I’d made it! College! First one in my family. But I’d worked hard to get here. I’d seen what my dad’s life was like, working with no job security, irritable and sometimes heartless, cold and dominating bosses, not getting raises when he deserved them, having to work odd and frequently-changing schedules that ignored any problems they caused him at home.
I didn’t want that kind of life! I saw that early on, and I thought about ways to avoid it. What I decided was best was to get a college education. I’d have a little more control of my life with one of those, with a degree.
I was still in middle school when I made this decision. Yeah, very early, and at that time I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what career I’d pick, but that could come later. First thing, the very first thing I had to do, though, was to begin getting excellent grades.
No way could Dad afford to pay for my college. I wouldn’t expect him to. He was doing all he could just to pay for the meager necessities the family had. No, if I was going to go to college, it was up to me to do what was required to pay my own way. And it seemed to me, back when I was 12, that I could begin working all the odd jobs I could and then continue that all through the rest of my schooling, or I could take the easier way: spend the same time and effort as I would on jobs on my grades instead. Great grades should equal a scholarship somewhere. I wouldn’t be picky. I hoped to get a few scholarship offers, and I’d choose the one that best fitted my needs, then go from there.
And that’s what I did. It was an unusual decision for me because I was very average, intellectually. I wasn’t anywhere near the smartest one in my classes. So, to succeed, I began to hit the books hard while still in middle school. It worked, but there were sacrifices. It meant very little social life. In high school, most of the kids partied or hung with friends on the weekends—for some, even on weekday nights. I didn’t go to a single party; I didn’t have any close friends and very few I could even give the title ‘friend’ to. By my junior year in high school, I probably could have begun loosening up a bit because I was an all-A student by then and a little goofing off wouldn’t have made much difference, scholastically, but with all the studying I’d done, there had come a kicker. I was a nobody at school, not only lost in the crowd but invisible; so, by then, I didn’t have people inviting me to do things. If you can’t make the time to hang with other kids early on, if you have no time for dates, then quite quickly you get left alone and fall out of the mainstream of high-school life. That had been the case with me. So, no party invites; no sleepovers; no real friends, and with that came none of the social skills most kids develop during that period of their lives.
It had been a sacrifice, but also one I’d been willing to make. One look at my exhausted, stressed-out dad dragging home every night made it easy to focus on what I needed to do, and I’d doggedly done it.
A college education, perhaps a good job, and maybe I’d be able to help out at home financially and take some of that weight off my dad’s shoulders. That was something to look forward to.
It worked! I wasn’t the brightest student in high school. I wasn’t valedictorian. But my GPA was third in my class, the result of hard, steady work rather than exceptional intelligence. Mine was a large, highly-rated high school, and I did have a choice of scholarships when I graduated. I chose the one that was a full-ride offer. Tuition, dorm room, meals, books—the only thing missing was spending money, and I’d learned how to get by without money. Had been doing it for years. Oh, I’d need a little bit now that I was in college, but I could make that by tutoring high school kids or, when I became a sophomore, by working in a dorm as a resident advisor.
My first day: I got the key to my dorm room and checked the place out. Not too bad and certainly acceptable. Two single beds, one large shelf at desk height along the wall between the beds, two study chairs and two desk lamps. There was one easy chair, upholstered, in the room, two small closets, linoleum floor tiles with a throw rug covering much of the floor area, one window, one heating/cooling unit like the ones found in motel rooms. The room was empty, meaning my roommate hadn’t checked in yet, so I could choose which side of the room to claim. I chose the bed farthest from the door.
I brought up the stuff I’d hauled from home from where I’d left it in the lobby in only two trips; I didn’t have much. I saw some kids with TV sets, laptops, game consoles, floor lamps, extra pillows, mini-fridges, all sorts of things. I basically had clothes and bathroom items. I did have a laptop. I had gotten through high school using the computers in the library. But Dad and Mom had somehow gotten the money to gift me a laptop as a graduation/going-to-college present. I’d teared up when they’d given it to me. So had they.
It didn’t take long to set up what little I’d brought with me. Then I sat down on the bed to think. I decided I needed to take a personal inventory. I’d thought about nothing but grades for years. I’d reached my goal: a scholarship and college admittance. So, what now? What did I want now? I knew that whatever it was, I could attain it. I’d worked very hard to get where I was against some pretty hefty odds—the heftiest being I was no brainiac—and by making some tough sacrifices, I’d succeeded. So, what was next?
I still wanted to get good grades. Good enough to get into graduate school if, along the path to getting my degree, I discovered what I wanted to do with my life, and I then realized achieving that would take an advanced degree. So, good grades were certainly still a goal. But not outstanding ones; I didn’t need to excel at the level I had before. I still needed to study, however; I still wasn’t a top level intellectual nova; studying would remain an important part of my life. But what else did I want to add? This was why I needed this inventory.
I had some personal faults, and this was the time to start trying to fix them. For one, because I’d had little association with my peers, I was socially ungraceful, even awkward. I hadn’t learned how to be part of a group of any size and fit in, just as I didn’t know how to get along well with different sorts of personalities. Or how to diffuse arguments without losing face. I hated confrontations, hated heated arguments. I didn’t think of myself as being shy, but I guess I was to some extent. More than I’d admit to, certainly. I backed away from intimidation rather than standing up for myself. I’d rarely had to, of course. But I wanted to fix that. I didn’t want to be cowed by stronger personalities. If I were challenged, I wanted to be able to hold my own and be proud of myself.
I also thought I should try dating. I’d never had a date. I didn’t understand girls at all. Maybe college girls were different from their middle-school and high-school selves. I hoped so.
I was thinking about this, this personal inventory and my goals for this year while sitting on my dorm-room bed when there was a knock on the door. Before I could get up and answer it, I heard a key working the lock, and the door opened.
A boy stepped in. Well, I guess when you’re a high-school student, you’re used to being called a boy. It’s pervasive. Athletics are called boys’ soccer, boys’ water polo, boys’ swimming. Even the restrooms are marked Boys and Girls. But now I was in college with other kids my age, and I guess we were finally men. So, a young man walked into my dorm room.
