Exiled from Sanctuary
You never know where the line is until you cross it
My last heterosexual involvement was with a very nice young woman named Carla. While I was seeing her I got into my first serious homosexual involvement, and I knew the direction my romantic life was going to take. Unfortunately I took the typical-male approach to breaking up, and just kind of ignored Carla. But she wouldn't let me go that easily. She was determined that we would remain friends, and through her tenacity we have to this day.
Last spring she announced her engagement to a guy named Todd whom she'd met at Clarkson University. She was an incoming freshman and he was a graduating senior. They really fell for each other, but in addition to the fact that Todd was about to move on, he was also engaged to be married. Ten years later they found each other again on the internet. Todd was miserable in his marriage, and Carla was still single. They got together and found that they still had the spark that was there when they first met. Todd divorced his wife, and he and Carla set a date to be married. I was asked to be an usher.
The ceremony was to take place in Potsdam, NY, where they had first met. This was convenient to me, because my old fraternity house was just around the corner from the church. An old friend of mine, Sandee, also lived in town. She had been a friend of Psi Phi since I was an active member. She had stuck around the house all these years, and not long ago had been made an honorary member. I called her up and invited her to the wedding as my date.
I wasn't sure what to expect on my return to the fraternity house. For years and years I was a constant presence in the house, returning regularly throughout the year. But my visits had tapered off dramatically. I hadn't been back to the house in a year and a half. It had actually been more like two years since I had been in town while school was in session. Membership turnaround is so fast in that house that I didn't know if there would be anyone who would know me.
Actually there was one individual whom I knew would be there. He name was Delvin. He was an odd case. He was a Puerto Rican who was born and raised in The Bronx. He had one wandering eye that was completely blind, and the other one had cataracts bad enough to qualify him as legally blind. He received a monthly Social Security check to compensate him for his disability. It wasn't a lot of money, but it's always been very easy to live in a place like Potsdam on a low budget.
Delvin pledged the house when he was enrolled at SUNY Potsdam. Not long after that he either dropped out of flunked out. With no where better to go he remained in Potsdam living off his social security, sometimes residing at the house, and other times in nearby apartments. Delvin was generally liked by the active members who came and went during his perpetual stay, but he drew some criticism from the alumni. He was perceived as the lazy Puerto Rican living off government checks, and that he was over-staying his welcome in the chapter house. Personally I was a little envious. They had to drag me out of that town kicking and screaming when I graduated. If I could have stayed there forever I very well might have.
I've always felt an odd affinity for Delvin. He and I are both disabled minorities. He is Latino, and I'm gay. He's legally blind, and I have a sleep disorder. In his case his minority status and disability are blatantly obvious. In my case they're both invisible. Still, I've generally given him a break when others are on his case.
By that Fall when the wedding was to take place, tensions had gone up a few notches. Delvin had been elected Pledge Master. This was one of the most onerous and coveted jobs in the house, demanded the most responsibility, and bore the greatest liability. The alumni went crazy when they heard this. Their main gripe was that Delvin was not enrolled in classes, and actually had been officially on inactive status as a member for many years by that point. That alone should have made him ineligible for any office, let alone one of the top-most offices in the house. But what was on everyone's mind was that they didn't trust him with the responsibility and liability that the job demanded. There were calls for him to be ejected from office, if not dismissed as a member outright based on rumors of past digressions against the membership. I was the ONLY alumnus who came to Delvin's defense. I wasn't defending him as much as I was defending his rights. No one was considering due process to any degree whatsoever. They practically sounded like a lynch mob. They were further challenging the active members' sovereignty in electing him by a fair vote. I made the case that Delvin was a duly elected house officer, and that until such a time as he does something to warrant his removal from office it is not the place of the alumni to get involved.
All the bluster over the Delvin controversy had pretty much died down by the time I was ready to head there.
Thursday, October 7, 1999
I had originally intended to go up on Friday in time to make the rehearsal, but I discovered that pledging activities would be going on at my old house on Thursday night. I arranged to take all of Friday off from work and head up early.
The only thing that was stressing me out was getting my tux. I had no reason to stress out about this, but I knew that if one thing could go wrong all weekend, that's what it would be. The complicating factor was that the Tuxedo Junction they were using was in Syracuse, two and a half hours South of Potsdam. I had to pass through Syracuse anyway, but since I was going up a day early I didn't even know if they'd have my tux ready or not.
I had to go about 10 miles out of my way to the Great Northern Mall where the store was located. I walked in the door, and totally spaced on the name, "Tuxedo Junction." It's the only tux chain in the country, but the name escaped me at that particular moment. I went over the mall directory looking for any tux shop, and saw none listed. There was a formal wear shop right by where I came in. I inquired about my rental, but they had no record of it. I asked if there were any other tux shops in the mall, and they said that there was a Tuxedo Junction inside Sears. It turned out that Sears was at the entire other end of the mall. I was in a bit of a hurry, because I wanted to arrive at the house before the pledges did. I wanted to get there early enough to meet some of the new guys before the pledges showed up.
I got to Tuxedo Junction and was delighted to find that no one was in line ahead of me. The guy brought out my tux and I was ready to book. He recommended that I try it on first. I really wanted to get back on the road, but I knew that if anything was wrong I'd be a hundred miles away by the time I realized it. I went into a change room. It was a damn good thing I did. The pants came to just below my knees. I looked like Little Toaph Funtelroy. I went back out to the front desk with the pants on, and the few people who were now in line started laughing at me. The guy had me go back in and take the pants off.
By the time I got back out to the desk, a huge mob had shown up. I don't know why so many people were suddenly picking up their tuxes on a Thursday evening, but there they were. To make matters worse, the staff was short-handed at the time. They asked me if I had other shopping to do at the mall.
"I want to get back on the road as quickly as I possibly can," I said.
