She was supposed to stay close to Ex, so Ex could keep using her for doing chores and getting narcissistic supply.

Bill doesn’t mind talking to his daughter about Ex. They need to compare notes. That lessens Ex’s power, since younger daughter can get information for more credible sources than her mother, who lies and twists the truth to suit her agenda. Yes, it keeps Ex in our sphere, but we get better at dealing with her and laughing at her ridiculous antics, rather than getting upset by them. Just like last night, instead of suffering in silence when “Dick” stank up the room, I called him a jerk for hijacking our thread and making it about himself and his alleged superiority. Honestly… was he expecting us to be impressed by that? I’ll say it again. What a narcissistic asshole!

And, those of you who read my protected post from a couple of days ago, might also realize that I dealt with a similar troublemaker, who was stirring up shit in my wine group, by kicking her out and blocking her. I didn’t give her a chance to cause more trouble. She was literally making me feel physically ill with her toxic bullshit. So I kicked her out, dusted off my hands, and now, things are a lot more peaceful and stress free for me… and probably others who had suffered in silence.

I’m certainly not perfect. I have a lot of neuroses and complexes. I have a lot of hang ups that stem from my “troubled past”. I continue to work on them, though, and I think I’ve made some progress, even if it’s not always obvious to my readers or other people.

Maybe I shouldn’t have called “Dick” a jerk, but it sure felt good to do that, rather than suffer in silence. He needed to be called out for his self-important comments about how Longwood was “beneath him” and a kind, caring professor, who’d regarded him and her job enough be concerned about him, was “unworthy of teaching him”, since he was so well-read, skilled, and talented and belonged at a “better” school.

Likewise, I don’t have to suffer in silence regarding Ex… or toxic people in my wine group who don’t know how to behave like good citizens, rather than stirring up shit and sabotaging what I’ve built. There was a time when I might have let the troublemaker in my wine group shut me down, just as I once let Dick shut me down. But those days are over. I’ve evolved. Clearly Dick and his ilk are the same jerks they were 30 years ago.

And now, that we’ve learned and evolved, Bill and I can help younger daughter free herself from her mother’s craziness, too. What a good feeling that is.

Standard
Military, music, musings, nostalgia

The “road not taken” is sometimes an overrated thrill… Common paths can still lead to spectacular places!

In the spring of 1991, when I was a freshman college student, I joined the concert choir at Longwood College. I did so because the previous semester, the very first one of my college career, I had taken a group voice class. The teacher, who was acquainted with my musical dad, recognized that I, too, had some musical gifts. She thought I should join the Camerata Singers, which is one of Longwood’s auditioned ensembles. The trouble was, I had never really sung in a choir before. In fact, I had never really sung before. So, just so I could learn the ropes, I enrolled in the concert choir with the plan to audition for Cameratas that semester. I also took my first private voice lessons that spring.

My parents are/were musicians and I somehow knew that I’d wind up being enmeshed in their stuff if I studied music. This was not so much an issue with my mom, who was a church organist for about 50 years. But it was an issue with my dad, who had a habit of either competing with me or trying to show me off to his friends. My dad and I never really got along that well, especially once I hit puberty. I loved him very much, but we rubbed each other the wrong way. He was extremely active in choirs and choral societies. I relished the times he was at practices or in rehearsals, and I didn’t want to end up in a situation where we would end up spending too much time together and getting into fights.

Also, I honestly didn’t know back then that I had a good singing voice. I knew I could sing on key, but I didn’t realize it was anything special or unusual. I did have some rudimentary music knowledge, having taken piano lessons as a very young child and been identified as having “perfect pitch” (AKA absolute pitch). I was in band for a year… first playing drums and then, when that turned out to be the wrong instrument for me, I played my sister’s clarinet. Although I was pretty good at playing clarinet, I didn’t like the band teacher and wasn’t encouraged by my parents, so I dropped out of that and focused on my horse. I have much less talent for horseback riding, but I do love animals. 😉

Years later, when I decided to study voice outside of college, my dad proved that my instincts about his tendency to want to “compete” with me were dead on. I signed up to take lessons at the Eastern Virginia School of Performing Arts. I didn’t tell my dad at first, because somehow I knew he’d also sign up. Sure enough, when he did find out I was taking lessons, he signed up with the very same teacher. 🙂 I wasn’t all that happy about it. I was taking lessons to help alleviate my depression and relieve stress. And at the time, he was a major source of my stress, as I was living with my parents after having finished Peace Corps service. As grateful as I was that my parents let me live with them, it was definitely not an easy time for any of us. But I am glad that they didn’t object to my decision to supplement my treatment for depression with voice lessons.

“The Road Not Taken” from Frostiana… words by Robert Frost, music by Randall Thompson.

Anyway, I digress… back to 1991… and my first semester in a choir. I remember during that semester, the concert choir did a piece from “Frostiana“. It was the American poet Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken” set to music composed and arranged in 1959 by Randall Thompson. Much to my shame, when I was 18 years old, I had never been exposed to Frost’s poetry. “The Road Not Taken” was a new concept to me, and I actually loved the choral piece. I see from YouTube that it’s still commonly performed.

This morning, I’m reminded of that piece as I reflect on a conversation I had with Bill last night. We were talking about his career as an Army officer. Although he did well enough as an Army officer and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel promotable to Colonel, he thinks he made some regrettable choices during his time in the Army. Had he made different choices, he might have had a more successful career. Or maybe he never would have been in the military in the first place.

My husband is a kind, empathetic, gentle person. He’s probably the antithesis of most people’s vision of a military officer. Military officers are stereotypically tough, gruff, profane, impatient and politically incorrect. Military officers don’t cry easily. They have a “killer instinct”. A lot of military officers are politically conservative and somewhat old school in their views. They aren’t often interested in the arts, psychology, reading books, or visiting museums. They like to watch violent sports and action movies. And they aren’t interested in introspection.

I hasten to add that I realize this is very stereotypical thinking. Of course, the armed forces are comprised of people from all different walks of life, with all of the characteristics that go along with having such a diverse population. However, having been around military folks my whole life, I can attest to the idea that there’s a “type”. And, my point is, Bill goes against type.

When we were dating, my sisters warned me against getting involved with Bill. They seemed to think he was going to be a “knuckle dragger”. Even though I’ve always made decent decisions and have never been in any serious trouble, my sisters, and even my parents, didn’t trust me to choose my own mate. But it turns out that I was right on the money. This year, we will celebrate 19 years of a very successful union. We are shockingly compatible. I guess, like me, Bill sometimes has trouble fitting in with the crowd and goes “against type”.

Last night, Bill was telling me that he wishes he hadn’t been a “combat arms” officer. During his years in the Army, Bill was a “tanker”. He was in the Armor branch. Early in his career, a superior officer wrote that he felt Bill should do something different. The senior officer “fired” Bill from the job he was doing and gave him a bad evaluation. Another superior officer advised Bill that he didn’t have a “killer instinct”. At the time, Bill was offended by his bosses’ appraisals of him. He said he spent years resenting those negative comments that he got early in his military career. He felt that his superiors had been unfair and wrongly appraised him.

