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Alpha Sig

Alpha Sig

Alpha Sig was a local fraternity, which is to say that it wasn’t a real fraternity at all. It had both male and female members, and all it required of them in exchange for their membership was to reside or to have resided in the university housing structure known as “Alpha Sig.” As such, it was not a fraternity that would ever be welcomed into the National Panhellenic Conference, not that anyone cared. Quite simply, Alpha Sig had no standards to speak of, and though the traditional Greek system will forgive many sins, this blatant disregard for class and gender hierarchy was not one of them.

You became acquainted with Alpha Sig at the end of Freshman year, when Andy and his other bosom buddy, Dave Smith, announced that they would be living there the following year. When it was suggested that you and your tiny draw group should join them, well. You had seen Alpha Sig and that was totally out of the question.

There were new dorms being built that would be clean, and you blamed your decision on this, but as usual the truth was far more complicated. You knew that to choose Alpha Sig would have been to classify yourself–to choose sides, once and for all, and become one of the alternatives who comprised the other half of your social life. And though by that time Andy had become an important friend to you, to use a guaranteed year of housing on Alpha Sig was to declare, once and for all, “Yes, I am one of the sunporch people! Hear my Guns ‘n’ Roses, smell my cigarette smoke!” It was to admit, permanently, that you were strange, and out of the norm, and though you knew, deep down, that you were strange and out of the norm, your ability to pass was your security, along with your J. Crew clothes and your hiding-of-smoking habits. It was hypocritical and mainstream, but there was safety in it, and you would clung to it because it was what you knew.

Besides, to live in Alpha Sig would have been an overcorrection: if the traditional Greek system was on one side of the trajectory, then Alpha Sig was its opposite pole. In the end, you belonged to neither place. And so you moved your stereo, 13″ tv, and halogen floor lamp into Manzanita II and tried your hand at existing in both worlds, and living in neither.

You would go out with Tanya and your other sorority friends, and frequent all of the various parties on campus until they closed down around 1 am. And then you would bid your friends adieu, and head off to Alpha Sig, where somebody was always up, and the party never seemed to end: Alpha Sig, the after-hours club of choice for the university-campus-bound alcoholic.

There, you would shake hands with the bottle of Old Smuggler whisky, smoke cigarettes, and regale Andy with the stories of the fraternity parties of the evening, something he no doubt resented. Still, you felt compelled to do it, and when there was something bad that had happened, Andy always made you feel better, because he existed outside of the jurisdiction of that world and as such did not see your mercurial standing in it as reflective of your character in any form.

But those stories may have been the very beginning of the end for you and Andy, though your friendship would continue for nearly a decade afterward. Your compulsive need to tell and gain his support created the first cracks in the strong piece of marble that linked the two of you. You did not do it on purpose, but it cannot have been encouraging to have you constantly concerned with your position in a world that had excluded him. Because even if Andy never had expressed anything other than an unabashed contempt for the Greek system, there in the spaces between the two of you was an unacknowledged, but undeniable truth: it was a system that for whatever reason would never have had Andy, and his rejection of it, however sincere, was besides the point.

Because you could belong if you chose to, but Andy never was given the luxury of a choice.

And if you floated between the two worlds, inhabiting that very small section of space in between two poles in the great Venn diagram of university life, it was not something of which you were proud or from which you could take enjoyment. It was a space reserved for one or two people that you knew of, and a space that was to absorb the animosity from each side for its opposite, your presence a constant reminder of the persistence of the opposite pole and your refusal to choose. The sorority sisters who had chosen you would lament, much later and behind the scenes, in that brand of hushed whisper that evaporated from the official record, that you had seemed so different during rush, that the sorority had taken on a different feel, mysteriously, over the previous few years. And your Alpha Sig friends would wonder why they always seemed to come last, and why what was good enough after 1:00 am was not good enough before. Though it would take years, ultimately both sides wanted, needed you to choose.

You could be one, or the other, or neither. But to be both was to be Manzanita II, which was to say no place, and after a short time there you realized this was no kind of answer at all.

Time passed, and things changed. You graduated, and Chelsea Clinton started dating somebody who lived in Alpha Sig. Secret Servicemen became regulars in that beer-soaked living room where you had confessed your sins to Andy. And eventually, when the University finally decided that if they were going to have Greeks in houses, then they would prefer that they be the mainstream variety, the building that you knew as Alpha Sig was turned in to a sorority house–your old sorority, in fact. The two worlds had become one, in the end, even if nobody was left to remember why this was significant.

As for your own choices, they were to be taken from your hands, your alcoholism would ultimately force your hand and you would be able to choose neither side in the end. And when you told Andy, on New Year’s Eve of 2000–the infamous Y2K that was supposed to lead to all kinds of death and destruction at the hands of a computer glitch but turned out to be nothing–that you couldn’t see the future for the two of you, you blamed him for it, arguing that he had never taken you seriously. You claimed that he, Andy, was such an ASSHOLE for never viewing you as an individual, for being like all the others, in the end. You cast him off with the explanation that he had forced you to exclude him, and it was strange and awkward–for a while it seemed that nothing was right in the universe. But even while you did it you knew that this was your only means of setting him free to live his own authentic life, without the artificial constraints that your passing had placed upon him so many years before.