They were a little perturbed at my inflexibility, but I held my ground because it was their fuck-up to begin with. After a considerable wait, one of the guys pulled another pair of pants off the rack and gave them to me to try on. They were a little big around the waist, but I was able to adjust them myself. I went back out and started putting everything back in the garment bag. The guy looked up at me while he was measuring another customer and apologized for the delay. I told him that if I was all set and could take off that minute then there was no harm done. He told me to be on my way.
Back in the car I headed up to the North Country. The drive went pretty quickly. I had hoped to get to the house no later than when the pledges arrived at 9:00. I was actually making really good time, and wound up pulling in at 8:30. It was wonderful to see the town again. For many, many years I would visit on a regular basis at all times of the year. Age, laziness, and other commitments were what had kept me away all this time. I still adore the town, my house, and my brothers. My heart was beating a little fast, since this would effectively be an entirely new group of guys and I didn't know exactly what to expect.
I pulled into the driveway and made a bee line for the front door. I looked through the little window in the door, and whom did I see but Delvin. He locked the door on me, and with a shit-eating grin held up a key for me to see through the window. It wasn't the greeting I was expecting, but teasing is a long-entrenched element of the fraternity culture. After a little hollering on my part he opened the door and said it was nice to see me again.
I was quickly confronted with a parade of new faces and names. I did my best to keep them straight. I also took the opportunity to call Pete, a Potsdam State faculty member I knew. When I was a student back in the early 80's, he was the closest thing to an openly gay faculty member we had. At that time he was just inching his way out of the closet, but in the intervening years he had come completely out, and we had become friends over the course of my frequent visits. I told him I was in town, and if he had office hours the next day I'd swing by for a visit. He paused.
"There's no easy way to tell you this," he said, "so I'll just come right out with it. I've been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and I'm effectively retired."
That was a pretty serious mind-blower. I wasn't in a position to talk about it at the time, so we made plans for me to come by his residence on Saturday for a chat.
Soon the pledges arrived and I went out to greet them with Delvin. It was dark out, so I couldn't really see them and they couldn't really see me. All I could tell was that I was a little disappointed that there were only four of them. Delvin immediately sent them off to get a keg of beer. I went back in the house to have a bottle from the six-pack of beer that I'd brought with me. I was also lucky enough that someone offered me some weed. It was the first time I'd been high in a little while, and it went straight to my head. But I didn't care because I had nothing planned for the night except lots of innocent fun.
When I went back down to the party room the pledges had returned. In the light I could finally get a good look at them. None of them was particularly attractive. The closest one to being really cute was named Derek. He also turned out to be a local boy of French Canadian descent. Some of my best friends in the long and sordid history of my involvement with Psi Phi had been guys local to the Potsdam area. At 22, Derek was also the oldest of the bunch. I decided that I was going to make him my special friend of this pledge class. They were instructed to take orders from members for snacks from the downtown strip. I told Derek that I wanted him to take my order. I told him what I wanted and he wrote down every detail. He wanted to run off and get orders from other brothers, but I kept him there asking him questions about himself. His anxiety at being kept from his mission was apparent.
I whispered in his ear. "Let me give you a little tip on how pledging works. Just because you aren't able to go off and get orders doesn't mean any brother will fail to have his order taken. At this time I'm the oldest member in the house. The only one who out-ranks me is your Pledge Master, Delvin. So take a breath, relax, and rely on your pledge brothers to make sure every brother is serviced." I took great pleasure in learning more about this lad, but all too soon the rest of his pledge class was ready to go. I escorted them to their coats so that they could get out of the house without any other brothers distracting them.
While they were gone I went back upstairs to hang out. I wound up in a room with the few familiar faces I'd seen that night. These guys all knew I was gay. I'd been completely out of the closet for about five years at that time. Over those years I gradually conditioned the membership into embracing the notion that there's no reason to freak out about my being gay, and that there was no difference between that and Chaka being short, or Hermie being a hopeless nerd, or Lurch being a bumbling Baby Huey. The guys I was hanging with were all comfortable with it, and they weren't shy about needling me over my sexuality. As a matter of fact I asked Delvin if I could have some time alone with the pledges after that night's ceremony had concluded to give them an alumni bull session, and all the guys in the room made jokes like as soon as their backs were turned I'd make all the pledges my sexual slaves.
This was good. This was how I liked things. When the guys picked on me I knew it was accepted and I was part of the group. But over the five years that I'd been out, the past two had been spent in absentia. Unless my reputation proceeded me, I had no reason to expect that any of the current members had any idea at all. I decided not to address the situation right away. I didn't put myself back in the closer, exactly. I just didn't let on. Being as butch as I am, it's not like everyone who meets me says, "Who is that raging queer?!?!"
Before long the pledges were back. They milled about the house fulfilling the whim of whatever brother had them on a random mission. I drank a combination of bottled beer and keg beer until I'd gotten a pretty good buzz going.
After a while it was time for an organized ceremony to begin. It was an event that had been concocted after I had graduated, so I'd never witnessed it before. After all these years it was quite interesting to experience what was for me an entirely new part of the Psi Phi tradition. Fortunately it was pretty quick, and before long the pledges were available for my private get-together with them. I took them up to a room on the third floor, closed the door, and told them to relax. That particular room had an exit to the fire escape, and was known as the "fire escape room."
Being a wanton exhibitionist, I'm truly at my best when I have a captive audience. I was rambling on and on about all manner of things. I could have gone on all night, but after only about a half hour Delvin told me I'd had enough time. They went off to do something else. I went across the hall to a room that a couple guys were hanging out in. I saw that they had a futon sofa on the floor. I asked if I could crash there that night. They said yes, which was good, because I had arrived for the weekend with no clear idea of where I'd be staying. I wandered around the house drinking another beer, until I finally decided that it was time to pass out. I went back up to the room, unfolded the futon, and laid down. Unfortunately there was only one thin, crocheted cover. I knew it would get cold that night, but there wasn't much I could do. I crawled underneath with my jeans and fraternity shirt still on and fell fast asleep.