Then, in 1995, at his ex wife’s behest, Bill left active duty and worked in low paying and unfulfilling factory jobs in Arkansas. Here was a guy who had studied international relations at American University. He’d learned how to ride a horse and fence. He was interested in politics, religion, arts, movies, music, and so on… and he was making toys at a toy factory. Later, he was supervising a line for Whirlpool, overseeing the production of refrigerator doors. He wasn’t making any money, and he was living in a nightmarish situation with a woman with whom he was incredibly incompatible. Bill stayed in the National Guard to help supplement his meager earnings and, if we’re honest, to give him an escape from his ex wife, who by that time had made his life a living hell.

In 1999, Bill decided to go back in active duty via the Arkansas National Guard. He was unusual in that he managed to get a full time job as a Guardsman, working as if he was back on duty with the regular Army. That decision allowed him to continue his military career, but he was paid from a different pot of money and subject to different promotion procedures. It also helped him avoid lengthy deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He did spend six months in Iraq– again, working for a very narcissistic boss.

Bill later realized that he probably should have pursued another branch… maybe in military intelligence or as a Foreign Area Officer (FAO). Or maybe he should have become a mental health therapist specializing with working with veterans. Any of those fields might have been better fits for him, rather than combat arms. He was sorrowful about it last night, wishing he’d taken a different path, instead of being an Armor officer, and wondering where it would have led him.

I could relate, as I have often wondered what would have happened to me if I’d studied music instead of English. Maybe I’d still be where I am today. Or maybe I’d be somewhere entirely different. As I mentioned before, I didn’t pursue music when I was growing up. It wasn’t until college that I was especially turned on to music… and realized I had a knack for it. I often wonder what would have happened if I’d changed my major. I never seriously considered doing it, though. I probably suffered a bit of worrying about failure.

I was a very mediocre English major. I love to write and read, but I don’t really enjoy analyzing literature, and I had no desire to teach school. Longwood’s English department, at the time I was a student, was mostly set up for would-be teachers. They didn’t have a creative writing program. They only offered a few classes. Ironically, I never even took the creative writing class, and none of my professors knew that my goal was more to write than study literature. I didn’t tell any of them until after I’d graduated and my former advisor, who had been writing letters to me in Armenia, commented that he thought I had a gift for writing stories. I explained that I’d been an English major because I wanted to be a writer. He used to tease me about taking music classes, but I don’t know where I would have been if I hadn’t had them at Longwood. I loved my music classes. I took a bunch of them for fun. I can’t say that about most of my English classes.

So there Bill and I were on the patio, as the sun was dipping down, and we were enjoying the last of our red wine. Bill got a little choked up as he realized that those bosses who had noticed his “lack of a killer instinct” had been right. And if he’d been wise enough to heed their counsel, he might have gone in a different, far more successful direction. There wouldn’t have been any shame in changing course. Everybody fails sometimes, because no one is a superstar at everything they do. For a moment, Bill seemed genuinely troubled at what might have been if he’d only been brave enough to take “the road not taken”.

But again, it’s not like he was unsuccessful in his role as an Armor officer who lacked a “killer instinct”. In 2014, Bill retired from the Army with a full pension. He now gets a paycheck for getting up in the morning and gets to enjoy the benefits from having served in the military. Not only that, but he left the experience mostly mentally, emotionally, and physically whole. I’d call his career a success, even if he hadn’t done work he was perfectly equipped to do.

Realizing that Bill actually was a success, I said, “There’s no point in feeling badly about the career decisions you made. Because even though you might have been better at a different job, the fact of the matter is, you still managed to succeed. By all accounts, retiring from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel promotable to Colonel is still a very successful career. And you left the military whole– with two master’s degrees and marketable skills– free of mental illness and basically healthy and strong. You are very fortunate.”

Bill nodded in agreement. Then I said, “And now you are doing well in your post retirement career. Maybe what you’re doing isn’t thrilling for you, but you are among MANY people who work in jobs that aren’t a perfect fit for them. God knows, I have done plenty of jobs I hated so I could pay the bills. So have you.”

I continued, “You now not only have recovered from a terrible first marriage and financial disasters, but you completed a successful career. Now, you are also enjoying a very comfortable and, I dare say, luxurious lifestyle. And you have the freedom to explore things that interest you. You can study Carl Jung. You can work with a therapist and talk about your dreams and travel to Switzerland to see Jung’s house. You can take courses at the Jung Institute and read Jung’s books and learn guitar… And the reason you can do those things is because, even though you think of the military as a ‘easy choice’ in terms of secure, decently paid employment, and maybe it was not where your true gifts lie, you did a good job. When it comes down to it, you were still successful. I think you should celebrate that, because you’re way ahead of many people.”

Likewise… although I have visions of where my talents and dreams might have taken me, I really can’t complain too much about where I am. I have had the great fortune to see and do many things that my peers never will have the opportunity to do. And they have seen and done things I will never do. That’s the nature of life. We all have strengths and opportunities that take us on a path through life. Maybe it would have been more exciting and fulfilling to take the “road not taken.” But we’re both halfway through life now… and we can’t recapture our youth. What we CAN do is take those experiences we had when we were younger and follow our passions now. So Bill will probably never have a fulfilling career as a FAO or as a “healer”. He can still pursue his interests and learn new things. And who knows, maybe there will still be a fork in the road that takes him down the “road not taken” after all.

Same for me… maybe in the second half of my life, I’ll finally write a book or record an album… or do something else that is earth shattering, life changing, or even just interesting. It beats the hell out of working in a factory or waiting tables to pay the bills. And before anyone gets upset, I hasted to add that there’s nothing wrong with working in a factory or waiting tables if that’s what gets you through life or it something you even enjoy doing. That’s not the point of todays’ post. The point is, there’s no use in lamenting past career decisions that can’t be changed. Life is a continual journey. As long as you’re still breathing, you have the opportunity to change course and try new things. And Bill, for one, is especially fortunate, because he truly does have the ability and the freedom to explore things that interest him, even if he got here on a well-traveled road that maybe he wasn’t the best suited to travel. He still got here… and he still has places to go. I’m glad I get to travel with him.

We’re both lucky, because we can and do continue to do things we love. Not everyone has that luxury. There are so many people who, due to financial, health, or personal constraints, end up spending their lives on the hamster wheel, working to get by and not especially enjoying the process of life as much as they could. We should count our blessings and realize that all things considered, things have worked out just fine. I think it also makes sense to consider that sometimes the “road not taken” is a road straight into Hell. 😉

Standard
funny stories, nostalgia

Repost: Whatever became of Margaret, my worst ever roommate?

I wrote this post on June 14, 2017. It appears here mostly as/is. Names, certain locations, details, and dates have been changed to protect the guilty.

Sometimes, when I get bored, I go into “obsessed fan” mode. For some reason, last night I decided to look up my very first roommate at Longwood College. After some determined sleuthing, I found her. Apologies in advance, because this is going to be a long post.

