I didn’t belong here in this hazy rented hall that smelled of hops and hairspray and heated bodies. The knowing started in my sternum and crawled outward. I crammed it back into the corner where I kept God at times like this. The ƩAEs and a cadre of coeds danced to Kiss’s Rock and Roll All Night. I schooled my features and tried to look cool.
At Florida Southern College the Sigma Alpha Epsilons had landed on the pinnacle of the fraternity heap. Testosterone fanned from the tables they inhabited in the cafeteria. I felt its pull deep in my belly every time I pushed through the glass doors. Tugged toward their broad backs, brotherhood, and blond nonchalance. And tonight I’d bagged my first frat party—a freshman pledge invited six of us at once.
The only thing I wanted more than I wanted to dance was scoring ƩAE Little Sister—one of the favored few who gained the right to sit at their table, attend their parties, and strut cool around campus. I’d refused to rush a sorority. Even if I had sorority kind of money—even if my lifeguarding checks didn’t go straight to tuition—no Greek club would run me. But ƩAEs weren’t just Greeks. At FSC, they were gods.
Disco Duck pulsed in the smoky air and my self-esteem deflated into a chair. I scraped bubble gum from the bottom of my sandal with a fingernail. Maybe I was crazy for cramming gods and God into the same square inch on the timeline of my life. What if they couldn’t co-exist?
A hand grabbed my wrist and I looked up at one of the girls from my dorm. She yanked me into the conga line.
When the song ended, the guy behind me kept hold of my waist. “Dance?”
“Sure” flew out of my mouth before I turned around. Dancing with anyone beat picking pink from my shoe. My gaze smacked into the golden ƩAE emblazoned across the expanse of a man-sized chest, then swooped up to powder blue eyes framed by wavy, white-blond hair. My breath caught. Well, okay then.
A couple songs later, sweat beaded across my forehead and along my hairline, trickled down my back.
He offered to get me a beer.
I held up my hand. “I’m good.” I’d kill for a glass of water, but I didn’t have the guts to say it out loud. I’d find some later. No alcohol for this girl—I didn’t mind the taste. I wasn’t pounding a stake into some teetotaling moral hill. What gave me pause were the possibilities that sprang from too many Pabst Blue Ribbons.
His shoulders retreated and my mind slipped back a week. I’d glanced up from brushing my teeth in the dorm bathroom.
A floor mate stripped down to what had to be her boyfriend’s tighty whities. My jaw dropped open. Toothpaste dribbled down my shirt. Sex. She’d had sex! I could almost feel the roll of her eyes at my naiveté as she stepped into the shower. I rolled my eyes at my naiveté, wiped my chin, and spit. Catholicism and the danger of a second emotional apocalypse after Dad had scared me freakishly chaste so far. Even the guy I’d loved in high school hadn’t seen skin to skin contact.
I looked up. Tall, Blue-eyed, and Handsome threaded toward me. Lava spurted through my veins.
The next afternoon I swept leaves from the pool deck while the regulars from New York and New Jersey napped in the sun. I said Hail Marys, Our Fathers, and The Act of Contrition in my head—lunging for God like a life preserver. The compulsion to find my purpose and do something more than landfill the abyss inside, drove me toward Deity.
A few days later, the blue-eyed ƩAE—Dave Holt—called to invite me along on an errand to his family’s beach house. I wavered—recalling frat boy tales, the testosterone I’d fielded myself. He just had to pick something up, he assured me. I pictured honest blue eyes. “I’ll go.” Minutes later, I settled into his car for three hours of exchanging facts. He hailed from Tennessee, a junior majoring in business and marketing. Words, and a sense that he was a man who wore integrity without really thinking about it, filled up the car. And something more earthy—to do with the white hairs curling on his thighs, faint scent of deodorant, proximity of my skin to his.
He must have felt it, too. Because his hand reached over and curled around mine. I didn’t flinch. Instead, I learned the freckles, foreign weight, feel of his warmth mingling mine. And when he dropped me off—a quick kiss brushed my lips. Beautiful.
Sunday evening found me in Annie Pfiefer Chapel, awash in the colors of sunset and the cadence of Mass—words woven into the fabric of me first in Latin, then later English attempted to unlock the mystery. But neither the sunrays nor the ritual brought God near like the prayers I wrote Him in my journal—prayers that often swerved to Dave.
And when Dave and I trekked to the library, I talked to him about God—completing the cinching of the two halves of myself back into one. He listened, nodded appropriately—and to his credit—didn’t file me under religious wacko and walk away.
The next week I sucked in a breath for courage and plopped myself into the closest empty seat to Dave at the ƩAE table. Mike Pachik, a senior and my editor on The Southern, sat five trays down. Nobody’s fool, he’d figure in seconds I was angling for Little Sister. I writhed inside, feeling all kind of stupid.
After Christmas break Dave and I picked up where we’d left off. One evening in February we pulled into the student parking lot. Street lights glittered on the rain snaking down the windshield. Neither of us reached for a door handle. Fifteen minutes later my eyes caught on the fogged windows and flew wide. I untangled myself and my issues, and climbed out of the car, mumbling something about slowing things down. Never mind that not a single Catholic sensibility had been disturbed. Somewhere, buried in a crevice between the lines of Catechism, I was sure steam led straight to sin.
That was probably the day the door slammed on ƩAE Little Sister—God’s course correction, no doubt. The ƩAEs leaned toward cerebral, boasted high caliber men like Dave Holt and Mike Pachik, but they weren’t looking for uptight girls like me. Dave was intelligent enough to see things weren’t working with big G and little g warring inside me. While cordial on campus, he didn’t call again.
I’d checked off wild in junior high, donned the chain mail of Catholic guilt, and later gone looking for God. I’d been making my own decisions since my folks divorced five years earlier, and by trial and error, I’d gotten pretty good at it. When college fire-hosed me with free-flowing beer, frat parties, and more fine-looking boys than I could have imagined in one square mile—I stood up under the onslaught. Though I think big G had more to do with it than my own fortitude.
In the decades since that first year of fledgling faith I’ve fielded a lot of Fatherly direction. I’ve spent a lifetime learning the freckles on His hand, the familiar weight, the feel of His love warming me. Learned to lean on the knowledge that He knows which road leads to my forever.