He saw me on the bed and stopped short. He didn’t say a word, just stood still holding a duffle bag over one shoulder and a suitcase in the other hand. And then he blushed.
“Hi,” I said, standing up. “I’m Grant Stillman. I guess you must be my roommate. The email I got from Rooming Administration said your name was Ethan Groves. Is that you? Ethan?”
He nodded. I was to learn that he often didn’t speak if a gesture of some sort would suffice. Over time I’d learn a lot about Ethan. It turned out he was much like me. He’d grown up on a farm. Farmers these days, ones who own medium-small farms, work long hours and don’t make much money. Ethan wasn’t going to afford college any more than I was, and he’d decided to go the same route I had. He’d had the same sort of incentive, too. I’d wanted to escape the sort of job my dad had. He’d hated farming with all his heart and stuffing. College, on a scholarship, would be his escape, too.
He’d had even fewer friends than I had, which was saying a lot. Between farm chores and opening the books, he’d had no time for them than I had. I would wonder if that was because of his personality as much as the time he had available. Ethan was rather fragile, it seemed to me. For a boy who grew up on a farm doing chores, I’d have expected him to be strong and sturdy. He was the opposite. Slender to the point of being skeletal, unmuscled as a middle-schooler and shrinkingly shy, he was far different from most entering freshmen, most of whom seem to think they now had the world by the tail and not a worry in sight—and let the partying begin! College parties were legendary.
Just looking at him, he could have been a popular kid in high school because he was good looking, and that’s important in high school. Not everything, but something. He had shorter hair than most kids our age and he combed it! You don’t see much of that. But his features were regular and cutely arranged on his face. He was smaller than average, and his shyness was apparent from the way he held himself. But there was a quality in his appearance that made me want to comfort him, tell him he was all right, take care of him. I hadn’t ever before experienced that feeling when meeting anyone my age.
I would find Ethan was perfect for me in a roommate. I hadn’t known what that could mean before I actually had a roommate, and didn’t know it when I first met him. But I learned.
I’d never been the leader in any relationship with anyone before—always the beta to someone else’s alpha—but I assumed that alpha position with Ethan by default. He was lucky, too; I was naturally kind and genial. I just looked at him as a friend; never was I bossy, never did I take advantage where I could have. We got along great. When I made decisions, they were decisions for me, and if he tagged along quite often or did the same things, well, that seemed to me to be flattery and something to find amusing rather than anything negative.
Like me, Ethan was socially stunted. Neither of us had acquired a girlfriend, or even a close male friend. But a girl? Does everyone know how much time and money one of those creatures require? Neither of us had had the time or the money. I didn’t feel any great loss missing out on that. I’d known there’d be time for girls and dates in college and didn’t have a problem waiting, maybe because I knew a lot of high school girls and most of them didn’t interest me at all, and the ones I’d looked at twice hadn’t looked back even once. So that was that.
Soon after we were living together in that dorm room and knew each other just a little, I asked Ethan if he’d had a girlfriend. He looked at me, kind of blushed, looked down at his feet, something I was getting used to seeing, and murmured, “Wasn’t interested.”
As it was early in our relationship when I asked, like the first week, I hadn’t felt I should ask what that meant, or if it meant what anyone would assume it meant. So I didn’t say anything, and the subject hadn’t arisen again. If he was gay, so what? This was the 21st century. No one got beheaded these days for being gay.
Well, not in the U.S., anyway.
I learned something else about him early on that was kind of personal. Well, more than kind of. He was shy, which I saw right off the bat, but he was even more shy about nudity.
We lived in a modern college dorm. By that, I mean there was a mingling of sexes here in our living quarters; this was common in the modern world at many large universities. It was left up to us to monitor our behavior. All the dorm rooms were set up for two people, and the two people assigned to share each room were always of the same sex, but that was just about as involved in our personal lives as the administration seemed to want to be. Perhaps they’d decided that if we were going to have sex, they couldn’t really prevent or regulate that, even if they wanted to. There were thousands of us and only a few hundred of them. So, practicality raising its head, they decided to leave that part of our education up to us. How we actually lived in those rooms or what we did in them was up to us. There was an RA on each floor, a resident advisor, and he was supposed to be there to keep things on an even keel, but if a boy happened to spend the night in a girl’s room and there were no complaints to be heard, the RA wouldn’t get involved. We weren’t told anything about how to behave as long as we weren’t flagrant and didn’t cause a ruckus. The school saw us as adults.
So, there were both sexes living together on the floors, and there were also communal bathrooms, which had shocked me at first. The rows of sinks we used were in common. The toilet and shower facilities were in the same shared bathrooms but separated from each other by the wall containing all those sinks. We could shower and dry off and put on bathrobes without being seen by the other sex. They could, too. I guess it was very possible as there were no monitors in the bathrooms for a boy to wander into the girls’ shower area and vice versa. There were no doors to keep us or them out, but throughout all the time I was at the school, I never saw that happen. We did self-monitor our activities.
I should add, in order to give a full accounting of college life in this century, that I spent as little time in the bath/shower room on Friday and Saturday nights as possible, meaning things may have happened that I simply wasn’t part of. There was a lot of drinking going on during those nights, and now and then I could here a whoop or two coming from the part of the hall where our floor’s bathroom was located. It was easy to think that some drunk guys, or drunk girls, had managed to, uh, accidentally wander into the wrong shower. And not wander out all too soon.
But I was discussing Ethan’s shyness. He wasn’t just shy, he was body-shy as well. I learned this when I stripped down to shower my first night with him. Everything off, I walked to the tiny closet that was mine, pulled my robe out and shrugged into it, then turned to look at Ethan. I’d told him I was going to get a shower, and he’d said he should, too. So I was ready and looked at him, and he was just standing still, fully clothed, looking at me.
“You got naked,” he said.
“That’s normally how I prepare to shower,” I said, trying hard to keep the sarcasm out of my voice and color it with humor instead. I didn’t know him well at this point but could sense he might find sarcasm intimidating and the words hostile, which would be the wrong thing I wanted to make him feel. I was already protecting him.
