The dorm room was smothering in the Georgia heat. It was about the size of the average truck trailer and undoubtedly just as hot. Outdated wooden furniture. Twin beds on each side. Just enough room to sit or lie there and cook. A fan would do nothing but blow hot, muggy air around, but at least it would keep the air circulating a bit. We would discover later that the rumbling radiators in the rooms would crank and groan their dismay at having to work at the slightest dip in temperature outside, and the room would remain steamy for the remainder of the year. That was what underclassmen had to suffer through.
It was a part of the school’s charms, ways and traditions, by gum. It would toughen us, have us band together, roast together, stew together. It would have us appreciate cool, dry air of a well-earned air conditioning unit in a much more spacious dorm room when we were older and wiser, when we’d proven we could take it, when we proved we were “sisters.”
My mother – an alumna and undeniably the reason why I’d even been accepted to the school with the grades I’d had – had me sit beside her on the bare bed across from the other that evidently belonged to a then-missing roommate. Judging by all the Calvin Klein outlet bags that had been placed there, my MIA roommate loved shopping so much, she’d mistaken the room for a walk-in closet rather than a dorm room. Easy enough to confuse the two, I suppose. The lack of shoe shelves and racks ought to have given it away though.
“There’s something you need to be aware of,” my mother calmly said. She was using that tone she reserved for such moments when my nerves were already cutting, and my innards churned glass shards. “There will be a few days when you’ll feel like quitting. Some of the girls from the sophomore class will– Well, I know how sensitive you are, but you can’t let it affect you.”
“What are you talking about?”
She gave me a hug from the side and said, “Just keep your chin up, and don’t let any of it affect your schoolwork.”
Remarking upon my sensitivities, that was normal coming from family members. Of course I was sensitive. It rarely took much effort to make me cry or lash out. It didn’t help that, like a lot of teenagers I knew, I’d had to deal with a perpetually angry father and a handful of callous classmates in high school. Instead of toughening me up though, it only made me all the more afraid of the unpredictable when it came to people, especially strangers.
Anyway, that was generally the extent of what my mother was willing to divulge, and it failed to have me aptly ready for when that time came on a stifling, sleepless, miserable weekend. She never said a word thereafter either, and I cannot ask her now of her own experiences there because…well, she’s gone now, isn’t she?
Once that particular “tradition,” and all of its “rituals,” had ended, I had nothing but seething contempt for the entire sophomore class, and they weren’t particularly at fault as they were merely following peer-influenced, historical “tradition,” its homegrown roots fetid and rotting.
My classmates and I had survived, certainly. Forgive me if it sounds as if we’d been through some sort of deadly initiation. It hadn’t been an issue of life or death. It WAS, however, a matter of preserving our own pride and dignity that we’d had removed, if only for a couple of days. All of it had been designed to unite us as a class, and it worked a little, but here’s what’s been troubling me: No matter how many of us claimed naivete then due to our youthful ignorance and desperation to be accepted, I’m damned certain we knew well enough that something about such “traditions” of the school – from the class names to the creepy garb of the initiators, and so on – was very very wrong.
Looking back on it decades later, while the school is in a (timely) tailspin, I know we should’ve said something, done something to set the wheels moving. I did nothing then. We did nothing then, and our silence – then later, our footsteps that followed suit – spoke volumes to our sisters who’d felt truly frightened and betrayed by those “traditions” that symbolically represented, in actuality, a dark, wretched history of violence.
To those girls, now women, I confess to you that I was cowardly, and I am sorry I wasn’t paying closer attention to what you were going through. I’m sorry for my lack of empathy then. I’m sorry for my passivity and my cowardice. I am sorry to have failed you. I’ve only recently found my voice over the past 17 years after having not had one remotely strong enough to speak out against injustices of any sort. It is still weak, but I am consistently working on strengthening and solidifying that.
Know this though: You are respected and cherished, and you are much braver than many of us could ever be.
Inspired by recent events and by the Daily Post prompt “Revelation”