I mentioned this ex roommate a few years ago, when I discovered that my final college roommate, Latissia, had died of a heart ailment.  It was probably because of my experience with my first ex roommate that Latissia and I lived together.  Latissia had decided to move on campus because she could no longer afford to pay rent off campus.  She ran into a bunch of rejections by potential roommates on campus.  She claimed it was because she was black.  For all I know, that very well may have been the case.  Racism is still alive and well in Virginia. 

Truth be told, I didn’t want a roommate for my final semester in school.  I like living alone (or with Bill).  But thanks to ex roommate #1, a hideous woman I’ll call Margaret, I relented and agreed to live with Latissia.  That turned out to be a good decision.  Latissia was a nice person and a considerate roommate.  I’m truly sorry she died so young.  She may have had heart disease, but she also had a big, warm heart.

I distinctly remember my very first day at Longwood College.  It was August 1990.  I had talked to Margaret on the phone.  She was coming from Richmond, although she had graduated from a private boarding school.  Her parents were wealthy.  She and her brother had both been adopted by their attractive and well connected parents.  Margaret’s father had graduated from the University of Virginia and had grown up in Charlottesville.  Margaret told me all of this during our first communication, in between asking me what appliances I intended to bring with me and letting me know that she was bringing a 25 inch TV, a fridge, and a microwave.  I also learned that Margaret is exactly 10 days older than me.  That’s probably why we got paired by the housing office.

We were assigned a room in Curry Hall.  At that time, most freshmen were being housed three to a room because Longwood was short on dormitory space. Each of the rooms in the high rise buildings had bunk beds, and a single bed in them.  For some reason, Margaret and I did not have a third roommate.  Curry was, in 1990, one of the newest dorms at Longwood.  It had been constructed in 1970 or so and was air conditioned.  Next to it was an identical high rise building called Frazer.  Because Virginia summers are insanely hot, in 1990, it was considered a good thing to get to live in Curry.  More dorms and apartments have since been built at Longwood.  It’s probably downright cushy now. (ETA: Both Curry and Frazer have since been gutted, renovated, and renamed, since their former namesakes had ties to racism.)

So there I was in August 1990.  I opened the door to my dorm room.  There was Margaret.  She was about 5’10” and morbidly obese.  Besides being very large, Margaret wore braces.  She had frizzy dark hair that had been bleached and badly needed a touch up.  It was pushed back from her face with a padded hairband.  I remember my mouth dropped open at the sight of her.  I know it’s unkind to write this, but given the way she ultimately treated me, I think it’s fair.  She was downright ugly, both inside and out.

Margaret had already claimed the single bed in the corner of the room.  I took the bottom of the bunk bed.  I had brought a horse blanket (it was never actually used on my horse, since I already had one for him) that I won in 1988 and draped it over the vacant top bed, so I had a makeshift curtain.  Margaret had also put her huge TV on my dresser.

At first, Margaret was nice to me.  She liked James Taylor, as do I.  She had what was then Taylor’s latest album, Never Die Young.  I distinctly remember her playing it, followed by “I Shot the Sheriff” by Bob Marley.  To this day, when I hear songs from Never Die Young, I think of Margaret.  Strangely enough, I like that album despite the negative connection with my least favorite roommate of all time.   

I remember we sat around and chatted a bit.  It seemed like we would get along.  She told me that her mother had just spent a couple thousand dollars on her wardrobe.  I remember thinking the clothes weren’t all that special– certainly not a couple thousand dollars worth.  Perhaps the money went toward the sheer volume of fabric required to make them.  I don’t know.  Margaret also told me that she’d been hospitalized for some reason and that had cost her parents a lot of money.  But, she added, they had plenty of money, so it was no problem.  Money, it seemed, was Margaret’s main contribution to any relationship.  Money, and food, that is.  Later, when I said I didn’t feel like going to the dining hall, Margaret said we should go because that was our dinner.  Then, I’m pretty sure she ordered a meat lovers pizza from Pizza Hut, which in those days was still pretty good.

On that first day, Margaret told me she had traveled a lot as a child and wanted to spend her life traveling.  She was majoring in political science.  Her dad worked a lot in South Carolina and had a home there, as well as in Charlottesville.  Margaret had also been accepted into the University of South Carolina.  She had decided on Longwood because, according to her, “Anyone can get into USC.”  Then, she said she’d like to go to the University of Virginia, but was willing to “try to fall in love with Longwood.”  Funny that I eventually went on to earn two master’s degrees at USC– a school that “anyone can get into”. 

In 1990, all new freshmen at Longwood had to take a class called Longwood Seminar.  Freshmen still have to take it today; it was a college orientation course that had been introduced in 1987.  In 1990, Longwood was still a very residential school and most students, even the seniors, lived in dorms on campus.  Most people got to know their roommates and hallmates pretty well.  By the time I finished college at Longwood, I knew most of my classmates. 

Longwood Seminar sections were divided by residence halls or, if you were a commuter, you’d go to a section with commuters.  Everyone in my Seminar class was from our floor in Curry.  Margaret and I were in the same section.  There was another woman in our Seminar group I’ll call Marie.  Appearance wise, Marie was everything Margaret was not.  Tall and slim, she had big brown eyes, adorable dimples, porcelain skin, a giggly Marilyn Monroe-ish voice, and beautiful strawberry blonde hair.  I remember she was striking, very friendly, and popular with the men.  She lived across the hall from us with two roommates.

Somehow, in the very first couple of days of our college careers, Margaret and Marie befriended each other.  Marie was suddenly inviting her new bestie, Margaret, to attend fraternity parties with her.  I stayed alone in the dorm room and went to bed early.  One night during our very first week of school, Margaret and Marie went to a frat floor (there was one next door in Frazer) and stayed out until about 3:00am.  They barged into the dorm room, turned on the overhead light, and very rudely and unapologetically woke me up.

Although it would have been wise for Marie to go back to her room for some sleep, it became clear that these two bitches intended to stay up and party some more, even though we had classes in the morning.  Later that day, Margaret boldly proposed that I move out of our room and into Marie’s, so Marie could room with Margaret.  I remember being absolutely floored at her nerve, expecting me to move out just days after I’d moved into a room that was rightfully as much mine as it was hers. 

Naturally, Marie’s two roommates also didn’t want me moving in with them because, like all of us, they were in a room that had originally been intended for two.  If Marie was moving out, they wanted the room to themselves.  I can’t blame them for that. 

I remember chatting with the peer advisor on our floor, a nice girl I’ll call Samantha.  Samantha’s job was to help freshmen settle into college life.  She tried to smooth things over between Margaret and me, but it became very clear that our rooming situation was not going to work.  Margaret wanted to live with Marie and had made it very plain that she expected me to leave.  If I didn’t leave, the two of them were going to make it their mission to make me miserable.  I remember Marie made some crack about my dated tastes in music, then very frankly told me how much her twat itched (this part of the story is not made up).  I couldn’t help thinking that her itching was probably due to her extracurricular activities on the frat floors.