He didn’t speak, just kept looking at me and then dropping his eyes before looking up again, and I figured I’d better see what was what here.
“Uh, we’re roommates, Ethan. We’ll be going to bed, getting up, getting dressed, getting undressed, all in the same room and mostly all at the same time every day. You just saw me naked. No sweat. No deal at all, big or little. But does this disturb you? If there’s something we need to work out, let’s talk about it. I get the feeling nakedness is something you’re not comfortable with. But you must have showered after gym in high school. Changed in the locker room. Been naked with other boys.”
He was shaking his head. When I finished, he said, “They had showers, and most of the guys used them. Many, maybe most of them wore bathing suits or boxers, and all the ones in the lower grades did. I come from farm country, but the community is mostly evangelical Christian, very strict, and the school board and teachers they hired had very conservative views. We didn’t have to be naked with each other and, in fact, it was recommended we not be; the school board thought naked bodies were shameful. So, nudity was avoided by most of us. I was one of those. I used the sinks for a kind of sponge bath after gym.”
“Well, that might be a problem here,” I said. “This is a small room. I don’t mind you seeing me naked, and I certainly won’t stare at you, but I don’t see how I’ll never happen to see you naked. Do you think it will be a problem? What would happen if I did see you? Is this a religious thing with you?”
He was blushing and acting very uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure he was going to answer. But I waited. This was his problem, and I didn’t want to make it mine by imagining things that weren’t true. Hey, I was somewhat shy myself. I understood that talking about some things could be hard. But, at some point, we either had to become comfortable with each other or find new roommates. I wouldn’t like having to live in close quarters with someone I couldn’t undress in front of, or having to avoid looking at him or leaving the room when he did the same. And most of all, we had to be able to talk about this. If he couldn’t talk about this, how could we ever talk about masturbating? I was not planning on being self-celibate for the next few years.
He finally couldn’t stand the silence. “No, not religious. It’s just personal with me. No one’s seen me naked in years.”
“That’s not possible,” I said. “You had to have physical exams at some point.”
“Well . . .” He blushed again. “Okay, and that’s part of the problem. Maybe the beginning of it. My doctor made some remarks.”
I softened my voice as much as possible. “Oh. I’m sorry. If there’s something wrong, well, you should tell me about it. Show me, actually. If I know what’s wrong, I won’t make things up in my head, and it’ll be easier for me to help prevent others from seeing you.”
“I know I’m too shy,” he said. “Too modest. But I am, and I hate people looking at me, especially if there’s something odd about me to look at. And there is when I’m naked. That’s why I never let anyone in gym see me. I don’t respond well to snide or rude or bawdy comments. I avoided them back then by not letting anyone see me.”
“And you never went on a date? A girl never . . . ?”
“I don’t like girls. I told you that.”
“No,” I said, trying not to sound argumentative but needing to get this cleared up, “you said that you weren’t interested in them. But I thought you might have gone on a date to discover that fact about yourself. And if you did go on a date, and it was with the right kind of girl, it’s easy to imagine you both seeing and, uh, handling each other. That’s what dates are for.”
“Well, no, I never did that. I didn’t want anyone seeing me.”
He stopped and we stared at each other for a moment. Finally, I said, “Well, I’m going to take a shower. I guess it’s up to you how you want to handle this. But we need to talk about it when you’ve decided. I’ll do all I can to go along with what you want.”
I picked up my towel, and he said, “Wait.”
I stopped and turned back to him. I could see how agitated he was, but also that he’d decided something.
“Okay, Grant, you’re right. It’s really time for me to grow up a little. I told myself coming here that I’d do that. Here’s my first opportunity, my first real trial. I’ll get naked in front of you. Please don’t laugh. Please. That would really hurt.”
“No way I’d do that, Ethan. No way.”
He nodded and then undressed. He hesitated before pulling down his boxers, but took a deep breath, let it out, and then let everything out.
I’d imagined him having a micropenis or a deformed one. He didn’t. His penis was quite large, certainly larger than any I’d ever seen, and the fact it was attached to a small, skinny body just made the effect stunning. The word ‘shocking’ could easily be applied. It was long and thick, hung more than half way to his knees, and I couldn’t help but wonder what it would look like aroused.
I did a great job of controlling my reaction. I had to think quickly of what to say. I thought of just the right thing. “What were your doctor’s remarks?”
“He made jokes about how all the girls would be getting in line to date me, that many would want to skip forward right to the good stuff on the date. That they’d want to, to, well, you know, do it, me with them.” He was blushing again, and all I could do was picture myself with his predicament—girls seeing me and then talking about me to their friends, then everyone looking at me like I was a freak, and my not being able to prevent it, knowing they were all knew, thinking about me and my . . . no, it was all too much for a shy boy. He’d lived with that fear, that someone would find out. All he could do was hide it and hope. He had no control over how big he was!
“Well, there was only one thing I could do,” he continued, breaking into my thoughts. “The one thing I could do was make sure no one ever saw it. I’ve been doing that ever since. It’s become an obsession.”
He took a deep breath. “But that all came following that doctor’s appointment. The doctor saw how his remarks had affected me and apologized, but he was still smirking, still sneaking glances at it. And so, I’ve never let anyone see me since then; till now.”
I remained very matter-of-fact, very unfazed, thinking that treating him as though nothing was odd about him would help him more than anything. “Well, now that I’ve seen you, a problem has been solved. You don’t have to hide yourself from me any longer. That should be very liberating, knowing that. And I should also say most of the trouble is in your head. Yes, it’s large, but no way is it freakish or ugly or grotesque. It’s simply large. That’s all it is. But I know it’s more than that to you, so we need to think about this, how we can go about keeping it under wraps.”
I paused, thinking, before venturing on. “I think that, as for showering, we need to make a plan. We have communal showers, all male of course, but still we all see each other, and I very much doubt guys here will be wearing bathing suits. I really don’t think the problem is as awful as you’ve made it. It’s your problem, not mine, so how this goes is up to you, but it is what it is, and I’m willing to help find ways for you to avoid being seen when showering. What we’ll have to do is shower very early or very late. And I’ll go with you each time. If someone comes, I’ll just manage to stand in front of you, to shield you. We’ll learn pretty quickly when the showers are empty, and we’ll go then.”