Friday, October 8
I woke up some time after the sun had come up. I was cold and hung over. I'd had about enough of the futon. One of the other rooms on the third floor didn't have an occupant that semester and was full of junk. Underneath it all I found an old mattress on the floor. I spread out a couple musty old blankets that I also found, stripped to my skivvies, and crawled underneath for little more sleep.
I awoke a couple hours later. I was slightly less tired but no less hung over. I got some clothes on and walked downstairs. It was about 9:30. Despite the fact that this was a school day, the house was dark and silent. With nothing better to do I walked to campus. After strolling through the class buildings for a while I wandered into the student union. I grabbed a bite to eat and barely choked it down. In my day, one could always find a brother or two hanging out in the union, but that tradition seemed to die out over the years. With no one to keep my company I decided to get up and head out.
On my way out of the building I bumped into one of the pledges on his way in. I turned around and walked with him as he went to check his mail. When I was in school each dorm building had its own set of mail boxes, but at some point they had switched it over so that all the mail boxes were centralized in the union. I chatted with the pledge for a bit, but he had to get going. There was a vacation weekend ahead, and he had to pack and get out of town. I had forgotten that people would be going away for a long weekend. I said goodbye and headed back to the house.
When I got there it was still dead. I figured that most people had already headed home for the weekend. For reasons I didn't understand, most of the windows in the house were covered up or boarded over. It was like being in a cave. I sacked out in the TV room and commenced to surfing channels. There was nothing on. I was very tired from my poor night's sleep, but not really able to doze off. From time to time someone would wander through the room, but it was still totally dead.
After a while my appetite came back. I wandered downtown to get some more food. By the time I got back to the house I was feeling more tired, so I went up to my junk room for a nap. I crawled under the musty covers and closed my eyes. Just as I was starting to fall asleep I heard music coming from the fire escape room. The brother who was living in that room was named Rick. He was the President that semester. The music was Tom Petty. I quickly realized that he was playing the entire CD. It dawned on me that I'd never heard an entire Tom Petty CD all the way through. I don't bother to turn the dial when a Tom Petty song comes on the radio, but I can't say I'm much of a fan either. It went on and on as I lay there awake. Finally it ended and I thought I might actually get some sleep. But then it started right out from track 1 again. I would have thought that the CD player just automatically started the disk over again, but I could hear Rick rambling about the room. It appeared that Rick actually wanted to listen to a CD twice in a row, and a Tom Petty CD at that. I suffered through it all over again. I may have drifted off to sleep from time to time, but by the time it was over again I had to get up and get ready for the rehearsal.
I showered and put on a shirt and tie. The walk to the church was quick. A young woman and I were both arriving at the same time. Neither of us was really sure how to get into the church. The front door was locked, so we walked around to the rectory on the side of the building and went in that way. Some people were there practicing the music, but other than that it was just me and the girl.
A little while after the appointed time passed, more people started showing up. I was a little tired and cranky and not really in the mood for the endless, "Hi, how've you been?" conversations. I really wanted things to get under way. Finally Todd and Carla arrived, but there was still a lot of milling about before the actual rehearsal finally started.
Once we got organized I noticed something odd. Todd's brother was the best man, but other than him all the guys in the wedding party were friends of Carla's. In addition to that, the bride's maids outnumbered the groom's men by two to one. I wasn't sure why, but I'm not one to eschew the unconventional.
The rehearsal went on for some time. There seemed to be a large number of options that had to be decided. I hadn't been in a wedding party in ages, but I seemed to remember rehearsals taking only ten or twenty minutes. This one went on longer than an hour. I whispered into the ear of the guy next to me, "It's taking us longer to rehears this than it's going to take to execute tomorrow." After what seemed like an eternity we all decided that everything was set and everyone knew what to do.
The rehearsal dinner was taking place at a restaurant just around the corner. The good thing about Potsdam is that everything is pretty close to everything else. A small group of us got there first. I went directly to the bar to get a drink and have a smoke. Over the next half hour or so people continued to stroll in. Carla and Todd were the last ones there.
I was a bit eager to get the dinner going, as I'd only had two small meals all day and it was getting rather late. After suffering the customary series of minor delays, the food finally started coming out. I totally wolfed it down. I had another drink or two, but I had no intention of drinking heavily.
After dinner, Carla and Todd distributed the gifts to the wedding party. The groom's men got large CD carrying cases. They were very nice. Each was a large binder with padded covers that zipped closed, and an engraved name plate on the front. Mine simply read, "Toaph." Inside were enough pages to hold 200 CDs. It was a beautiful gift, but I didn't have much use for it. I barely have 100 CDs, even counting my extensive Pink Floyd collection. I keep them all in a tower organizer in my TV room at home. I did have a carrying case for when I traveled, and although this one was much nicer, I'm never going to travel with 200 CDs anyway. Ultimately I've come to use it to store CD ROMs and DVDs, but at the time I had no idea what I'd use it for.
I hung out for a little while after dinner was over, but I was really dead on my feet. I quickly made a quiet escape and hurried back to the house. Normally on a Friday night the house would be bustling with activity, but since most everyone was home for break it was dead quiet. That suited me fine. I went up to my junk room, stripped to my skivvies, and crawled back under the musty covers. I was asleep in minutes.
Some time later I was awakened with a start. That same fucking Tom Petty CD was playing in Rick's room again. But this time it was totally blasting at high volume. I knew exactly what was going on. Rick had been at the bars downtown and had come home all liquored up. Blasting the stereo always seems to be highly desirable when one is in an intoxicated state. I wanted to ask him to shut it off, but I knew I couldn't. The rule of law in such matters in the Psi Phi house has always been a gray area, but when I was an active member I triumphed the case for libertarianistic anarchy. The third floor especially was an enclave off limits to any kind of authoritarianism whatsoever. Back when I actually resided there, I considered it to be entirely inappropriate for anyone to ever request that a stereo be turned down, or people keep quiet, or anything else that even remotely infringed upon freedom of expression. No, I had to lie there and deal with it, lest I admit that I had grown up.