Days into my college career, I went to the housing office, which was overwhelmed with trying to deal with all of the new students.  I explained the situation and they told me I should try to stick it out with Margaret.  I don’t remember exactly what I said because it seems to me that it was a policy that freshmen weren’t allowed to switch rooms so early in the year.  I probably cried.  I cried easily in those days and I was definitely frustrated and overwhelmed by the situation. 

The housing people gave me a list of names of upperclassmen in dorms who didn’t have roommates.  They told me I needed to go see if one of them would let me move in with them.  There I was, my first week of college, knocking on doors.  Naturally, none of them wanted me living with them.  I distinctly remember one woman I talked to, a pretty black woman who lived in Frazer, telling me honestly, but somewhat kindly, that she didn’t want a roommate.  But, unlike the others, who wouldn’t even deign to talk to me, she did say that if I couldn’t find anyone to live with, I could come back and we’d discuss it.  Of course, having been told to my face that I wasn’t welcome, I didn’t relish the idea of crawling back and begging to be allowed the dorm space that my parents had paid for.

I went back to the housing office and explained that none of the people on the list wanted to share a room with me.  They said quite firmly that those people were going to have roommates eventually, which gave me small comfort, but still didn’t solve my problem. 

Then, after a little searching through their files, the housing officer said I could move to the second floor in Tabb Hall.  Tabb was considered one of the “worst” dorms.  It was not air conditioned and had communal bathrooms.  Because of the bathrooms, everyone on that floor was female, while there were guys living on the first floor.  I wasn’t too thrilled to move to Tabb, but the housing people did tell me the room I was getting was vacant.  The woman who had been living there had applied to move to another room and supposedly had left.

So, that weekend, the residence education coordinator (REC), an affable guy I’ll call Joe, helped me move my stuff out of Frazer and into Tabb, which was across campus.  When Joe got a look at Margaret, he asked me “Was that your roommate?”

“Yes.” I said glumly.

Then he said, “Wow.  A little bit of her goes a looong way.” 

That comment cracked me up!  So many years later, I still haven’t forgotten it.  Joe later nominated me for some leadership training in Virginia Beach that I unwisely passed on taking.  I’m not sure why he nominated me, but for some reason, he liked me.  I probably should have taken the training.  Maybe my ultimate fate as the Overeducated Housewife might have been changed. 

Anyway, I opened the door to my new room, which was smaller and less modern than the one in Curry.  I was puzzled, because the person who was supposed to have moved out clearly had not.  She had gone home for the weekend, though. 

I looked on the wall, where she’d taped her schedule.  To my shock, her name was also “Margaret” (not her real name), although she spelled it differently and went by Maggy.  She also had the same last name as the first Margaret, although they had different middle names.  I remember thinking that was a freaky coincidence.

Sunday evening, Maggy came back to find me sitting there in the room she had previously occupied alone.  Although I know she wasn’t thrilled with the situation, Maggy made the best of it.  Like Marie, Maggy was physically everything Margaret was not.  She was thin and very attractive, a second semester freshman who had designs on joining a sorority.  Maggy also smoked.  But unlike Margaret and Marie, Maggy was not mean to me and even hung out with me at times.  Once, she and one of her pledge sisters even took me to her house in Chesterfield.  We were not best friends, but we were mostly civil to each other until we parted ways.   

Maggy joined one of the most popular sororities on campus and her time was taken up with her Greek activities and hanging out with her boyfriend.  Because of her popularity and activities, I pretty much enjoyed a room to myself that fall.  Then, during the Christmas break, Maggy moved into Stubbs, which was the sorority dorm.  She left her crappy black and white TV, which she later tried to reclaim the following year, but never actually picked up.  No one else moved in during the spring, so I had my own room.

As for Margaret, I soon noticed that she stopped attending our Longwood Seminar class, as did Marie.  I later heard that they were constantly partying and had basically given Longwood the finger. A few weeks later, my parents and one of my sisters came to visit me for parents’ weekend.  We happened to pass Margaret.  I had told my sister all about her, so when she saw her, my sister immediately recognized her by my description.  She elbowed me and whispered, “Oh my God… is that her?” 

I nodded affirmatively. 

“She’s disgusting!” my sister said.  “And even if she wasn’t huge, she’d still be ugly.  I mean, if you lost some weight, you’d be really cute.  Losing weight would not make her look better.” 

I make no apologies for my sisters’ unkind and very frank observations about Margaret and me.  I mean, yes, I know it was a mean thing to say, but what she said was truthful.  Margaret was not only physically unattractive, she was also an unpleasant, inconsiderate, and very entitled person.  She did not have inner beauty to compensate for her hideous appearance.  Moreover, my sister wears a size two and is unabashed about fat shaming.  She’s done it to me my whole life.

Margaret eventually left school– I’m not sure if she was gone after the fall semester.  I later heard from our peer advisor, Samantha, that she had moved to Charlottesville and attended community college.  Then, after a semester or two, Samantha claimed Margaret’s father got her a spot at UVa.  I remember thinking that was pretty shitty, since she had pretty much flunked out of our less prestigious school and UVa’s standards were supposedly very high.  I do know that Margaret’s dad contributed a lot of money to UVa.  It’s possible they altered the standards for her.  On the other hand, maybe she just led Samantha to believe she was going there.  I don’t know.

I also heard from my former suitemate that they’d all hated living with Margaret because she was very inconsiderate and evidently smelled bad.  The former suitemate, a very snooty sorority girl who sang with me in the college’s Camerata Singers, also told me that she hadn’t liked me, either.  Fortunately, she only had to deal with living with me for a few days.  After she made that comment, I couldn’t help laughing to myself that she’d been stuck living with Margaret and Marie.  I also never spoke to her again.

Last night, I got curious about whatever became of Margaret and Marie.  I went looking for both of them and managed to find them.  I learned that Margaret now lives in South Carolina, having previously lived in Dublin, Ireland.  It appears that she often works from home.  It looks like she currently isn’t married and doesn’t have any kids.  It’s possible that she has at least one ex husband, though I can’t confirm it (and don’t really care, except to pity the poor guy).  I have seen her listed by at least two other last names.

Margaret’s dad is apparently still wealthy and involved with UVa.  I see that his son, Margaret’s adopted brother, works with their dad in Columbia, South Carolina.  He is married and has kids.  Amazingly enough, although it’s very clear that Margaret’s family is very pro-Republican, Margaret’s dad was once a Peace Corps country director.  I was blown away by that realization, especially since I was a Peace Corps Volunteer myself and I am absolutely certain that Margaret would have never made it as a Volunteer.  Not only would the lifestyle have been too hard for her, she would not have been medically cleared due to her extreme weight issues.  But then, I also know that many country directors live in plush circumstances and sometimes those jobs are political.  My own Peace Corps Country Director lived and acted like a queen, even though she had twice been a Volunteer herself. 

I also learned that Margaret’s brother, despite having attended a posh boarding school in Virginia, got his degree from Midlands Tech (basically a community college in Columbia).  Although I have nothing against Midlands Tech, I am kind of puzzled as to why he went there when his family obviously had the means and was image conscious enough to send him somewhere more notable.  Maybe it was his preference, though. 