I think that was the exact moment when Ethan began to depend on me. I hadn’t laughed. I hadn’t called him a freak. I’d shown no reaction at all to his obsession. I’d been supportive. He’d needed someone who knew about his situation, someone he didn’t have to hide himself from. I think he also wanted, maybe needed, someone to lean on, and he could see that I was obliging. No objections at all to helping him out. And in truth, I didn’t mind. It was almost like having a protégé, and I’d never had anything like that. It made me feel bigger, better than I really was. I’d grown up with only fair to middling confidence, though, and that might be overstating it. Supporting him gave a boost to what I thought about myself.
We did find a way to keep his secret hidden. Right around the time the school cafeteria opened for dinner, both before and after, the showers were empty, and that’s when we’d go. Only one time had a boy come in while we were there. We always used the showerheads right next to the door; anyone coming in would very naturally move farther away from us so we’d have some separation, and their back would be to us during that time. This way, I was able to stay between the newcomer and Ethan as we finished showering; walking out only took a few steps. It isn’t polite in communal showers to spend much time staring at the other occupants, either them or their genitals, so it wasn’t hard to shield Ethan. Ethan was very appreciative of my efforts, but doing so wasn’t an onerous effort on my part, and I was happy to help him out.
We talked more openly after Ethan showed me his extravagance. Having done that had caused him to be able to talk to me about things he wouldn’t with others. He told me he’d promised himself to work on his shyness at college. He hated being so shy, being so afraid and dependent. I told him I was trying to get better in some areas myself. My self-esteem was one thing I was interested in building. As was getting rid of my fear of confrontation. I wanted to be able to stand up for myself. That was a lot to accomplish, but I’d vowed to work on all of it. I said that when I could, I’d try to help him with his shyness, too.
He said I already was. But in fact he continued to be pretty clingy, and his attachment to me appeared to be growing. I didn’t mind. I wanted to improve my self-esteem; how could anything help more with that than having someone so dependent on me?
We were a good team, good roommates. We’d both learned in high school how to buckle down and study, so it was easy for us to come back from classes, open our books and get back to it. No music, no interruptions, just studying. We’d stop for dinner, which we ate together in the main campus student cafeteria. Both of us had cards showing we were eligible for all meals, so that was never a problem.
I didn’t find classes too advanced for me, and I had the impression Ethan had no problems at all. He was smarter than I was. I was used to that. It didn’t hurt my ego a bit to accept that.
We’d been living this life for a few weeks and were both comfortable with how things were going, but I was starting to feel a little isolated. One thing I’d wanted to do at college was to get over my social isolation. I wanted to learn how to be with a group of people and not be awkward. I thought the only way to accomplish that was to actually go out and mingle in non-academic situations. I liked being with Ethan, I didn’t object to studying, but I knew there was more to college than hitting the books. I was ready to test the waters.
I was reading the school newspaper when I saw just the thing. The fraternities on campus were about to begin their pledge drives. Every year, they added new brothers to replace the ones who’d graduated or flunked out. That time was now upon us this year. All frats would be open this weekend for visitations by interested kids, mostly freshmen who had thoughts about being part of fraternal life. After all, that’s where the great parties were!
I decided I wanted to visit a few frats and check them out. See what sort of camaraderie existed, what the houses themselves were like, what the guys living there were like, and if living in one would be an improvement on dorm life. We were more insular here; I’d be a more of a player if I was a frat brother. I’d meet a whole lot more kids. The parties, well, I didn’t know. I’d heard some of them were pretty extreme. But when in my life would I ever have this chance again? And just because I lived in a frat house wouldn’t mean I’d have to attend all the parties if I found them a little more over-the-top than I was comfortable with.
Okay, I know this doesn’t sound like the person I’ve been describing up to now, a sort of shy, risk-avoiding boy without much intestinal fortitude. And in fact, truthfully, what I wanted to do wasn’t necessarily to join a fraternity, but to check them out. That was far different from joining. I had doubts about that. But just meeting the people in the frats, dipping a toe in the water, doing that would force me to get over a little of my shyness, and perhaps start me down the path to a more active social life.
I did want at least some of the social life I’d missed in high school. It took quite a bit of discussion, but in the end I convinced Ethan we should at the very least scout out the fraternities. He was skeptical, as I’d known he would be. But I needed a sidekick if I was going to do this. I was skeptical, too, but just getting a feel for what fraternities were like wasn’t the same as committing to joining one. Maybe we’d find the Greek life wasn’t for us. Or maybe, we’d find the social aspects of it something we’d been missing out on by spending so much time in our room. I figured this was an investigative adventure and, on that note, with quite a bit of gentle arm-twisting, Ethan agreed to accompany me.
On the night set for visiting the various fraternities on campus, Ethan and I were nervous when we set out. We observed many of the guys on campus doing the same thing, visiting the various houses, meeting the brothers. Luckily, there were sixteen different fraternities and visiting hours were from seven in the evening to one in the morning, so the crowds weren’t too heavy at any single house. We didn’t get to all sixteen but did manage short visits at eleven of them.
There was a distinct similarity in the houses. All were noisy; all were messy. All showed what a place looked like where older teen guys lived with minimal supervision. The walls were dirty and dented, the floors scratched and scored, there was a distinct smell of beer and sweat that permeated the places, and the basements—the less said the better about the basements where most of the partying was done. From the look and smell of them, basements were where the parties were the liveliest. You knew that just by walking down into them.
The more houses we visited, the closer Ethan seemed to be attached to me. When a brother would speak to us—and every brother in every house was obviously on a recruiting mission—the guy was mostly very enthusiastic and animated. The louder he spoke proclaiming the benefits of joining their fraternity and the way he voiced pejoratives about the other frats on campus, the closer Ethan would move to me. He’d also tend to move slightly behind me, so I’d end up getting the thrust of the sales pitches.
