CW: discussion of death, homophobia (including slurs), and suicide
Editor’s Note: True story, names and places have changed.
College! An eye opening experience! When I went to college, my first semester was everything that I expected it to be. That semester I joined a fraternity. I was a legacy so they had to bid me; this was the only reason that I joined. I had one BIG secret though that I did not want to tell them because I did not know how they would react. I did; however, tell my pledge brothers. They were so supportive of me, one of my brother’s fathers was actually in the same boat that I was. That semester we all kept secrets from the actives.
Second semester I was a neophyte for one week and then the much-anticipated activation. I was so excited that I was going to join my brother and my father in the fraternal system. That semester we rushed 14 pledges. I was now on the other side of door thinking, “what secrets are they keeping for me”. I decided that it was time to tell my brothers. During “Big Bro” night I told my active brothers, they were split down the middle. Half of them supported me and the other spent the rest of that semester trying to put me back in the closet. Like most guys they asked all the appropriate questions.
~ “Are you seeing anyone?”
~ “ I have this friend I want you to meet!”
I could not really tell anyone whom I was seeing. I sure as hell did not want to meet their friends.
That semester I joined a group of fraternity men that would educate others about diversity in the fraternal system. My brothers felt that I should not have joined this group. They feared for my life, but feared for their reputation even more. I heard:
~ “We do not want to be known as that kind of fraternity”
I heard that so much I thought that we changed the fraternity’s motto. That was not the end of it. Then came the, what if’s. That question everyone asked. I had to reassure them that if I lived like that I would never leave the house. They still would not even understand. All they really cared about was their reputation on frat row. I felt alone.
I met so many men with the same dilemma in their respective fraternities. After each education at a fraternity house I always had a friend of a friend that was in a fraternity… I met so many people just like me. They all had their stories and were all looking for more people like us. I finally was not the only one.
Then there was Ben: Six-one, grass green eyes, golden blonde hair, President of his fraternity, Greek Man of the Year, your typical all-American boy, and he was my Rho-Chi. We met my first semester. When I finally got around to his house to do education all I could think about was him. I was still infatuated with him! I saw him across the room and smiled at the same time I lost my train of thought (It left the station without me). After the education he came up to me:
~ “Let me guess you have a friend of a friend that you know is in a fraternity…”
~ “Well, not really a friend more of an invitation.” He said
I did not really care what he said; I was still looking into his eyes.
~ “Would you like me to come back later and do more education?”
~ “Uh, yeah I guess you could say that. Give me your number and I will call you about it”
~ “ Okay”
~ “ Are you still dating that cute little southern girl from the fourth floor?”
~ “ Karen?” I said laughing, “ No”
~ “Why is that funny?”
~ “It just is,” I said, never leading him to believe that I never actually dated Karen to begin with.
He called my voice mail that day and then the day after that, and then the day after that, you get the picture. I finally called him back and he asked me to meet with him to discuss a future meeting. We went to dinner, took a walk, and went to a party. As I was getting ready to leave the party he was talking to a prospective member. I told him that I was leaving. He turned from the prospective and asked if he could walk with me to my house. He told the prospective about our frat rows buddy system. I said sure and smiled at the prospective. The buddy system was always my favorite part of frat row. We arrived at my porch and 3 of my brothers were kneeling on the couch looking out the window like three sons waiting for their dad to come home from his first date. I turned to thank him for walking me home.
~ “Well thank you for your interest in my well being and our educational process” I smiled at him and looked down at the carpet.
~ “Well the interest isn’t really about the education.”
~ “ Yeah?”
He had this deep voice that could make Marvin Gay sound soprano. I am very naïve when it comes to people hitting on me. You could be buck-naked in my room and I would think nothing of it.
~ “Yeah, can I call you tomorrow?”
~ “Sure you have my number”
~ “ Oh” with a disappointed look
~ “Well goodnight.” holding out my hand.
Out of nowhere three little voices piped in:
~ “His number is 555-1727 Ext. 902. Hey! Are you guys going to kiss?”
~ “Sorry about them they get a little riled up and think that any nice guy is well…”
~ “Well, goodnight,” he said.
I walked into my house and looked at my three little brothers sitting on the couch.
~ “He’s not you know”
~ “Okay, you’re the boss! Boss!” Giggling like schoolgirls.
~ “You guys are so gay!” I said walking out of the room.
The next few weeks I heard from Ben everyday. We went out more and more and finally we were dating. We went out every other night. He made it feel like these relationship things were worth it. After about six months he came to me one night and told me that he was going to tell his fraternity. I was happy for him, actually I was terrified. That Sunday our chapter meetings were in adjacent rooms. I walked past his room and looked in at him. He embodied masculinity; he stood there in his black suit commanding the attention of the entire room. He looked at me. I winked. He smiled. That chapter meeting I went through the motions. My committee reports were short and my committee meeting nonexistent. I could not wait to see him. After chapter I walked to our usual meeting place, our campuses only claim to fame, Benny. I felt this tap on my shoulder and turned around, nobody was there. I turned back around and there he sat smiling at me smelling so sweet.
