1

Blue Sunday

This isn’t going to be a fun or happy post, even though I did, for the most part, have a nice day and spent it with some really good friends. I know I should probably be reading for class or writing for class or something right now, but the thoughts are in my mind and I want them to be in my blog. This post may disappear without warning. Okay, now I’m just being supercilious, so here it goes.

I have a confession to make.

I have been a brother of APO since 2006. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. Since then, I have been active in 3 chapters and am now working with one in an advisory role. I have traveled to Louisville and Boston for national convention, and I have made friends across the country and around the world. I have done hundreds of hours of service, attended crazy and fun fellowship events, created and carried out service projects/fellowships of my own, have collected two awards and so, so many memories.

Most of them are good, but some of them are bad.

Here’s one of the bad ones.

During my final semester as an undergraduate, I was abused by a brother.

It was not physical or sexual in any way, and since I was not a pledge, it was not technically hazing. But I was still hurt, mentally and emotionally, and I should have seen it coming based on something that happened at a meeting in an earlier semester. We were planning to hold a ritual on a Saturday night, but due to a pledge’s conflicting schedule, we moved it earlier in the week to Thursday so all the pledges could attend. Everyone else in the chapter was on board…except me. I had won a playwriting competition in Baltimore, and the show was set to open that Friday. Since I wouldn’t be able to attend the show on a Friday night, I planned on flying down Thursday afternoon, seeing final dress rehearsal that night, and getting back to Amherst on Friday morning to make it to my Friday afternoon class. When I brought this up at the meeting (which I had mentioned at the past two meetings, at least), I knew that I would probably be overruled. Unsurprisingly, I was, but not before a brother yelled out, “Well, you’re not important.” That kinda hurt, but I brushed it off as just something that came out at the wrong place at the wrong time, and in the wrong tone of voice.

In my final semester, this brother started opening up to me, or so I thought. She would call to see how I was doing, she would invite me to eat lunch with her, and was generally nice to me.

I really thought she’d changed.

I had been lulled into a false sense of security.

Over the next few weeks, things got worse. She began to be “honest” with me, and told me about what she perceived as flaws in my character, some of which I agreed with and some of which I didn’t agree with. When pledging started, she emailed me, telling me that she heard that I said something inappropriate to a female pledge. When she mentioned the name, I was taken aback: I had barely interacted with this pledge. She also said to stay away from her, and not to apologize, because that would make things worse, and warned me that our president knew and was watching me, so don’t talk about it. Puzzled about what I did or when, I just kept to myself, and since nobody ever brought it up, I assumed it had either a) fizzled out or b) been taken care of. I also avoided this pledge, making an excuse to leave whenever she was around and deliberately not talking to her, for fear of making anything worse.

That semester was also the beginning of a service project that I created with the help of the Chabad House at Amherst, Loaves for Love, a program involving brothers coming to bake challah on a Thursday night, taking some home, and taking the rest to a long-term care facility or a nursing home in nearby Hadley. I was unsure of the project at first, fearing that people would not like it. The first time, only six brothers showed up, but they had so much fun not only baking but learning the Jewish traditions behind the taking of Challah from the dough, different braiding patterns, listening to folk tales told by the rabbi’s wife while the challah was baking, decorating the challah with sesame and poppy seeds when it came out of the oven warm and fresh, playing with the children of the house, and of course, eating challah – for some of them, it was their first – and taking some home to enjoy later. The five other brothers who attended had such a great time that they told the other brothers, and for the remainder of the semester, everyone jumped at the opportunity to do Loaves for Love, and together with Chabad we made hundreds of challah rolls and heard so many stories that made us all feel good inside. Oh, and the warm bread helped too.

Then, I received an email from you-know-who. Very bluntly, she accused me of pushing a religious agenda on the brothers and pledges. As one of the few brothers to never cross the threshold of the Chabad House, I’m not sure how or why she claimed that about the project, but she used the magic “they,” so I became very nervous at future Loaves for Love events, especially around pledges. I was kind of freaked out. More than freaked out, I was terrified. The thought of me pushing religion on anyone, as a member of a religion that forbids proselytizing of any kind, was unacceptable. I continued planning and facilitating events, passing the project down to my little, but each time I went, I was petrified from the moment I rolled up my sleeves to the moment the last challah roll was bagged. But I could never let it show, because I was trying to be brave, be strong, and be a leader.

Things progressively got worse. This brother confronted me directly after meetings. After one meeting, when I refused to speak with her, she followed me around the room as I talked to other brothers, stalking me silently, waiting for me to break a conversation so she could slip herself in. When she made an attempt to butt in or start a conversation with me, I just said, “I don’t want to talk to you right now, we’ll talk later.” I successfully managed to avoid her that night, bundling myself inside my coat and briskly walking out of the room, out of the student union, and out of her clutches.

I thought I had made myself clear to her, and to the rest of the chapter, that I did not want to talk to her. I guess she felt embarrassed when I shut her down after the meeting, because what came next almost pushed me over an edge and made me want to quit entirely.