I could tell by the time we were in the eleventh house, Ethan was about done. I was too, actually. I wasn’t sure fraternity life was for me; I was getting the idea it probably wasn’t. The virtues that were constantly being extolled were the same everywhere, the top one being, “We throw the greatest parties.” Second was, “The sorority girls always spend more time with us than anywhere else on campus.” Third, “We have a great group of guys who all get along, great food, great social activities, share the same interests and this is just a great place to live. Simply great.”
So, after leaving that house, after hearing about the great parties they had but nothing about how academics were part of the fraternal life, whether any studying was done there at all, we went back to our dorm. Exhausted. And pretty certain that pledging wasn’t for us. I personally had worked hard on my academic courses in high school, had earned scholarship-level grades, and, while increasing my social activities was part of my current plan, I didn’t want them to completely subsume my studies. I did want to back off a little on the all-work, no-play routine. But a fraternity? Wouldn’t that be like going from wading in a child’s pool in the backyard to leaping into the deep end of an Olympic pool?
I had this fragment of an idea bouncing around in my head. Like most guys my age, I spent a lot of time thinking about the future, about what future career path I’d like to follow. And, more and more, I was thinking that maybe I’d like to be a lawyer. If so, I should be doing pre-law classes, and then go to law school after graduation. I knew that the better law schools were very competitive to get into; partying hard every weekend didn’t jibe with that. Yet weekend parties and raucous behavior seemed to be the thrust of the fraternity sales pitches I’d received.
Was a social life plus good enough grades to get into a decent law school possible? I had to see how things were before making a firm decision, but I was thinking that frat life didn’t seem like a good fit for me.
Except, there was one we’d visited that seemed a little different. It was Lambda Nu Nu. The house had borne similarities to the other houses in looks, sounds and smells, but somehow the atmosphere was calmer. Not calm. Definitely not calm. But not the brazen hysteria we’d seen elsewhere. Probably part of that was our recruiter at LNN was much more low-key. His name was Kevin, he was a senior, and he had an easy geniality about him. Maybe he read us and saw that low-key was the best way to approach us. Or maybe that was just him. He did talk about parties and women, but also about academics; he was the only recruiter to do that. He said LNN had the best GPA of any fraternity on campus, and he sounded proud of that. I asked what that GPA was, and he somehow managed to answer the question without giving me a number.
Ethan and I talked about it. I had a hard time getting a solid opinion out of him. When I asked, “What do you think, Ethan? You interested in pledging any of the ones we visited?” what I got in response was, “Do you want to?” That was frequently the case with him. He didn’t like to make decisions for himself. He trusted me and liked to follow my lead, letting me make any choices that were needed.
While we were dithering about joining a fraternity, if that’s what we were doing, Ethan made it clear that what I did, he’d do, too. I told him if we both signed on to pledge one fraternity, it was possible they’d take him and not me, or the other way around. That made Ethan very nervous. “If they chose me and not you, I wouldn’t join,” he said with great certainty, and then looked worried until I felt I had to say I’d do the same if it went the other way.
The time was getting close to the deadline for informing a fraternity we were interested in pledging it. I was about to the point of thinking we shouldn’t bother. I was happy rooming with Ethan. We knew each other much better now and were a good fit as roomies. We both liked to study with no distractions. We both liked to go to bed at the same time. We were both neat enough that there weren’t clothes all over the place like in many of the other dorm rooms; we even both made our beds each morning; we may have been the only guys in the dorm who did that. I was happy enough living with Ethan the way we were doing it. Why jump into a social pond without knowing if the water was warm or cold and how deep it was? Seemed stupid to me. So should we just tell the fraternities no, or continue with our current maybe?
And then it seemed the decision had to be delayed for the moment. I got a card in the mail. It was from Kevin at Lamba Nu Nu inviting me to their Halloween party. Ethan got the same invitation. Well, I thought, this was a good way to really get a feel for that house. A college party! Yeah, I wanted to go. Of course, saying yes meant I was deciding for Ethan as well. He said he’d come, too.
We were college freshmen, and neither Ethan nor I had access to anything to make costumes out of and very little money to spend on anything frivolous. I texted Kevin with that worry, and his return text solved that neatly. “It’s a toga party, as many of ours are. Just wear a sheet.”
I called Kevin on his cellphone. I was concerned about what he’d said about togas. I wasn’t concerned so much for myself, but more for Ethan. I wasn’t sure I could convince him to come wearing only a toga.
“No one here wants to get dressed up in costumes,” Kevin said. “Too much fuss. We’re just doing what we usually do. Parties mean togas for us. You guys should wear one, too. They’re quite liberating. You don’t have to wear one, but all of us will be. You’ll want to fit in. Fraternities are all about fitting in. Going with the flow. Being part of the group.”
“Well . . . ” I said, “I don’t know. If we do come, how do we make togas?”
“Easy. Just use a bed sheet. You’ve seen Animal House I’m sure. Everyone’s seen that. Just do as they did; drape it over one shoulder and let it hang down far enough to cover the essentials. Oh, and by the way, regarding the essentials, they should be covered by the toga but nothing else. Part of the fun at these parties is knowing everyone is totally naked beneath their sheet. You know and all the girls know, too. These aren’t demure high school girls! Some togas actually get pulled off and if the guy’s a stud and proud of his stuff, he’ll sometimes not be in a great hurry to get it back on. Lots of laughter and jeering goes on. You’ll see.”
Hmmmm. Now I was even more worried. I had Ethan to think about. Still, I was curious. You hear so much about frat parties, and I wanted to see what one was like as much as any other randy, 18-year-old boy would. What I thought was that we could go, mingle, have a beer or two, and then when things started to get rowdy, if togas did start falling by the wayside, we could take off. No harm, no foul, and Ethan’s modesty would be preserved.
Making togas should be easy, right? Like anything else you’ve never done before, it wasn’t as easy as it looked. I was glad we tried to make them a couple of days early because I found we needed safety pins to do the job right and neither of us had any.
So, I got the pins, and it wasn’t too hard to make something that I felt comfortable in. Draped over my shoulder, some of my chest and off-shoulder bare, the bottom only an inch above my knees, I thought I looked kinda cool. Made me feel a little frisky, wearing it. I was very aware of just how naked I was under that thin sheet.