What really bothered me, though, wasn't the disruption of my sleep as much as it was that SAME DAMNED TOM PETTY CD *AGAIN*!!! If it had been something decent at least I could have enjoyed the music. Alas, I suffered through it for the third time in less than 12 hours. My biggest fear was that Rick had fallen asleep, and that the CD player would repeat it endlessly. I had a plan to sneak down to the basement and throw the breaker to his room if it started over again. But fortunately for everyone involved, after the long, drawn-out final track finally ended, the room went silent. It took me quite a while to get back to sleep, but finally I did.
Saturday, October 9
Despite the minimum of sleep I'd been getting all weekend, my internal clock woke me up early that morning and I couldn't get back to sleep. I got up and wandered around the house. It was dark and deserted. Any brothers still in town were locked away in their rooms dead asleep. I wandered downtown and got some food. I went back to the house and watched TV for a little while. Eventually I called Pete and asked if it would be a good time for me to come out. He said that it was perfect. He gave me directions and I got in my car. I found it without too much difficulty.
He answered the door in his bathrobe and invited me in. He had to finish up something on his computer. He did a newsletter for the local gay/lesbian group, and he realized at the last minute that he had to make a correction and send it to the guy who copied it before he put it to press. Within a few minutes he was done and he could relax.
I wanted to ask him the nature of his cancer. I knew that he'd smoked cigarettes for decades. Even back in the early 80's when I took his class I remembered him saying that people like himself who smoke and use their voice regularly were at increased risk for cancer. I wasn't sure how to bring it up. As he spoke of his condition he bemoaned the fact that he had to tell the same story over and over again.
"Well," I said, "I don't mean to have you tell it yet again, but I'm curious."
He smiled. "Well I'm used to it by now," he said, "so once more won't hurt."
It turned out that it was pancreatic cancer. After all those years of smoking, his condition wound up being entirely unrelated. He said that no one knows what causes pancreatic cancer, and that it's about 99% fatal. They estimated that he had six months to a year. He had actually quit smoking before he got the diagnosis, but decided that he enjoyed smoking, that in the end it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference, and he might as well enjoy the time he had left. He and I chatted away as we each smoked cigarettes.
I stayed for about an hour and a half, but eventually I had to get back and get ready for the ceremony. It was an afternoon wedding. I said good bye to Pete and headed back into town. When I got back to the house I found two guys hanging out in one of the rooms. Calvin, who's room it was, was packing to go home. Jones was just hanging out. He said that he made the fraternity house his home these days, and didn't have anywhere else to go. He could have gone to his parents', but decided that he'd have more fun alone in Potsdam. They and Delvin were the only ones left.
After I had procrastinated for as long as I could I went up to my junk room to get ready. I noticed that Rick had left his door unlocked and wide open, despite the fact that he had already left for break. I took a shower and put on my tux. When I was as spiffy as I could make myself I walked to the church. I had told Sandee to meet me there. Not only did I need to be there much more early than she did, I knew that she had a tendency to be rather late.
It was a short walk, and I felt a little dorky in my tux, but it was sunny and unseasonably warm (Winter comes early in Northern New York). I was among the first people there. Eventually more of the wedding party, and finally guests started arriving. I was instructed to seat people arbitrarily, because if they did the "that's side's his and this side's her's" thing that the church would topple over from too many people on one side. I wasn't sure why Todd had so few people in attendance, but I kept my curiosity at bay.
Carla was the alumnae president for her sorority, so there were a number of college-aged girls in attendance. Among them was a tall, slender, very handsome black man. I mean, this guy could have been on the cover of GQ. He registered on my gay-dar, but I wasn't sure if it was just wishful thinking. I asked one of Carla's friends. She said she didn't know, but she'd try to find out. Later she came over to me and said, "Yup."
Finally everyone was seated and we were ready to begin. Due to the disproportionately small number of men in the wedding party, we all started out at the front of the church and the women walked up the aisle solo. Carla's father escorted her in and took his place up front with the ushers.
The ceremony dragged on for a little over an hour. Despite the fact that it was an Episcopal service, it was high mass with communion and everything. But all I had to do was stand there and look pretty. Except for the fact that my legs got tired and my feet hurt, it was a breeze. As we walked back down the aisle, each man took a pair of women, one on each arm. It must have looked quite odd.
When we got outside we milled about in the cool sunshine with the guests. The receiving line was just the couple and the family, so I was spared that. It dawned on me that I still hadn't seen Sandee yet. I kept on checking out the handsome black man. Eventually it was time to do the pictures and I had to go back inside the church. The photographer's assistant was a reasonably nice-looking young man who reminded me of Brian, a photography student that I know in Ithaca. My part in the pictures was rather brief, so although it went on and on as wedding pictures tend to do, I spent most of the time sitting in a pew.
When it was all over we went to get in the limousines. This was cool for me. In the few weddings I'd actually been in, none of them used limos. There was an extra person in ours, though, who sat in the middle of the back seat. I had to scootch over a bit, causing my butt to be at an angle, causing my back to hurt. I finally got to ride in a limo and it was an uncomfortable experience. But the champagne helped. I recognized it as Carla's favorite brand. Although we had to drink it from plastic cups, it was most welcome. We sat around until everyone was in their respective car, and away we went.
The reception was held on the SUNY Potsdam campus. Carla had worked for the catering office when she was in school, and she decided to have them do the dinner. When we arrived, just a few minutes after we left, I was already light-headed from the champagne. Among the people outside was a fairly attractive young man with blond streaks in his dark hair. I checked him out as the wedding party went directly inside the building. We were herded into an office that was way too small to hold us all. We stood around waiting for them to get ready to introduce us. I held off on drinking any more champagne. Within twenty minutes or so they were ready, and we all paraded in. Each guy had to take a woman on each arm again.
