I stare at a spot on the wall of the fraternity’s chapter room. A water stain, teardrop shaped. JB insisted that to avoid eye contact we pick a spot. We’ve been standing and staring for hours. It’s our third hazing ritual this week. Military style line-up. Simple concept. We stand. They scream. Fighting fatigue and dehydration, I concentrate on the stain and try to ignore the verbal assault. If we survive the semester without quitting, we’ll join the ranks of our tormentors. We may even get to belittle next season’s recruits. The value proposition wobbles – like us – on a flimsy foundation.
We covered the stain last week, but it’s back. It burned through the coat of paint or maybe there’s still a leak. I wonder if any others picked it for their spot. Someone – third or fourth on my right – collapses. A couple active members approach him. They’ll stand him back up and label him a pussy. I unlock my knees shifting the burn to my Achilles tendons. Reggie is growing flustered. His swaying severs the bridge of sweat that linked our bare shoulders. A whirl of motion in my peripheral vision. Stomping toward us. I pray they target Reggie and not me. My cowardice stings. JB’s voice from hours earlier echoes in my ears. Shared hardship will bring you closer, help you bond, make you men. My eyes bore into the stain like it’s the yawning mouth of a cave that will swallow me.
Hazing has many aliases. In high school it was the Brian-Toss. Ten gripping fists attached to ten muscled forearms attached to five total assholes. A sheet stretched tightly between them. My body high above the sheet falling then flying then falling. The Brian-Toss ended when the sheet ripped or when Coach Walsh gave a lazy puff on his whistle and a boys-will-be-boys eyeroll. Five hands would high five. Eventually, I just embraced it, volunteered. The defense mechanism earned me pseudo-celebrity status. Brian, you’ve got some massive balls (I didn’t). You’re crazy, man (I was). Starved for acceptance, I joined in the high fives. I was shocked when I received a bid to join a fraternity. For the first time, I would be regarded as a friend among equals.
It turns out Reggie is the target. An older member named Zach is spewing profanity and spittle in his face. The interrogation hits a new low. Reggie, why does your girlfriend look like a troll? Silence drags until he starts to stammer an answer. Shut up, Reggie, it was a rhetorical question you idiot. Laughter erupts from a dozen guys. I remain stone-faced. Zach wheels on me, his face inches from mine. Look, even Brian thinks that’s funny, don’t you? Gimme a high five. His hand is hovering over me. I imagine my fist plowing through his nose and dropping him onto the vomit-stained linoleum. Instead, I find my palm rising to meet his. The room echoes with the slap of our hands. It feels like it’s Reggie’s face I slapped. Zach moves on. I’m staring at the stain again, its shape blurry and distorted.