Ethan posed a separate problem. First, even though he was accustomed to me seeing him naked, this was much different. He was useless in making his own toga. I had to do it for him, and that meant he had to get naked in front of me and then stand there while I was fitting the sheet over him, taking it back off, using the pins, trying again and again to get it just right. I had to touch him some, too, and he was getting touchier and touchier as I did, and blushing like all his blood was up above in his neck and face, and then we both discovered that no, he had plenty left for elsewhere.
Ethan soft was an amazing sight. Ethan aroused was a whole new ball game. Major league ball game. I’d thought about that before, wondering as one will if he got bigger when hard, or simply harder without any lengthening. I found out. He got longer and thicker. I’d guess he was a full foot long and somehow still managed to rise above the horizontal. And the girth was larger, too. I wouldn’t have believed it possible if I wasn’t there to see it for myself.
He looked like he wanted to crawl in a hole and die, seeing my expressions. There was no point in him trying to cover it. His hands weren’t large enough, and anyway, I was right there in front of him.
“Hey, it’s okay, Ethan. Really. Actually, I’m glad I’ve seen it. I’ve been jacking off in the toilet stalls every day because I was worried how you’d feel if I asked if you’d mind hearing me doing it in bed in the dark every night. Now I’ve seen you get hard, it feels like I don’t have to be so delicate talking about that. You get hard like everyone else, like I do. So, no big deal, huh?”
I realized that was a poor choice of words after I’d said it. So I plowed on, allowing him a reason not to talk. “However, it’s going to be hard—uh, difficult, I mean—to finish this toga until you’ve relaxed some. So, sit on your bed. We can talk about what I just said. Is it okay with you if I don’t have to use the bathroom stalls any longer?”
I thought making him talk, if not about the elephant in the room but something else, might help him. And I did want to have a more comfortable place to do my business.
So we talked, me eagerly, him reluctantly, and got it settled. He did admit, only after I’d more or less insisted, that yes, he did jerk off, and that he’d also not done so in the room. We got that settled: we’d both ignore the noises each of us made during our pleasure times.
When we were done with that, it was back to making his toga. I decided that his had to be below the knees. Well below. He might be wearing the longest toga at the party, but there was no doubt in my mind no one else would need theirs that long.
We were both nervous, walking to the party, dressed only in sheets. It helped a little seeing a bunch of other toga-clad guys in the crowd walking to the frat houses. It was a safety-in-numbers mentality.
The Lambda Nu Nu house was crowded and noisy when we entered. This was a Halloween party, so there should have been a lot of black, purple and orange decorations, crepe-paper-themed strips in the doorways and windows, evil-looking carved pumpkins and maybe some broomsticks in the corners. I had too good an imagination. In fact, there was hardly anything identifying this as being different from any other party. I guess Halloween was an excuse more than an actual event.
The main partying was in the basement. Most of the furniture had been removed or pulled back against the walls, leaving a large open space in the middle where boys and girls—well, men and women—were standing holding cups of beer. There was a stereo playing music which was so loud that I had no idea how anyone could talk and be heard. Some partyers were trying to dance and getting bumped and spilling beer while doing so. No one seemed to mind.
Kevin saw us and took us to where the keg was busy spurting out beer after beer. He elbowed ahead of the crowd in line and got us each a cup from a table where the keg master was setting filled ones, handed them to us, shouted, “Glad you could come. Enjoy!” in my ear and moved off.
I wanted to get out of the middle of the crowd and as far from the speakers as possible; the noise was almost unbearable. Working my way toward that goal, trying to keep from being jostled, trying to keep all my beer in the cup rather than splashed on my toga, was a problem. There were too many people, some of them already showing they’d had more than one cup; jostling was inevitable.
When we were out of the worst of the crowd and standing with our backs to a wall, I glanced down at my cup. I’d never had a beer. Yeah, 18 and dry as a haystack. I saw Ethan doing the same thing. Our white cups were no longer full. They had been when we got them. Now they were about two-thirds full. I doubt anyone could have made it to the edge of the room through that melee with a full cup. But two-thirds full still seemed like a lot of beer to me.
“You ever had a beer?” I asked.
Ethan shook his head no. When possible, h often found ways of communicating without actually using words; I’d always regretted my shyness, but it didn’t hold a candle to Ethan’s.
“Let’s do it together,” I said, and raised my cup.
He followed suit, and I took a sip. He did the same. His reaction was stronger than mine. His sip went right back into his cup. I ended up swallowing mine.
“Blahhh!” he enunciated.
“Damn that’s awful!” I said, pursing my lips, wanting to be rid of the bitterness and rancid taste, very thankful I’d sipped only a tiny amount.
“How do they drink this?” Ethan asked, for once letting his emotions overcome his reticence.
“I have no idea. Uh, what do we do with the rest of it?” There was no way I was going to drink it!
I realized I was letting him make a decision. Well, good.
He looked around. “A bathroom where we could pour them down the sink would be good.”
“That or just hold them.” I noticed my cup was thin enough or transparent enough that I could see through it, see how much beer was left in it. I didn’t think anyone would notice that the volume wasn’t being depleted if we just held them. Who’d be paying that much attention to us? I also saw more red cups than white, and they weren’t see through. Why didn’t we get one of those? Stupid to wonder. Also, stupid to just hold them.
I looked to where the bathroom was and saw a line forming by the door. I pointed to it. “I think it would take us ten minutes to get to the john. Why don’t we just set these on the floor here and walk away?”
He didn’t reply, just squatted down and put his cup against the wall. While he was still down there, I handed him mine, and that was that.
It was getting more crowded as more people came down the stairs. Noisier, too, if that was even possible. I was already starting to think of leaving. If this was what a frat party was, I wasn’t impressed.
The crowd in the middle of the floor seemed to be getting more active. Kevin had been right: I saw a girl yank up a boy’s toga to check out what was beneath it. He jumped away, and because she was still holding on to it, the entire toga came off in the girl’s hand. She shrieked, a joyful shriek and immediately tossed the toga over her head and back into the crowd.
