I wasn’t the most studious little student in high school, and deadlines were more like guidelines for me. When I graduated high school I more or less found my way to college. Literally found my way as in I missed the deadline for one college and said, “fuck it, I guess I’m going to this one.”
So I attended Western Kentucky University! “Where the Spirit Makes the Master!” That was our school motto, “Where the Spirit Makes the Master!” But if you have one of the highest acceptance rates in the United States then your spirit is the master of “good enough.” Which up to this point was my life’s motto.
Now don’t get me wrong, a lot of really smart people went to school with me. It just so happens that none of them were in the fraternity I stupidly decided to rush.
On a drive back from my freshman orientation my mother made what was at the time a very convincing argument: I think you should rush a fraternity. It’ll help you keep your grades up!
I don’t think my mom ever watched the film Animal House, plus she went to an all girls school in the 80’s, so she had no idea what a real college was like. But I had my own motivations. I envisioned myself hanging with my bros, finally accepted by the very men who had been rejecting my low testosterone and me all my life. I would rub elbows with the boys who were going to be my best friends that I paid for. Our bonds of brotherhood would grow stronger as our hair lines grew thinner and our beer bellies ballooned. Not to mention that I really wanted to be around the guys who girls liked to be around, so that I could be around the girls. My epic fraternal fantasy was within reach at last!
And what fraternity did I rush? Why none other than FARMHOUSE.
Yes, the name of this fraternity, which is very real—check out their website—is Farmhouse. Why? Because my cousin’s boyfriend was in it, and he was a pretty cool dude, so I thought the other dudes would be cool too.
They were not…
First of all, I am not the farmiest of the farmy. I am a suburbanite, which was no where near the prerequisite I needed to be accepted by these manlings—these physical manifestations of livestock.
Within the confines of this fraternity, I was exposed to a world so outside of my own, and I started to get the sense that my “brothers” didn’t like me very much. I was the weak link, the runt they would all eat if we were in a harrowing situation.
Was I dissuaded when I was forced to spend a weekend outside in a remote area with a bunch of other teenage dipshits, with nothing to eat but baby food and Army issue MRE’s? Nope. Did my desires waver when I was called at 4am to pick up the senior douchies from a Tuesday night rager? Hell no. What about the time we were forced to go to Tennessee and one of the shit for brains was driving drunk and we had beer in the car and you could smell it and we got pulled over and I questioned my life choices—was I having doubts then? Don’t bet on it. I was going to be accepted by the cool kids if it killed me.
I was subjected to country music, chewing and dipping tobacco, and enough testosterone to power a diesel locomotive. It was like I was surrounded by the future Trump supporters of America.
But possibly the worst aspect of it all was that on every Tuesday and Thursday evening at the university farm we had PT: Physical Training. The reason for this was that at the end of the spring semester there is a fraternity/sorority festival called Greek week. Various events occur: mixers, ragers, costume contests and dance offs. But the one that this fraternity wanted to win every year was TUG.
No, that’s not an acronym. It was literally tug of war. 5 dudes on each side pulling a rope. And they took it seriously. So seriously that they only wanted the most muscled out boys the bluegrass state could offer. They would plan each year on who would be the anchor at the end, what boots to buy so that you could make the biggest holes in the ground to angle yourself into, and the best technique and cadences to adhere to.
The evening physical training sessions were usually led by a man I still have nightmares about; a man who made my butt hole even tighter with fear than it already was. He was a marine who had been in the fraternity… and I’m not even sure that he graduated.
ALRIGHT YOU FUCKIN BITCHES, I AM LIEUTENANT STEEL-BALLS SPEAR.
EVERY TIME I GIVE YOU AN ORDER, YOU MUST SAY “SIR YES SIR.” GOT IT?
Sir yes sir!
WHAT THE FUCK?
SIR YES SIR!
THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT
WHO THE?! WHO THE MOTHER FUCKING SHIT SAID FUCKING OOH RAH, IN MY PRESENCE HUH???!!! MEN DIED OVER SEAS SO YOU LITTLE DILDOS COULD PLAY VIDEO GAMES AND CRY ABOUT YOUR DUMB LITTLE LIVES. YOU DO NOT GET TO SAY OOH RAH IN MY PRESENCE.
YOU WILL DROP ON THE GROUND AND YOU WILL DO PUSHUPS UNTIL YOUR ARMS FALL OFF. AND THEN I’M GOING TO MAKE YOU GET A HARD ON—IN WHICH CASE YOU WILL DO PUSHUPS WITH YOUR DICK… IF YOU EVEN HAVE ONE—NO HOMO. DOWN ON THE GROUND NOW!
But one bitterly cold October night:
we’re out at the university farm
we’re doing a certain kind of sprints
where there are two lines of people running
when a douche bag frat douche says “go!”
you have to sprint from the back of the line to the front
Without the people behind you catching up
I was lagging behind, as per usual.
Cory you goddamn faggot! I’m sick of seeing your drag down your brothers! Pushups, now!
A few nights ago I had faked an injury to my shoulder because I couldn’t stand the pain of the physical exertion I was being required to do. But in the process I was told that I had better be hurt. That it better be real and that I was a disappointment.
I was so afraid of these men. Just a few nights before at another PT, in the basement of the frat house, we were hazed. Men twice my size yelled at me, told me I was a piece of shit, that I wouldn’t make, as I held wall sits, did push ups, but I had made it. I had broken through.
But now I was the next on the food chain. Others who were considered weaker than me had been pushed out. I was next. But I didn’t want to lose the community I had for 8 weeks so far. I had nobody else. I was alone most of the day. They didn’t hang out with me. I stayed up at night because I had insomnia. I was abusing my prescription of Adderall to make it through the day, snorting it on my desk, running on nothing but amphetamines and little sleep.
So in the shower the next morning after my faked injury, I took a shampoo bottle and pummeled my shoulder repeatedly until it went red and bruised. With each blow I thought of those I wanted to have love me but I totally feared.
Fast forward back to the farm where it’s cold, my fingers numb, and I’m on the ground, doing pushups as the other pledges sprint and the older men watch and yell.
And I can't help but think:
Why am I doing this?
What the fuck is this for?
I don’t even like these assholes
And they don’t like me!
I don’t care that I look like a roman soldier
Muscles in places I’ve never seen—
I hate myself
I can’t sleep at night
I’m afraid of these people
My asshole is tighter than a drum.
I. Hate. This. Shit!
And I walked back to a car
My hands numb from the frozen ground
My vision blurry
My lungs gasping for air.
But my shoulders were weightless
My conscience clear
And my asshole relaxed.
About the author...
Cory Hardin is an actor, writer, and host of the podcast In The Loop with Cory Hardin. He previously wrote solo and live lit projects for Mozawa and No Stakes Theatre. Selected acting credits include: Porcelain (Prologue Theatre) Cabaret (No Stakes Theatre) Fisheye (Dandelion Theatre) and understudy opportunities at Steep Theatre, Theater Wit, and Chicago Dramatists. He's a graduate of the School at Steppenwolf and Western Kentucky University."
In Death, Cannot Reach What is Most Near"