Looking closely at Margaret’s recent pictures, it appears that she may have had weight loss surgery.  She is noticeably thinner than she used to be, but has the appearance of someone who lost a lot of weight very rapidly.  Although we are ten days apart in age, she looks a lot older than I do.  It also looks like she might be wearing a wig.  Her hair looks unnatural.  If she had weight loss surgery, that would make sense.  I know hair loss is one side effect of not getting enough protein, which often happens in people who have surgery to lose weight.  It’s not that I would necessarily criticize her for having surgery, by the way.  She would have definitely been an appropriate candidate.  On the other hand, it’s possible that she lost weight for another reason.  My guess is that she went under the knife, though.

I looked at old pictures Margaret had made public.  In her younger days, her mother was a very beautiful woman.  I remember her telling me that her mom was of Balkan descent, although she was born and raised in the southern United States.  In the late 60s and early 70s, she definitely looked like a Greek goddess.  She was thin, exotic, and very elegant… again, not at all like Margaret.  I kind of wonder if maybe that was why Margaret and her brother went to boarding schools.  In fact, maybe that was why Margaret turned out to be so shitty.  Maybe her parents were disappointed in her.  I can relate to that to some degree.  Maybe Margaret was treated badly by her family and peers and that’s why she was so unabashedly nasty to me. 

My experience with Margaret and Marie definitely affected me.  When my final Longwood roommate, Latissia, came knocking on my door senior year, I decided not to give her a hard time about being my roommate.  She moved in and we ended up being pretty compatible.  It was actually a pleasure to know Latissia.  She was a good person with a kind heart.  Margaret was not. 

I see that as she had predicted, Margaret travels a lot, but it looks like she mostly does so alone to very expensive places in Europe.  Margaret and Marie (whom I also found last night) are clearly no longer besties.  Marie is still pretty, but it looks like she’s had a few marriages.  She now lives in Ohio.  Curiously, I see that she both worked for a church (in sales of all things) and managing a bar.  I could see Marie managing bars, actually… and in a Jessica Hahn-ish sort of way, I could also see her working in a church.

As for me, I still have friends that I got to know while living in crummy Tabb Hall.  One of my friends is a guy who lived on the first floor.  Over thirty years later, we’re still good buddies.  When we were sophomores, first and second floor Tabb saved a hall in adjoining French Hall (which is no longer a dorm).  We all lived together sophomore year, which was also tumultuous due to my roommate(s) that year.  I doubt I would have made such good friends if I had stayed in Curry.  There’s something about having to share a bathroom that builds friendships.  In fact, I’d say that living in what was supposedly the “worst” dorm on campus probably turned out to be a coup.  I even grew to like Tabb for its convenient location and character. 

It occurs to me that I might be sitting in prison today, because I might have been driven to kill Margaret.  She was an astonishingly rude and inconsiderate person who is likely abusive to her friends and family members.  I am pretty saturated with abuse, so I doubt I would have been able to stand it for long.  On the other hand, Virginia is (thanks to Ralph Northam– was) a big death penalty state.  Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten life.

Anyway… I suppose the point of this long-ass story is that things usually work out for the best.  It all turned out fine and this was probably the way it was supposed to be in the long run.  I’m glad I don’t know Margaret anymore, although it’s weird that our lives are kind of paralleled.  I hope our lives stay parallel and we never run into each other again.  The REC was right.  A little bit of her goes a looooong way. I’ve had enough to last me the rest of my life.

Standard
book reviews, funny stories

Brotherhood… and sisterhood… and a reposted book review.

This morning over breakfast, I was telling Bill about a former friend of mine… a guy I knew in college. We met when we were freshmen at what was then known as Longwood College. He lived on first floor Tabb, which was the only all male floor at that time that wasn’t associated with a fraternity. I lived on second floor Tabb, which was an all female floor. Both were dedicated to freshmen students and supposed to be “dry” halls.

This former friend– former because a few years ago, he took me on in a comment section when I dissed Donald Trump, and it ended on a rude note– went on to pledge one of the fraternities on campus. The frat he joined no longer has a place at Longwood. I believe they got kicked off campus because of hazing, so their chapter is now “inactive”. However, in the 1990s, they were known as sort of the everyman’s fraternity. The “nice” guys were members. Their parties were the most welcoming to all comers. That was as opposed to some of the other brotherhoods at Longwood, who seemed a bit more discerning as to who could come to their chapter room and dance to ear splitting 90s era music while sipping flat Beast.

One time, my former friend was talking about another fraternity on campus, known as Alpha Chi Rho– AXP. He asked, “You know what AXP stands for?”

I shook my head, because I didn’t know the Greek alphabet at that point.

“Assholes expecting pussy!” I must admit, we shared a big laugh over that joke. Sadly, there was an element of truth to it, although I think that could have been said for most of the fraternities at Longwood.

Former friend once took me to task for referring to his “brotherhood” as a “frat”. I asked him what the big deal was, and he said, “You don’t call your country a ‘cunt’, do you?” At that point, I had more of an understanding as to why so many of the women at Longwood seemed brighter than some of the men. I don’t think fraternity shortened to “frat” is quite the same as country shortened to “cunt”. But at the time, I didn’t feel the need to correct him on the point. It didn’t seem important to try to correct his thinking, as we were “friends”… even though this guy, now the father of a couple of daughters, used to run his hand, uninvited, up my thigh just to see how I would react. One time, he did that, and I involuntarily smacked him right on the dick. It wasn’t the last time, either. I can think of at least twice that he tried something pervy with me and wound up doubled over, calling me a “bitch” because I protected my own honor from his probing fingers. He was kidding around, but my reflexes didn’t know that.

I never joined a sorority at Longwood, although a lot of my friends did. I did join an honorary music fraternity for women, which was a lot cheaper, made fewer demands on my time, and was less intimidating. Consequently, I didn’t have much of a social life in college… at least as it pertained to dating. Looking back on it, I’m kind of glad I didn’t date in those days. I think it spared me a lot of heartache.

In fact, the older I get, the more I think trying to connect with people ends up being a waste of time. It’s like panning for gold, finding people who are true friends. So many people turn out to be temporary contacts, and the breakups can be brutal. Or, they can be heartbreakingly mundane. Someone just fades out of your life, forgotten like an old toy. One they they’re your friend. The next day, they’re gone.

Although I never went “Greek” myself– unless you count Sigma Alpha Iota, the music frat for women– I have always been kind of interested in Greek culture on college campuses. But then, I think I look at those groups as kind of akin to fringe religions, which readers of this blog may notice I find very intriguing. I wouldn’t want to join a group like The Way or the Jehovah’s Witnesses myself, but I do find them interesting to observe and study.

Back in 2004, I even read a book about Greek life, and reviewed it for Epinions.com. In the interest of preserving as many of my book reviews as I can, below is the review I wrote May 2, 2004, of Alexandra Robbins’ book, Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities. As usual, it appears here as/is. I seem to remember that some people weren’t too happy about Robbins’ characterizations of their sisterhoods. In that respect, the sorority members aren’t unlike the disgruntled members of religions who get angry with outsider opinions about their faiths. I see Robbins has also written about fraternities. I might have to read and review that, just to be fair to all the brotherhoods.