The boy didn’t bother to cover himself with his hands. The girl was wearing a short skirt and a halter top. He grabbed the top half jerked it up and off. She was now bare-breasted, and shrieked again, then laughed. She didn’t bother covering up, either.
I saw another couple kissing, then moving their hands around, looking for the world like this was the beginning of a make-out session with lots of groping. Her hands were concentrating on his front, lifting his toga and taking hold of the goods that were now exposed.
I decided this was exactly the right time for us to make ourselves scarce. I grabbed Ethan’s arm and we started to move toward the stairs. I could see it would be hard going as more and more kids were coming down them, and the crowd in front of them was dense. We’d have to force our way through.
And then everything changed. I’d misjudged the time and waited too long.
We were working our way slowly towards the stairs, the emphasis on slowly, when suddenly the music stopped. It was actually shocking, the abatement of that noise. The roar in the basement caused by both the music and voices yelling over the top of it tapered off, rather like a 100-ton train speeding past and the noise of it fading away as it did.
I guessed later that the noise stopped so quickly because the party animals knew that when the music stopped, someone was going to speak. They quieted to listen.
“Hey guys.” I craned my neck to see who was talking but there were just too many people in the way. Then the speaker stepped up onto a raised platform, sort of a not-so-large stage. It was only six or so inches above the floor, but high enough that I could now see the upper part of the speaker. He was one of the brothers I’d been introduced to when we’d come here on our initial visit. The guy was large, had what looked like the beginnings of a beer gut, and had a loud, deep voice.
“We have a treat for y’all tonight. It’s Halloween, so trick or treat time. We’ll have both tonight. That’ll be your entertainment; you’re gonna love it. But we need a little space in the middle of the floor here. Come on, come on, shove back a little.”
It took a few moments but people backed up as far as they could and spread out along the walls. When they’d done that, I could see the guy speaking better and that the size of the platform he was on was large enough to hold several people. I saw, too, that he was sort of a scary-looking guy. Overweight, unkempt hair, three day growth of whiskers, a beer cup in one hand and the filthiest toga I’d seen.
He spoke again. “I’m Lambda Nu Nu’s Pledge Master. We invited all our pledge hopefuls here tonight, and all eight of them are here. The trick is, they came here thinking this was just a party, not knowing they’d be the entertainment. The treat is, you all get to watch what happens! What we’re going to do is pretend this is Hell Night. We’ll do just a little of what we’ll put them through then as pledges. You’ll love this. Let the fun begin. Pledge hopefuls, all come up here. Now!”
I did not like the sound of this. I’d heard of hazing and Hell Night. Traditionally, Hell Night was an initiation night for the pledges who were trying to be accepted by the frats. They needed to survive Hell Night to join the fraternity, and what they were put through depended on the fraternity. It could be pretty bad. Looking at LLN’s Pledge Master, I thought, uh-oh. Some PMs were more insidious than others, and this one scared the shit out of me.
I was sure this guy was one of the bad ones. Our school, as many had done, had outlawed hazing and Hell Night. But no admin types were here to see what went on, and I guessed this was like Vegas rules—what happened here stayed here. From the buzz of the crowd, they were looking forward to whatever we were going to be put through.
I thought Ethan and I could still escape, get up the stairs before going up on the platform, but somehow Kevin was right there in front of us. He grabbed us each by one arm and escorted us to the open area. I saw other would-be pledges being handled the same way. No one was escaping.
“Okay, great. You guys, get up here on the platform. Get in a line, shoulder to shoulder and turn to face the crowd.”
Ethan and I didn’t move. He was too scared to, and I was both confused and getting upset, too much so to comply with anything someone ordered me to do. I’d never been good at responding to dictates. But the other pledges were climbing onto the platform and we were pulled up there as well, Kevin doing the pulling with a grin on his face. Ethan and I ended up in the middle of the line of eight of us, facing the crowd.
“Okay. Good.” That was said to us as he faced us. Then he turned to the crowd. “I know what we’ll have them do later, and you’ll love it, but first, I need to explain another trick. Trick or treat, right. This one’s a doozy. You might have noticed we had both white and red cups of beer. Y’all got red ones. These guys all got white ones. Theirs had a mixture of Viagra and Melanotan II in them along with their beer. Melanotan II is an aphrodisiac; it creates enhanced sexual desire. You all know what Viagra does. Combine these two and, well, we’ll see what he have here, and whether these guys shape up to LNN standards. We have a reputation to uphold!”
He grabbed his crotch when he said that and the crowd responded with catcalls.
“Okay now. Any of you have any suggestions how we should start with these guys?”
There were several suggestions, but the one that seemed to get the most support and then was chanted, over and over, was, “Take off the togas, take off the togas.”
The Pledge Master was grinning when he turned back to us. “You heard ‘em. Strip! Show us your stuff!”
They were a mixed bunch. Some looking fearful, some grinning, obediently began dropping their togas and standing nude in front of the crowd. The girls whistled and cheered as the sheets hit the floor. The cheers were because the laced beer the guys had been drinking—several cups each, I suspected—had done their stuff. The guys were all in various states of being hard. Some really hard, some not so much but still aroused.
So now there were six naked, aroused pre-pledges and two toga-ed ones. Neither Ethan nor I had stripped. I’d known as soon as I heard the command that Ethan wouldn’t do it, and I wasn’t about to leave him alone to face the Pledge Master. I was surprised to see embarrassment on some of the naked guys’ faces, obviously embarrassed to be nude and aroused. They had a surprised look, too.
The Pledge Master walked over to the two of us, glaring. Maybe because I was taller than Ethan, he spoke to me. “What?” he asked scathingly. “You going to be a problem? We know how to handle that here. Best you do what you’re told, and right now, or you’ll be in a world of hurt, and then you’ll be naked anyway.” After saying that, he called out, “Brothers!” and six other big guys joined him, evil-eyeing us. They were prepared to be physical with us. They looked like they’d enjoy it.