I took my seat and relaxed. I looked over and saw Sandee at another table. We smiled and I motioned for her to come over. She thought I'd be sitting at the head table and that she'd be on her own. As it turned out Carla decided not to do the head table thing. Sandee sat down and we caught up. She apologized for being so late. I slyly said that I wasn't all that surprised, and as long as she was enjoying herself then I was happy.
I went and got us some drinks. I got my customary rum and coke. I proceeded to drink at a moderate pace, and my initially strong buzz stabilized. Dinner was the typical buffet, with the customary baked zitti. I ate lightly. The rest of the reception cruised along at a good speed. Carla had informed the DJ that he was not to play the chicken dance, the Hawaii 5-0 theme, or any of the other trite wedding reception standards. That worked for me, except that the Electric Slide, my all-time most hated reception cliché, somehow was exempted from the ban.
As the party wore on people migrated from their assigned seats. At one point I availed myself of an opportunity to sit at the table where both the black man and the guy with the blond streaks in his hair were sitting. They were introduced to me as Jonathan and Shawn respectively. We talked a bit. I discovered that they were both honorary members of Carla's sorority. At some point the girls had adopted the practice of inducting gay men as honoraries. Shawn was a smoker, and I got to hang out with him a little bit more in the smoking section on the front lawn. Jonathan even came out there once or twice, despite the fact that he didn't smoke. I could tell that he was starting to get a little drunk. Before long it was mutually established that all three of us were gay.
I had been afraid that the reception would drag on. Usually I take off whenever I feel like it, but being an usher I felt obliged to hand on until the end. Time actually flew by. Before I knew it they started kicking people out. The party was to continue at one of the bars downtown. I told Jonathan that I had to go and change my clothes at the Psi Phi house, and invited him to come along and keep me company. He declined. He said that he'd always been scared of that house. I think he perceived my invitation as an overture to sexual activity.
Sandee gave me a ride back to the house, but continued on to the bar. She said that it took her so long to get ready that she was going to stay looking pretty for a while. I ducked in and changed into jeans and a fraternity shirt. I carefully hung my tux back up, so that it would be all neat and ready to go the next morning. Then I walked briskly to the bar. Everyone was hanging out in the downstairs section. I continued drinking. Although I had held my intoxication in check, I now relaxed a bit and drank as much as I felt like. All I had to do was walk back to the house and pass out. I mingled around and talked with some of the people I hadn't spoken to much. I talked with Jonathan and Shawn a bit more, but they were more interested in dancing than talking.
Before I knew it the bar announced last call and started kicking people out. Jonathan surprised me by saying that he wanted me hook up with me. I was all too willing. We found Shawn and the three of us left together. I insisted that we go back to the fraternity house. Once there we went directly up to Rick's room. I put on one of my own CDs. I wanted to get some sex going, but all of a sudden I was shy about initiating it. I somehow mandated that we all get into our underwear. Shawn and Jonathan didn't resist. But for some reason I just started talking. I was pretty drunk by this point, and I think I reverted into my captive audience behavior as I had done with the pledges two nights before. It was rather odd as we all sat around in our underwear talking, but I was enjoying myself. I asked them questions that illustrated our difference in age. I wanted to know what the first major news story was that they remembered hearing as a kid. For me it had been the Watergate crisis. For them it was the Challenger disaster.
We were up there for an hour or more. Finally I felt so tired that I thought I would fall dead asleep on the spot. "I'm really sorry," I said, "but I just have to go to bed." They looked at me kind of funny, like they'd been expecting more. "That is," I continued, "unless you guys want to have sex. Do you want to fool around?" They kind of shrugged their shoulders and said yes.
We then commenced to some kissing and feeling. Pretty soon all the underwear came off. We quickly added some light sucking to the mix. I discovered that Shawn had a pierced tongue, and I totally got off on it. I think he could tell, because he was kissing me in a way that brought the jewelry into play as much as possible. We went on like that for some time. It actually wound up being a very well-balanced three-way. We were kissing and sucking and kissing and sucking, and everyone was having a good time.
Eventually we started hearing voices in the room at the bottom of the stairs. Shawn and Jonathan hesitated, but I was unmoved. "Aren't you afraid that someone will come in?" they asked.
I stood up, naked and erect, and stepped over to the door. Throwing the bolt closed, I said, "Not any more!"
We kept going, but we were all a bit distracted now. I was also very, very tired. I simply couldn't go on any longer. I told them that I was sorry, but I just had to call it quits. They were surprised, and maybe a little put off, that I would just stop that abruptly. But there wasn't much I could do. It had to be past four in the morning by this time, and with the meager amount of sleep I'd had all weekend I was ready to collapse. I started getting dressed, but they were slow to get their clothes back on again. I think that they were more than a little perplexed as to why I was putting a lid on the party. I felt really awkward, but at the moment I didn't care. I couldn't care. All I wanted to do was fall into bed.
Finally they were ready to go. I thought about how to proceed. I could have snuck them out the fire escape and been done with it, or I could have walked them down the stairs and past whoever it was hanging out below. I decided that I had no reason to hide anything. I would escort them out the front door with head held high. I unbolted the door and we walked to the bottom of the stairs. I found Delvin, Jones, Calvin, and some guy I'd never seen before. They stopped talking as we walked through. We went down the front stairs and out the door. I stopped and gave each of them a quick kiss good bye, right out in the open in front of the house (although at 4AM there wasn't anyone to see). I went back in and directly up to the room where the guys were.
Everyone had a rather perplexed look on his face, except Delvin who was smiling cautiously. "Toaph," he said. "Don't tell me..."
I didn't even hesitate. "You bet!" I said triumphantly, smiling ear to ear.
Delvin started jumping up and down. "You dog! You dog! I knew it! I knew it!!!" He thought it was the funniest thing in the world.