It’s not easy being Greek: the truth behind sororities

I’m a graduate of Longwood College, which is now known as Longwood University, where four national sororities were founded: Kappa Delta, Zeta Tau Alpha, Sigma Sigma Sigma (Tri Sig), and Alpha Sigma Alpha. Greek life, that is membership in a sorority or fraternity, was very big at Longwood when I attended. I have little doubt that being Greek is still a very important part of life on the Farmville, Virginia campus where I got my undergraduate degree.

I vividly recall the hullabaloo surrounding Greek rush at the beginning of each semester. My freshman year, I lived with a woman who rushed Kappa Delta. Kappa Delta was full of pretty women– KD ladies, according to my ex-roommate, who were among the most popular women on campus. When she had accepted her bid, her big sisters had decorated our door. Every time I walked into the room, I felt like I was walking through a throne. The whole door was covered in signs and decorations with KD colors and symbols all over it. And then my roommate was a pledge and she constantly went to parties, got involved in philanthropies and fundraisers, and spent all of her free time studying about the sorority and its mission. I witnessed firsthand some of the experiences Alexandra Robbins writes about in her 2004 book Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities.

I remember wondering at times if being in a sorority would be fun for me. I did join a musical honorary fraternity for women and we did a lot of the same stuff the social sororities did, only our dues were less expensive, membership was based on GPA and the number of music credit hours we had, it wasn’t as time consuming, and there weren’t any parties (though there was also a men’s music fraternity). According to Robbins, being in a social sorority is a major endeavor. First and foremost, there’s the significant investment of time and money. Sorority ladies pay dues that generally cost several hundred dollars a semester, and they are expected to attend meetings and ceremonies. If they miss those ceremonies and meetings, they might be fined, even if they had a good reason like work or school. According to Robbins, there’s a strong emphasis on looking a certain way and always behaving in a way that would reflect well on the sisterhood. There are mandatory study periods because many sororities have a minimum grade point average that sisters are expected to achieve. All of this sounds pretty positive until Robbins reveals the darker, more secretive side of sorority life.

In order to write this book, Robbins had to go undercover at an institution she calls “State University”, posing as a nineteen year old woman during the 2002-03 school year. She had the help of four sorority members: Vicki, Amy, Caitlin, and Sabrina (not their real names) who agreed to risk their memberships in the sororities in order to help her with this project. Vicki was a member of “Beta Pi” (not its real name) and the other three volunteers were members of “Alpha Rho” (not its real name). Sabrina was the lone black member of Alpha Rho. Robbins writes of Sabrina’s experiences of being in a white sorority, where the sisters insensitively made racist remarks in her presence. Caitlin, the daughter of an overly involved mother, was the vice president of Alpha Rho who had been date raped by a fraternity member after a party. Vicki was the pretty, blonde, California girl who looked the part of a Beta Pi sister but had so far disappointed the other sorority members by being too shy and reluctant to socialize. And Amy was another “girl next door” type member of Alpha Rho whose twin sister had died. According to Robbins, Amy was looking for a sisterhood that might help ease the pain she experienced with the loss of her biological sister.

As Robbins acted as a “fly on the wall” watching these four women over the course of the school year, she found out that most of the stereotypes surrounding sororities were actually true. Robbins claims that she witnessed eating disorders, racism, drug and alcohol abuse, psychological abuse, violence and extreme promiscuity. Worse, the abuses were inflicted by attractive, intelligent, otherwise successful women. Robbins balances these sordid stories with interludes about related news items related to sorority women, articles about hazing, date rape, and drug and alcohol abuse. She interviewed several hundred sorority members from campuses across the country, emphasizing that Greek life is most important in the South. It’s taken so seriously that some parents hire rush consultants in order to guide their daughters through the rush process and into the “right” sorority.

Robbins includes an interesting chapter on black sororities, comparing them to the white sororities– one institutionalized part of college life that is still quite segregated. She also includes information about local sororities, that is sisterhoods that are not part of a national panhellenic group. One black woman Robbins wrote about started her own sorority having been twice rejected by the white sororities. The woman claimed that she wouldn’t have fit in with the black sororities and that had she become a member of a black sorority, the sisters wouldn’t have accepted her because she didn’t “act black”; yet the white sororities wouldn’t accept her because of her skin color.

After I read this book, I found myself glad that I didn’t join a social sorority. I had, and still have, a lot of friends who were members of sororities, and I witnessed what happened to some of them after they joined Greek organizations. Most of the women were very nice, but as they became more involved with Greek life, they were a lot less involved with their “independent” friends. It was interesting to read Robbins’ accounts of the peer pressure she witnessed. Robbins also includes a lot of information about so-called secret rituals. If you’ve always wondered about sorority passwords, secret ceremonies, or symbolism, you may really enjoy the section of the book where Robbins removes the shroud of mystery.

The fact that Robbins does include secret passwords and information about secret rituals may be very offensive for those women who are members of sororities. Part of what makes the sisterhoods “special” is the emphasis on secrecy. Robbins destroys that secrecy with her expose, although I have to admit that I found the information interesting. On the other hand, I did wonder why she felt the need to include it in this book, especially since those secrets are part of what makes sorority life attractive. It was almost sad for me to read about the secrets that are held sacred by sorority women. Robbins also didn’t make it clear how she got away with being “a fly on the wall”, since she obviously didn’t join either of the sororities she wrote of. I would think that the sisters would have gotten suspicious, even if most of the contact Robbins had with the four sisters she was keeping track of was via instant messenger.

Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities is well written, thorough, and fairly well researched. For those who are not familiar with the great deal of jargon associated with Greek life, Robbins includes a glossary, but she also does a good job defining the elements of Greek life in the book itself. I found Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities an interesting read, although I doubt I’m a more enlightened person after reading about the sordid affairs that go on in sorority houses across the country.

Robbins concludes this book by writing her suggestions of how national sororities could change for the better. I was glad to see this, since so many expose type books write only of the negatives and yet don’t include any information about how the negatives could be made positive. She emphasizes the need for more “adult supervision”, something I found curious since college students are supposed to already be adults.

Robbins also believes that all women who rush should get into a sorority, a suggestion that I fear would defeat the purpose of sororities. After all, many people join Greek organizations so that they can be a part of something “special” with people who are like them. While I understand the reasoning behind this suggestion and actually agree with the sentiment (that Greek organizations are elitist), I doubt this suggestion would go over well. Robbins writes that the national offices are always interested in making more money and yet they are particular about who can be a member. This is another reason why she believes that sororities should be more open to all college women.

This book wasn’t entirely negative.  Robbins does include information about some of the positive aspects of sorority life, such as forming enduring friendships and business connections outside of college life, although the overall emphasis in this book is the negative side to Greek life.