Ethan appeared ready to pass out. I was scared, but getting angry, too, and the anger was building quickly, equaling and then surpassing the fear. This wasn’t right. Not for me, and especially not for Ethan.
I’d never liked confrontations. I’d been intimidated and scared when facing anything scary in the past. There’d never been anything as bad as this. Yes, I was scared, but my anger was now red hot. I’d never stood up for myself before. I knew, somehow, that it was going to be different this time. Maybe it was because Ethan was next to me. I knew he wouldn’t do anything to stop this, and for him it would be more than awful. I couldn’t let that happen to him. It was up to me, and for once in my life, I was going to try to face it.
I looked the Pledge Master in the eye. “We’re leaving,” I said and turned away from him.
The Pledge Master grabbed my arm and jerked me back into place. “Who the fuck do you think you are, and who the fuck do you think you’re dealing with? We’re in charge here, and believe me, you ain’t! You ain’t leaving, not yet. You came here voluntarily, and now we own you!”
His face was red now, and the cheers and laughter from the crowd showed they were enjoying this. They were urging him on. They wanted to see us all naked, but would be satisfied seeing a fight, too.
I smiled at him. That took an effort, but I managed it. “Fella,” I said, “you’re in deep shit and you don’t even know it. Do you have any idea how many felonies you’ve already committed that you aren’t aware of?”
“Huh? Felonies?” That wasn’t in a scream, which was a relief.
“Yeah, felonies. Which you can only hope I won’t go to the police with. Or the school. Either one and you’re out of here. Jail. Lawyer costs. No more school. No more fraternity, either, I’d guess. Schools tend to close those down when they have criminal proceedings against them and they’ve knowingly broken not only the hazing guidelines but the law.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
The crowd had quieted, maybe because I was speaking in a normal voice and they wanted to hear. The mood in the room changed as the volume level did.
“I’m talking about the crimes you’ve committed. One, you abetted indecent exposure. As you did it under threat of force, you also committed extortion. Then you grabbed my arm. Kevin is up for this charge, too. Assault. You’re not allowed to grab people. You jerked my arm as well, so your offense is one grade higher than his. But those are the minor offenses. Still felonies, but not the big ones. The worst are extortion and kidnapping. They’re the ones that’ll get you jail time.”
“Jail? Kidnapping?! We didn’t do that. You came here of your own free will.”
“Sure we did. But you told us we couldn’t leave. Holding us here against our will is kidnapping. And we have just a few witnesses to the fact.” I swept my arm at the crowd. “Of course, they’ll probably all run off and claim they weren’t here because they’re all guilty of being accomplices. They encouraged you to get these guys naked. So some of your crimes are their crimes.” I looked out at the crowd. “Sorry, guys.” And I smiled.
The Pledge Master was turning all shades of color, red, to white, back to red again with intermittent pink blotches intervening. He was about to speak when I jumped ahead of him. “There’s another that’s just as serious, I think. It’s illegal to give illicit prescription drugs to unsuspecting minors. You spiked their beer and admitted it. Even giving beer to underage kids is illegal. You have any idea the shit storm that’ll fall on you when I make the authorities and these guys’ parents aware of the fact you drugged these kids?”
“You . . . you can’t do that. You want to pledge here. We’ll never accept you, you go ratting us out!” He said that with some bravado returning but fear now present in his eyes, like he’d figured out how to retrieve his command of the situation but knew it was weak.
I looked at him, then started laughing. “You think I want to join this fraternity? Really?” Then I began laughing again.
He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. He was done. Nothing to say.
I reached over and put my arm around Ethan’s waist, and we stepped down off the platform and walked toward the stairs. The crowd, silent now, parted as we neared, and we walked out unmolested.
I was surprised to see most everyone else who’d been in that basement following us out. I guessed they didn’t know if I’d go to the police or not, but they weren’t going to stay around taking that chance; they wanted to be long gone before the law arrived.
We talked about it when we got back to our room and Ethan had finally stopped trembling. Together, we decided we were not going to do, and that was pledge Lamba Nu Nu.
I never told any authority figure about what occurred in that fraternity basement. What had happened to Ethan and me wasn’t much to complain about; if anyone was going to make a formal complaint, it should be one of the guys who had been drugged and exposed. And in fact, that was what happened. One of them was horribly embarrassed and told his parents about it. Then the boom dropped. The fraternity was closed down and several members including the Pledge Master were expelled, others suspended. But we didn’t have anything to do with that. I felt I’d gained more from the incident than lost, and we were moving on.
Ethan and I would go on to room together throughout college. I did become an RA. As such, I was entitled to a single room—no roommate. By then, neither Ethan nor I wanted that. He’d thanked me profusely for saving him at the party, and that had led us both to more open and deeper discussions about who we were. I confessed to having been cowardly with intimidating people growing up, and how it had shocked me to be able to stand up for myself at the party, and it was the need to protect him that had made it possible, so I had a lot to thank him for, too.
He spoke about how he thought some of his embarrassment about his size was because he was repressing his feelings about himself. He thought he was probably gay, but hadn’t ever been able to admit it even to himself. Now, knowing he had someone who’d be there for him if needed, he felt the courage to examine that part of himself.
I had similar mixed feelings about my own sexuality, and felt maybe they had manifested themselves as my dislike of confrontations, or, more bluntly, my reluctance to stand up for myself when I should have, my backing down from any and all altercations. I spoke to him about how I often had felt myself to be a coward. It was liberating, being able to talk about the things I hated about myself to someone who saw the whole of me in a vastly different light from how I did. He saw me as a hero. I had never seen myself that way.
We complemented each other, and as time passed as roommates, we ended up closer and closer, and eventually the closeness became physical.
I did become a lawyer. I went to a law school, a very good one, in another state. Ethan came with me. His undergrad degree had been in education; he’d had a hard time in high school because of his isolation, and he wanted to be in a position to help other students who for some reason or other had fallen outside the mainstream. So while I was attending law school, he was getting a PhD in Education at the same university I was attending. He lost most of his shyness over the years and became a middle-school principal, a position that allowed him to make a difference in shy kids' lives.
We were a couple, and we would always remain one.
\ The End /
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