I looked over at the other guys. The one I didn't recognize was laughing his ass off. But Calvin and Jones weren't taking it so well. Calvin, who was standing up, looked like he was going to be sick. He had a look on his face like he'd just swallowed kerosene. Jones, who was sitting on the couch, had his arms crossed over his stomach, and was rocking backwards and forwards just screaming "Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!"
I ignored them and talked to Delvin. I think that deep down he's homophobic, but from dealing with me year in and year out, all from the standpoint of me being a popular and well-respected alumnus, he's learned to be tolerant. In this moment he recalled an event from the past when he had to come to grips with my sexual orientation. At the time we both had to make adjustments to accommodate each other, we each did, and we've been buds ever since.
By this time Calvin and the other guy had left the room, but Jones was still on the couch writhing in visible discomfort. When he wasn't endlessly repeating, "Oh!" he was saying things like, "I can't believe this is actually happening."
I tried to address him. "Oh, get over it," I said. "It's 1999, for crying out loud." I didn't try to calm him. I didn't try to smooth things over. I acted like what I had done was no different from the debauchery that normally went on in that house. Rather than try to placate him, I intended that my casual attitude would lead him by example to the conclusion that gay sex wasn't anything to freak out over. It didn't appear to be working. He would try to say something in rebuttal, but ultimately all that would come out was, "Oh! Oh! Oh!"
I tried to tell Delvin that I had an affinity for him because we were both minorities. He didn't buy it. He said he didn't decide to be Latino, but that I decided to be gay. I couldn't be a minority because my being gay was a choice I made. Before I even tried to explain things to him, I knew that it would be a waste of breath. If he actually said something like that then I knew that I wouldn't be able to get him to understand even in the day time when we were both sober, let alone this late at night when we were both trashed. I was content that he was at least tolerant and accepting. Despite the fact that Jones was still freaking out, Delvin was totally cool.
I decided that I'd had enough of this whole scene. I was still utterly exhausted. I told Delvin I was going to bed and stepped to the stairs. As I was leaving the room, Jones spoke up.
"One way or the other," he said, "you shouldn't have been doing that in Rick's room."
I didn't want to get into it. "Well," I said. "It makes up for him tormenting me with Tom Petty all weekend." Jones was still yelling something but I ignored him as I disappeared up the steps and went into my junk room. As I crawled under the covers I could still hear them freaking out downstairs. I was snickering to myself about how much of a fuss they were making of it all. I tried to ignore it and go to sleep.
After a while Delvin called up the stairs. "Toaph," he called. "I'm cool with you being gay and all, but Jones has a point that you shouldn't have been doing that in Rick's room. That wasn't cool." I debated whether I should get back up and try to defer the discussion for another time, but I decided to just play opossum and let them calm down on their own. "Toaph!" he yelled again. "Toaph, we really gotta talk about this." I just lay there. He ran up the stairs and into Rick's room. A second later he came out. He pushed the creaky door to my room open, but all he saw was junk and he went right back down the stairs again. I heard him say, "He's not up there."
Now it was Jones's turn. "Toaph!" he yelled. "This is really uncool. We know you're up there. Come on down so we can talk about it."
I ignored them. They went away for a while, but soon they were back again yelling up to me some more. Delvin was now about as angry as Jones. He went upstairs again calling to me. He went back into Rick's room and rummaged around. He came back out and pushed the creaky door to my room open. It was dark inside and full of junk. I didn't know if he could see my little bed in the corner. He was legally blind, after all, but I thought he knew I was staying in that room. He stood there silently for a few moments. I contemplated rolling over and telling him I'd talk about it in the morning, but I didn't think he'd take that for an answer. He remained in the doorway, motionless. He could have stepped in further to investigate, but he didn't. It was as if he realized I was there, and he was deciding whether he should blow my cover or let me go undisturbed. After lingering a few moments longer, he turned and went back down the stairs. "He's gone," Delvin said. "He must have snuck out the fire escape."
I really didn't know if Delvin had just given me a break, or if he truly hadn't seen me. It would have been nice if it was the former. It bothered me a bit that he'd gone along with the rage of the others. At first Delvin thought that what I'd done was hilarious, but by now he'd done a complete turnabout. He wasn't aware that I'd been the only one defending him on the internet in the previous weeks, but that didn't make it any less true. I had defended him against the entirety of the alumni association. No matter how unpopular my stand was, I didn't budge. And here he was, initially on my side, ultimately turning against me. I didn't hold it against him. Delvin is not exactly a strong-willed, independent thinker. He's one to go with the group. He's been like that all the time I've known him.
Once Delvin reported that I was no longer around I thought that would be it, but they just couldn't leave it alone. I heard them romping around downstairs yelling and shouting. By this time I didn't think it was funny anymore. I was annoyed that they wouldn't just let it blow over.
Jones would call up the stairs from time to time. "I know you can hear me," he yelled. "You know there was a non-member down here who's thinking about rushing next semester. That didn't look too cool to him." I thought to myself about how hard the kid had been laughing. "This is NOT going to be the gay house! Not MY house!" He'd leave for a while and then come back later yelling more things up the stairs. Oddly he kept hedging his remarks with tolerance. "If you're gay that's fine..." Or, "I don't care if you're gay..." But those were only caveats to statements of angry condemnation.
This kept going on and on. All the while they were still romping around downstairs yelling and screaming. Eventually my annoyance gave way to concern and fear. By not revealing myself and confronting the issue, they were becoming more frustrated and angry. It was bordering on a rampage. If they finally did discover me in the junk room, tempers had risen to such a degree that things could have gotten ugly. They certainly wouldn't just let me go to sleep. I thought it highly unlikely that they would actually get violent, but at this point I really didn't know. They were really in a rage state of consciousness.
Eventually I decided that sneaking out the fire escape didn't sound like such a bad idea. I quietly got up, put on some jeans, socks, and sneakers, and a flimsy short-sleeved button-down shirt. I couldn't find my jacket in the dark. I opened the creaky door as quietly as I could, skulked into Rick's room, and moved slowly and quietly down the fire escape. I could hear them in the party room. I jumped the fence into the neighbor's yard, then across to the next yard, and finally one more yard over before I stopped.