I believe that Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities might be useful for high school senior girls and their parents, however I also believe that what is written in this book should be taken with a grain of salt and balanced with other sources. If you aren’t looking to go Greek but just want to read about sorority life, you might enjoy reading this book as well. Go to Amazon.com to order this book, though, and you will see many negative ratings contributed by indignant sorority members who are upset that Robbins has attacked an institution that they hold sacred. Still, I believe her account was fair, even if it was shocking.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard
family, funny stories, memories, mental health, music, nostalgia, psychology

“Go with the flow”…

A few days ago, I wrote about a conversation I had with one of my relatives, who quipped in passing that she thinks that she and I are both empaths. I didn’t contradict her at the time because I had a feeling that if I did, we might end up fighting. So I let the comment pass, but I was definitely shaking my head about it. I guess I had decided to “go with the flow” and “sweep it under the rug”, which sometimes is a good idea. On the other hand, sometimes, it’s not.

Last night, we were chatting again. This relative has been interested in my musical pursuits, which includes my attempts to learn guitar. After I wrote yesterday’s post about “musical flu”, which was inspired by watching an online concert by the jazz ensemble at my alma mater, Longwood University, I actually sat down and learned a new song. I not only learned it; I played it– shakily– on the guitar. No, I don’t play particularly well, but I did manage to play a song yesterday as well as sing the vocals. Fair disclosure, I did the vocals before the guitar part. I’m not quite ready to do them both at the same time. Still working on that pesky F chord, too.

This is a cover of an old song done by Linda Ronstadt with Dolly Parton doing harmony…

I don’t actually relate to the lyrics of “I Never Will Marry”. I just think the harmonies are pretty. I wanted to see if I could replicate them. And, with the help of Chordify and a capo, I was able to play it somewhat. I literally learned the song and the guitar part and recorded it in a few hours. And, because I was feeling tired and bitchy after that effort, I used a clip of my dog, Noyzi, as the video part. The video doesn’t really matter that much to me, anyway. I’m about the music.

A year ago, I could not have done what I did yesterday, even if my efforts from yesterday are imperfect. This was a pretty big achievement for me. I have a long way to go before I’m ready for busking on the street corner, but I felt pretty accomplished.

My relative listened to the song, praised it, but then said she didn’t like the song itself. She said she thought the lyrics were self-pitying. I don’t disagree, but I still think the harmonies are lovely. My relative went on to explain that she doesn’t like “whiney” songs, and that reminded me of a funny story from my past. I proceeded to relate a short version of the story to my relative, but she completely missed the point in a non-empathic way. Since I’m not drunk on wine right now, have nothing better to do, and I’m writing with a clear head, here’s a longer version of the story for all of you dear readers.

When I was a freshman at Longwood College (now Longwood University), I was forced to move out of my dorm after the first week of school. I ended up in what was considered the “worst” hall on campus. Well… it wasn’t really the “worst”. It was just a single-sex dorm with hall bathrooms. And, unlike the dorm I had moved from, it didn’t have air conditioning, which really sucked during the late August Virginia summer heat. I imagine the heat lasts longer these days than it did in 1990.

Anyway, the hall below us was an all men’s floor for freshmen. At the time, it was the only all men’s hall that wasn’t used by a fraternity. The women on the second floor and the men on the first floor all hung out together, and most of them attended a mandatory class called Longwood Seminar. It was a special class for incoming freshmen, designed to teach them about how to survive in college. The sections were divided by dorms, which back in the 90s, were still where most Longwood students were living. There wasn’t a lot of off campus housing then, nor did people tend to commute a lot.

I was not in the same Seminar class as my new hallmates were, since I was still in the group I was put in with my original dorm. Because I was not in the same Seminar group, I missed the incident that led up to the invention of the word “brently”, coined by my old friend, Chris.

Back in 1990, Longwood instituted a new rule that freshman dorms were to be “dry”. That meant that alcohol was forbidden on the halls dedicated to freshmen students. Of course, even though there was a rule against booze in freshmen areas, that doesn’t mean people obeyed. One day, early in the semester of our first year, the Longwood Seminar professor talked about avoiding alcohol. And a guy named Brent stood up and said, “If Longwood is so serious about preventing underage drinking, how come half my hall was drunk last weekend?”

Naturally, that confrontation did not put Brent in good stead with his peers. Brent also had an unfortunate habit of being a bit “whiney” and “self-pitying”, much like the song my relative said she didn’t like. Brent would go around saying things like, “Basically, I’m just fucked up the rectum…” as he cringed and complained that he’d just shit his pants because he had amoebic dysentery. I swear… I am not making this shit up. 🙂

Brent also got a lot of people upset because he was involved in an interracial relationship. I’m sorry to say that despite its many progressions lately, Virginia is still a southern state, and even in 1990, some people had issues with the races mixing. Personally, I didn’t really know Brent or his girlfriend that well, and I didn’t care who he was dating. But people supposedly said something to him about his girlfriend and Brent’s response was, “I can have any white woman I want,” which I think we all know is patently untrue. No one can have “any person they want”, no matter who they are. Anyway, the general consensus was that Brent was an arrogant asshole who was very uncool. And he also bore a slight resemblance to Ronald McDonald, except he used to bike shirtless around campus.

Well, people were upset with Brent for busting them in Longwood Seminar class, so my friend Chris decided to play a prank on Brent. He knew Brent had an illegal sword collection in his dorm room. Chris was an English major, so he knew how to draft professional letters. At Longwood, we had a student run Honor Board and a Judicial Board. So Chris wrote a letter to Brent, ostensibly from the Honor Board, inviting him to a “hearing” about his illegal sword collection. Brent, lacking situational awareness, quickly panicked and started searching frantically for the R.A., a guy named Jack.

Chris felt sorry for Brent, so he said, “Brent, man, it was just a joke. Calm down.”

Brent then seized Chris, threw him up against the wall, and snarled, “Oh… so you think it’s funny, huh?” And then he kneed Chris right in the balls.

Chris said, “No Brently… I just feel… SICK.” as he crumpled to the ground. I still laugh when I think about this part of the story.

From that day on, whenever someone said or did anything victim-esque, my friend Chris would say, “Brently!” And we all knew it meant the person was being a martyr or acting like a victim. To this day, I still think of the made up word “brently” when someone is self-pitying or pathetic. Bill’s ex wife is a prime example of someone who is “brently”.

I thought I was just sharing a funny story from my college days. But my relative, the non-empath, immediately calls me (and my friends) out for “bullying” Brent, just because of his looks. She said Chris deserved to be kneed in the nuts, because “karma is a bitch”.

I said, “Wait a minute. People weren’t bullying Brent because of his looks. It was his behavior that did it, although his looks didn’t help. Aside from that, this was thirty years ago. I haven’t seen or talked to Brent since the early 90s. And when I did know him, I wasn’t involved in these incidents at all. I was not mean to Brent, nor am I routinely mean to anyone, unless they ask for it.”

My relative continued on about how she felt sorry for Brent, being “bullied” by us… and she basically lectured me as if I was still a child, even though I’m almost menopausal.

So I said, “I don’t have any pity for Brent. He brought that treatment on himself. Moreover, all Chris did was play a harmless prank and scare him for a minute. Brent committed assault and battery and could have been arrested for his retaliation.”