~ “Hey sexy”
~ “You scared me”
~ “ I did it”
~ “And?” I said
~ “ And nothing, they were cool”
~ “ I told you they would be, am I good or what”
He smiled at me and laughed. He leaned in and kissed my cheek. I looked at him:
~ “Can we eat now?”
~ “Yeah, Where do you want to eat?”
We headed down to the village and ate. I told him that I had to go to another university the next day and to do an education. He pleaded to go with me:
~ “I can’t, you know that”
~ “ Why, we could do it together.”
~ “You know that’s not allowed”
~ “Why, tell them your training me,” he said.
~ “I wish I could.” I looked at him “This is my stop”
~ “Yeah, I want you to know something. I love you”
~ “Yeah, you love me? Well, I really, really like you” I leaned into kiss him he stopped me.
~ “What do you mean you don’t love me too?”
~ “I was joking, I love you this much.” Holding my arm out to my sides
~ “I know you do, Can we… you know tonight?”
~ “I don’t think so, what makes you think that I would do that with you?”
~ “I don’t know it was just a thought,” he said shruggedly.
~ “I can’t I have to sleep and you know I’m still…” He kissed me, He kissed me right in the middle of a sentence. I couldn’t think anymore.
~ “Maybe some other time then.”
I smiled and walk into my house and to my room as he headed to his pledge party and I went to bed. I really could not sleep at all, I kept thinking about how great this was. How great Ben was! How handsome and smart he was. He called me at one a.m. in the morning just to tell me that I need to sleep. He knew me better then I knew myself. I finally fell asleep at three. Two hours later I woke up and drove past his house on the way out of town and there were four police cars there. I thought nothing of it because there are always four police cars sitting in front of some fraternity house. Four hours later I arrived at my meeting. I made my presentation, answered all the questions, and met this guy who has a friend that is “well you know.” I gathered the projector and my laptop and walked to my car. I got home at six in the evening. I walked into my house and my entire fraternity was sitting there including our advisor and staff psychologist. I walked in and looked around. They were all looking at me like I owed them money. I walked into the room and said, “What did somebody die”. I always had a knack for stating the obvious.
~ “Patrick sit down” Steve, our advisor started.
~ “ No, I’m good thanks”
~ “No really I think you should sit down.”
~ “No really I’m good”
My big bro stood up and looked at me and said:
~ “ Patrick, Last night…Ben…died”
I dropped everything and fell to the floor. I was paralyzed, suddenly the world stopped. I hated myself for being who I am. I hate my brothers for being there. I sat there for an hour with my brothers trying to comfort me. They had to physically carry me to my room.
The next day they explained everything. How he climbed onto the roof (where he knows he’s not supposed to be) fell off, and then he drives to the reservoir and drowns. I don’t understand how you can fall off a room and then consciously drive your car to a reservoir, jump in knowing you cannot swim. I did not leave my room for three weeks, except for the mandatory meetings with Dr. Brown “exploring my feeling”. Really do you think that some psychobabble is really going to help me? Dr. Brown told me over and over, “You have a right to your anger”. I have a right to my anger, my pissed-offness (I know that’s not a word but it is when I’m telling the story) and anything else. My brothers were even worse then he was, walking around on eggshells and postponing rush. Why would you postpone rush? I needed that to take up the time between classes and my walk down frat row.
The police investigated the “incident” constantly asking if he had any enemies. I wanted to say why don’t you red necks take a good look at that fraternity and you tell me. They ruled it an “accident”. An accident??? Right! Stating that there just was not enough evidence to even consider homicide. Ah, the backswords state of Indiana, where you too can find the home of the KKK and their cronies. The police even joked that no one would even care about this “fag” and I hope they get his little “faggity” boyfriend too. We all had a good laugh that day! (My face still hurts.)
That year the National Committee mandated that they black out their Greeks (Where you put a black cloth over your Greeks and are not to accept pledges for a semester) in honor of their brother and the chapter was put on probation for one year. Well, we all have to start somewhere right. It took me this long to write this down. I guess because I did not want to admit what happened to myself. Ben’s parents had died six-years earlier and it was up to his sister to get everything done. I never told anyone at home about this because I didn’t want people to know. The sobering reality of hate crimes breeds my unwillingness to “Come Out”.
College was an eye opening experience, for some, others would rather turn a third blind eye to the dangers of Frat Row.