I didn't quite know what to do. I lay in the grass looking up at the stars. I realized how cold it had gotten. Despite the warm day, the temperature plummeted when the sun went down. It was almost on the verge of a frost. I lay there for a while until I really started shivering. I decided to get up and walk around the block. Walking kept me a little bit warmer, but my light shirt wasn't holding any heat in at all. I came around the other end of the block and stopped short to survey the house from a safe distance. It now sounded like the guys had gone out in the yard to see if they could find me out there.
At this point I really started getting scared. I wasn't so much afraid that they'd find me, but I didn't know where to go or what to do. Usually I considered that house to be my one sanctuary in the world. No matter what ever happened to me, I always knew I'd be safe and secure in that house. Even if I was on the lam, wanted by the law, I knew that they'd give me refuge. But all that had changed. Now it was the one place I *couldn't* go. And I wasn't going to last much longer out in the cold with no coat to keep me warm. If I didn't think of somewhere to go I would have some problems with exposure before the night was through.
The hotel where the wedding party was staying was right behind me, maybe a hundred meters away. If I'd known any of the room numbers where the wedding party was staying I would have tried to get in the building and knock on someone's door. But I didn't, and I figured that at this hour I'd probably need a key to get inside the building to begin with. I thought about going to Pete's. Me showing up at 5 in the morning would have been very strange, but I knew he would have taken me in. But I would have had to go back to the house to get my car, and they surely would hear it start up and come running. It was out of the question. I was really starting to feel desperate. I was cold and tired, and I had no shelter. I almost felt like I was going to cry.
I got ahold of myself. "Stop and think," I said. "You've been coming here for seventeen years. You're better connected here than you are in your own town. There's got to be a solution." Then it dawned on me. There was Sandee's place. It was almost a mile away, but I knew her door would be unlocked. I spun around and started walking. It was a cold walk, but I was generating heat by my brisk pace.
I saw a cop car go by. I wondered if he would think me suspicious, out alone at this hour with no coat on. I thought about what I'd tell him if he stopped me. I quickly decided that the truth would work just fine. But it was moot because he kept on going.
It wasn't long before I got to Sandee's. Sure enough the door was unlocked. I quietly opened it and stepped inside. I fumbled around as I found my way to the living room. I fell over on the couch and fell fast asleep.
Sunday October 10
I woke up and saw daylight. I figured I'd been asleep for an hour, maybe two. I lay there for a while, but I was restless and paranoid. Still fully dressed I quietly got up and left the house. I walked quickly back to the Psi Phi house. I knew that no one would be stirring until at least until noon, but I approached the grounds with caution. The place looked dead. I snuck in the back door, almost directly under Jones's room. The door creaked as I edged past it. I tip-toed up to the third floor without incident. My heart was pounding. I got my tux and the few belongings that I'd brought with me. I went into Rick's room and found my coat on the floor. I put it on and crept quietly down the fire escape. I threw my stuff in the car, fired it up, and sped away.
I expected the drive home to be a total nightmare, being so tired and hung over. Surprisingly I didn't feel as bad as I expected. The drive went fairly quickly, but my mind was totally consumed by what had happened the night before. I kept going over it again and again and again. Even though I was now miles away and putting more distance between me and the house, I still felt like I had to keep looking over my shoulder. I kept reminding myself that it was all over. As fucked up as the situation was, no one was after me. But the gravity of the event was such that sudden recollections would elicit such jolts of adrenalin that the fear and panic I'd experienced out in the cold the night before would come flooding back to me.
I did, however, contemplate what was going to happen to my relationship with the fraternity. While the event was all over, the fallout hadn't even begun. I had spent many years in service to Psi Phi Fraternity. I'd founded the current alumni association, I'd established an alumni newsletter, and I'd engineered donation drives that had raised thousands of dollars for the organization. All that and much more. I'd been esteemed for years as the most active and productive alumnus in fraternity history. I was universally liked and respected. And now, after one night, it was all gone. All because I'd gotten my dick sucked in the chapter house.
I'm not one to get hung up on "what if's," but I couldn't help considering what I might have done differently. I had to admit that despite all it had apparently cost me, I'd have no choice but to do it all over again. It would have been perfectly easy to have gone to Shawn's place instead of the Psi Phi house, but that would have thrown away an opportunity that may never have come again. True, for many, many years I'd harbored a dream of getting it on with another guy in the house. But my decision went beyond fulfilling a sex fantasy. It was about doing something that needed to be done. I'd been bombarded with tales of heterosexual activity throughout my entire seventeen year involvement with that house. Much of it was nefarious at best, and some few events I knew of even bordered on rape. The brotherhood had been tolerant with the IDEA of me being gay, and there was only one way to find out if they were tolerant of my ACTUALLY being gay. No, I had not made a mistake here. This had not been an impulsive act in an ill-conceived moment of intoxication. I was compelled as if by destiny, and given the opportunity to do it all over again, I'd be destined by the same compulsion.
The one thing that I did regret, however, was having used Rick's room. I didn't regret it because it was wrong. Technically it was wrong to do so, but precedents had been set from time immemorial. There had been many occasions throughout the years when, for one reason or another, one brother had used someone else's room to get laid. While it had been the subject of much teasing, it never caused any significant crisis. Rick had not only left his door unlocked, but wide open. Psi Phi values from before my time up to and including the present, dictate that this either constituted an open invitation, or letting the occupant get whatever he deserved. But I regretted it because it gave them some shred of an excuse to be angry with me. If I had been in my own room then they would have had to come to grips with the situation on its own terms. If they were still mad it couldn't have been because I'd "desecrated" another member's room. It could only have been based on their root feelings on the matter. If I hadn't been staying in a junk room with no light and a bed that was old and musty even by homeless standards, I never would have been in anyone else's room anyway.