Again, I really don’t think people picked on Brent solely because of his appearance. I don’t think most people cared who he was dating, either. Some people did, because it was Virginia and some people are backwards and racist. But I don’t think that was the overall attitude toward Brent. It was his arrogant behavior and confrontational attitude that got him picked on… calling out freshmen for drinking when he was, himself, breaking the rules by keeping knives and swords in his dorm room.

So then, I said to my relative, “Anyway– the POINT of the story is not about Brent being bullied. I was trying to tell you about a funny word made up by my friend, which could describe the song, ‘I Never Will Marry’. It’s a ‘brently’ song.”

Now… how does this relate to my relative falsely referring to herself as an “empath”? Besides the fact that she completely missed the point of the funny story and went straight to shaming me, as if I were 12 years old, it’s also because I have many memories of her bullying me. I remember her telling me she thought I was “stupid, fat, and ugly” when I was a kid. I also remember her physically abusing me when I was a small child and couldn’t fight back. I remember many, many meltdowns from her over the years, and a lot of entitled behavior, even after I had reached adulthood. For instance, here’s another rerun story from the past.

Christmas 2003– Bill and I lived in northern Virginia, not far from my relative’s home. My family was having Christmas at their house. My relative, then in her 40s, asked if we wouldn’t mind taking her down there with us. I said it would be okay, but she needed to realize that if things got shitty, we would be leaving. I didn’t want to hang around if there was any fighting.

My relative agreed, so on the day we were leaving, Bill went to pick her up. Naturally, she wasn’t dressed when he got there at the pre-appointed time, so he had to wait for her to take a shower, dry her hair, get dressed, and have coffee. This put us on the road later than we needed to be.

We got down to my parents’ house. All the other relatives were there, and most were sleeping at the house. Bill and I were relegated to the office, where there was a very uncomfortable fold out couch with a metal bar that would hit right in the middle of the back. I had also started my period, so I wasn’t feeling very well.

There was a lot of tension in the air and we were all walking on eggshells… Sure enough, hours after our arrival, I got into a fight with one of my sisters, who decided to get all self-righteous and holier-than-thou with me. My feelings were hurt and, whether or not the fight was my fault, I didn’t feel like staying in that environment, which had become pretty toxic. I just wanted to go home and be in my own house, with a comfortable bed and a toilet where I could tend to Aunt Flow in peace.

Remembering that I had vowed to leave if there was a fight, I told Bill I wanted to go home the next morning. So we told the relative who had bummed a ride with us that we would be leaving early. She had said, before accepting a ride with us, that she was okay with us leaving early if the need arose. But then, when the situation actually came up, her response was to try to manipulate Bill into talking me into staying. Why? Because she was hoping we’d drive her to nearby Williamsburg to go shopping. She wanted us to drive her around, even though at that time, we didn’t have much money, and I sure as hell don’t get my kicks watching her buy stuff. She really can be a terror to clerks and wait staff.

When Bill didn’t talk me into changing my mind, my relative tried. I said I wanted to leave and nothing was going to change my mind. So she flew into an EPIC rage. She was still in bed when we packed the car, but she got up, took a shower, and came storming into the kitchen with wet hair. She screamed at me that she needed to dry her hair and have coffee, so she wouldn’t catch cold. I was just flabbergasted that a woman in her 40s was acting like this. I turned to Bill and said, “Let’s just go.” Because I knew that having her in the car would be hours of hell, and I had had enough hell.

So, while my relative was still angrily orbiting around the house, Bill and I got in the car and fucking left! And my relative ended up taking a bus home. She gave me the silent treatment for a year after that, not that I minded. Somehow, our decision to enforce a boundary also became a reason for shaming. I remember my dad telling me I was “mean” to leave my relative stranded like that. He had no idea what had transpired, but just assumed, after hearing her side, that the whole thing was my fault.

Leaving my relative at my parents’ house was the right thing to do, but it was also a hard thing to do. Because I have been trained since childhood to overlook other people’s bad behavior and be “nice” at all costs. And when something goes south, I get blamed for it, even if the other person was the one acting like a jerk. I was expected to just “go with the flow” and sweep it under the rug.

My mom was always a big fan of “going with the flow”, and she always tried to tell me that’s what I should do, even when someone was outrageously abusive to me. Like, for instance, the time my father humiliated me in public, treating me like a six year old when I was a married woman in my 30s. That incident occurred, again, when I was doing a favor for my “empath” relative, who had asked us to drive my elderly parents around northern Virginia.

Bill and I were sitting with my relative’s boyfriend in a noisy stadium on the occasion of my relative’s master’s degree graduation. My parents were not sitting next to us, but they must have seemed like they were with us, because some strange woman who sat near us apparently felt we were being too rowdy. Instead of speaking to us directly (we weren’t being any louder than anyone else in the stadium was, and we were all adults), she complained to my parents. And my dad turned around and yelled at me, “Shut up! You’re DISTURBING PEOPLE!” It was really loud, and I’m sure everyone heard it. Including that cunty woman who complained to my parents instead of directly to us. I still don’t know how she knew we were together.

Anyway, after my dad screamed at me, Bill says the look on my face was one of unbridled rage. I wanted to kill my father right then and there. I was absolutely LIVID. Instead, I got up and left. Bill found me, and I told him I just wanted to go home. But because we had driven my parents’ car, that would have meant arranging for alternative transportation. At the time, we had very little disposable income to waste on rental cars or even train fare. Once he had me calmed down somewhat, we found my mom. I went to the bathroom, and my mom was telling Bill that I should just “go with the flow” and not let that incident ruin our “lovely day.”

Bill, being the prince he is, told my mom that actually, my dad’s outburst was embarrassing, uncalled for, and totally wrong, and that I had every right to be as angry as I was. Moreover, we were at the graduation as a favor to my parents and my relative. I hadn’t even WANTED to be there. I had just let her talk me into doing her a favor, yet again. As we rode in the car to the very nice restaurant where Bill and I had gotten engaged the year before, Bill was making small talk while I squeezed the blood out of his hand. I was so PISSED.

It happened to be Mother’s Day that day, and the restaurant was giving out pretty potted Impatiens flowers. They gave one to me and my dad said, “Why do you get one? You’re not a mother.” To which I said, “I am a stepmother.” This was before Ex’s parental alienation campaign had ramped up to the toxic levels it eventually got to. And then, when we sat down to brunch, which my father would be paying for, I proceeded to order steak and eggs, several whiskey sours, and dessert. Bill smirked at me, knowing full well that I was passively aggressively taking my rage at my father out of his wallet.

The following week, Bill finished his first master’s degree. We went back to that same restaurant and had a less expensive, but still very enjoyable, do over of that brunch. And ever since those incidents in 2003, as well as Ex’s sick Christmas stunt of 2004, in which she tried to compel me to spend Christmas with her in my father-in-law’s house, I have become a lot more assertive and less likely to just “go with the flow”. Especially, when it comes to dealing with my relative who, I repeat with emphasis, is NOT AN EMPATH by any stretch of the imagination. However, she is sometimes pretty “brently”.

Standard