Not long after, I received an email from her. I opened it, knowing I’d be horrified, but this email left me gasping for breath. I have blocked most of it out of my memory, but not only did it bring up the pledge thing and the religion thing, it also included, well…hate speech is the best way to describe it. It was cruel, mean, and nasty. It was sexual in nature, but her usage of words was clever enough to mask her true feelings (claiming, again, it was the chapter’s feelings) that it made my eyes water and my blood drain from my face.

What happened next?

Something I’m proud of, and something I’m not so proud of.

I’m proud of the fact that I a) did not respond or retaliate, b) did not confront her publicly or privately, c) did not bring it up at chapter meeting.

I’m not proud that I a) did not share my feelings with any brothers, and b) deleted the email, hoping that no one would ever read it, ever again.

I still regret those two decisions.

Even though this was between me and her, I felt stripped of any humanity or self-esteem I had left. I was emotionally wrecked. Between plugging away at academics and being scared at the prospect of graduation, I looked to APO for service and friendship, and it had let me down. I still went to meetings, but finished my requirements quietly and then stepped away from the chapter for the remaining weeks of the semester, putting all my focus on my schoolwork.

Before the semester ended, however, I decided that I wanted to graduate from school and APO with my head held high. I had done a lot of service that semester, and I thought I’d helped start a good project. An advisor showed up at a meeting one day, someone who was relatively new to the chapter, and mentioned that she’d be available to talk to anyone, giving out her cell number and email address. I took advantage of that, and called her immediately, setting up a lunch date away from campus to talk about things. I didn’t tell her everything, but what I told her confirmed similar things she’d heard about this brother. She advised me not to listen to that brother anymore, and that her magic “they” was, in fact, nobody at all. Nobody! She continued by saying that she hadn’t heard any complaints about me from anyone else in the chapter. After that lunch, I felt so much better. I didn’t pursue anything further, even though I could have and should have. I just didn’t want any additional drama.

Whenever you become the receiving end of any abusive words or actions in your fraternity, sorority, or any organization, tell someone.

Don’t do what I did and suffer in silence; you are important and so is your voice.

Never accept hearsay.

Be true to who you are and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

You are important and you deserve to be treated with respect; if you are being treated otherwise, that person is not your friend.

Stand up for yourself and inspire others.

And most importantly, SAY SOMETHING. And not to yourself, to SOMEONE ELSE. ASK. FOR. HELP.

But this story does have a happy ending – sort of. Right before banquet, the pledge who I’d been avoiding approached me to interview me for her Pledge Book. I was tense, but I answered her questions through a poker face. At the end of the interview, I told her that I was sorry for whatever I did or said to hurt her in any way.

Her response: “I’m not mad at you…who told you that?”

4

Thoughts on Pairs Ice Skating

As I wind down a moderately successful Saturday, I sit on my couch enjoying the latest sporting event from the Winter Olympics in Sochi: Pairs Ice Skating, live. I’m not quite sure on the difference between pairs and ice dancing; I’m inclined to think that pairs is more about acrobatics and stunts, whereas ice dancing features more traditional dance moves and focuses more on artistry than aerodynamics.

I was in a show tonight and last night, a comedy piece put on by the department’s graduate student organization. Last night, we had seven people, and I was not nervous at all; tonight, however, the audience was packed, and 16 of them were friends of mine – mine – so that put on the pressure a little bit. It was script-in-hand and only about 35-45 minutes long, but tonight I was noticeable shaky – not with the lines or my voice, but my left hand/arm kinda had a nervous twitch that I was hoping nobody in the audience noticed. Maybe it was the spicy latte I enjoyed before going on, or maybe just excitement. It got better as the night went on, but by the end I kinda wished that I could do it all over again, feeling less shaky. It ended up being fine on the whole and it was nice to see everyone.

But back to the skating. This past hour, I watched pairs from Russia, Canada, Italy, and the USA do the “free skate” – I think that’s what they call it – and in three out of the four, someone fell on the ice. The Americans chose to skate to “Skyfall,” which is pretty but probably not the best song to skate to, solely based on the title. The Italians fared a little better, but the female skater took a hard face fall. The Canadian pair was better, but there was still a point where the woman was dangerously close to breaking her wrists. The Russians enjoyed a near flawless program, because…well, they were really good.

I’m not ragging on pairs or ice skating, at all, because it takes an incredible amount of strength, stamina, and coordination that I do not possess. In terms of pressure and exposure, there’s so much more. There’s the teamwork element that you don’t have when you’re out there on the ice – or the stage – alone. There was a little fear there of screwing something up on stage and falling flat, but being part of an eight person team not on international television and with no medals riding on our performance was comforting as we were able to work together and support each other. There is strength in numbers, and though I love performing solo at times, being with a group of people feels even better. And no matter how bad I think I am on stage, at least it wasn’t for a nation’s Olympic team, or televised to billions around the globe.

I need to remind myself of that more often.

Still, whatever possessed the Russian pair to pick “The Addams Family” seems to be working, as their performance tonight has been the only one without a single fall.