Despite my fretting, the ride home was going very quickly. I had but one specific task to accomplish before I could ultimately make my way safely home. If I didn't return my tux on the way back, I'd have to drive all the way back to Syracuse on Monday. As I approached Syracuse I got off on the exit that would take me to the mall, ten miles out of my way. At least it was still expressway driving. I wound up getting to the mall around 10:30. I didn't know if the Tuxedo Junction would even be open on a Sunday, let alone this early. I parked the car and walked to the door. It was locked, but the sign said it would open at eleven. Halleluia! I went to the nearby Burger King and got an order of Cini-minis. I partially choked one down, but just couldn't eat solid food. I went back to the mall and waited in my car.
Sure enough, at a couple minutes before eleven some guy came up and opened the door. There were actually a couple other people there to return their formal wear, but in minutes I was back in the car and on my way home. When I arrived I went straight to bed and slept the day away.
I was totally in knots about the situation from then on. All day at work on Monday it was on my mind. I decided I had to call the house and address matters. Perhaps it was because I ran out that night with my tail between my legs. A call would indicate that I still had at least some backbone. The only thing I wanted to accomplish was to assuage them that the physical impact on the guy's room was minimal. I know how breeder boys' imaginations gets the better of them when they think about gay sex. I'm sure they imagined me all lathered up and doing 3-way anal acrobatics in the middle of the floor. The truth was that we only just sucked each other's dicks a little. I just had to state for the record that not that much happened.
I called as soon as I got home from work. I picked up the phone before I had a chance to change my mind. I've had the number on speed-dial since I'd first owned a phone with that feature. #1. Always has been. I was hoping it still would be. The number quickly beeped away and the phone was ringing.
I expected to get an earful. I expected to hear shouting and name calling. I held my breath as my heart pounded away. Someone picked up. It was Delvin.
"Psi Phi," he said unwittingly.
"It's Toaph," I said, rather glad that he answered and not Jones. Now I expected to get an onslaught of verbal assaults.
"It's Toaph," I repeated, realizing too late that he'd said that to indicate that I was an entity now unknown to him, not because he didn't hear me.
He said something to the effect of, "What do YOU want?"
I told him I was calling to apologize for using another member's room in the stunt I'd pulled up there.
"Don't tell me," he said. "Tell whoever's room it was. Who's room was it?"
I was perplexed, because I knew that he knew perfectly well that it was Rick's room. "Rick," I said.
"Hold on, I'll get him," Delvin said as he dropped the phone. I wasn't expecting that. I thought everyone would still be home on break at that point. Rick had only gone home on Saturday. Delvin came back to the phone. "He won't talk to you," he said. "He's too disgusted. I can't say I blame him."
I quickly blurted out, "Well just tell him I want him to know that any impact on the room was minimal. All I ever did was slide the coffee table out of the way. Really, not that much went on."
"Okay, bye - [click]"
Well, that was that. At least I tried. But I still had the other alumni to think about. This was not a good time for this to have happened. The alumni were in the process of helping the fraternity recover from a couple years of wanton disorganization. Tensions were a little high on both sides of the border. This didn't have any direct impact on anything specific, but it could serve to be a distraction. I decided that if they didn't hear it from me they might hear it in the form of an official complaint from the active membership.
The next day at work, first thing, I sat down and wrote this mail file to the alumni listserv. It didn't take me long, because I'd been rehearsing it in my head for hours the previous night as I tried to get to sleep.
I sent the note out and tried to get some work done. As responses started rolling in, I was afraid to read them. Finally after a couple had come in I couldn't wait any longer.
Well, off to a good start, I suppose. As more responses came in I read them right away.
I couldn't believe what I was reading. The guys have been accepting in the past, but I really thought they were going to come down hard on me in the past. I've been the center of controversies before, and one thing I know for sure is that there are people who will say their minds with me, no holds barred. Some of these respondents were among those whom I thought to be a little on the conservative side, and still people were strongly in support of me.
Some responses, mostly from older members, were accepting of my orientation but somewhat admonishing of my behavior none the less.
Some members were suspiciously silent. I knew that there had to be a contingent of guys out there who would be pissed off at gay sex going on in their house, no matter where it occurred. I was sure there had to be. But no one was saying anything, even in private emails to me. I rather wished they had, simply because our brotherhood is founded on unabashed honesty in all situations. If I'd made them mad at me I wanted them to have their opportunity to say what was on their mind.
Finally the active member who regularly monitors our list chimed in.
The whole situation pretty much died down after that. I was afraid that the active members were going to take issue with it, or worse use it against the alumni during some future negotiation. But I got every impression that they didn't want to talk about it. The best they could do was pretend it never happened and hopefully never be reminded of it. It hasn't been mentioned since.
At the time of this writing, I really don't know what my relationship with my fraternity is. I'm sure I'd be welcomed at any alumni event anywhere outside of Potsdam, but I don't think I can walk in the door of that chapter house at the present. If I did I expect that at the very least I'd be met with a cold shoulder by certain members. I might even be ostracized by the membership as a whole once word got around of who I was and what I'd done. I might even be asked to leave the premises. Those would all be pretty tough, but I couldn't believe that anyone would threaten any physical harm.
Alas, I'll never know, because I don't expect to be going up there any time soon. Christ, I hadn't been up in practically two years anyway. It's really not that much a part of my life anymore. Turnover is quick and memory is short. In another two years, Delvin, Jones, Calvin, and Rick would all have moved on anyway, and no one there would have any idea of what had happened way back when.
Still, the whole situation weighs heavy on my mind. Many a night I've dreamt that I was back in Potsdam and everything was the way it was. And while I don't tend to make the trip up there as often as I used to, it would be nice to have the option available to me if the mood hit. At this time I feel exiled. It's a very odd experience to feel exiled from the one place in the world I always thought would be my one safe sanctuary.