Whenever people learn that I pledged a sorority in college, they have one of two reactions:
1. No f^&$!%g way.
2. Well, DUH.
(It seems there is never any middle ground with me.)
For some reason, I tend to hear No. 1 slightly more often than No. 2. “You don’t seem like the sorority type,” they say. And in some ways, I guess, that’s true. After all, one can’t easily imagine Elle Woods trolling the comic book shop, listening to Stabbing Westward (shut up) or getting a tattoo.
But anybody who’s ever been to one of my parties, seen me in my Sunday best or sat next to me at a Junior League meeting can’t imagine a horde of zombie velociraptors keeping me away from Bid Day.
Looking back on it, it was probably that dichotomy that drew me to Delta Gamma.
I could easily write a book about my sorority experience – and one day, I just might – so there’s no way I could describe it here, but suffice it to say that while it was typical in some aspects, it was pretty unique (from what I understand, anyway) in a lot of others. For one thing, not all the girls fit the sorority mold. Some did, of course, and outwardly, at least, I was one of them, but we also had musicians and artists and gamers and hippies who refused to shave their legs.
(OK, so there was just the one hippie, but still. One’s all you need, right?)
People, usually people who never belonged to a sorority or fraternity (isn’t that always the way?), accuse “Greeks” of buying their friends, and frankly, there is a little truth to that. I mean, yeah, I wanted to make lifelong friends and belong to something bigger than myself and network and blah blah blah blah blah, but having people to hang out with at this big scary urban campus where I knew a grand total of, like, two people was a big part of the equation as well.
But there’s an essential truth of Greek life that cannot be ignored:
If you’re a total wing nut, it doesn’t matter if your daddy bought the chapter its very own party bus, you’re still not gonna have any friends.
Fortunately, we never really had that problem during my time in DG. Let’s be honest, when you put 100 women together in close quarters, some people are going to get along better than others. But – and I know nobody will believe me when I say this – while we weren’t all BFFs or anything, we actually, you know, liked each other. It was the first time I had ever been part of a large group of females where there wasn’t all this jealousy and backbiting and manipulation. It was, in short, freakin’ AWESOME, and if there was some way that I could be married to The Guy and have Harper but still walk across campus every day at lunchtime to eat Arby’s and watch Days of Our Lives in the suite with my sisters, I would do it in a hot minute.
Thirteen days ago, I lost one of my beloved sisters, Brandi Thorpe. Not Dr. Brandi, but her little sister in Delta Gamma, actually. Thorpe, as we always called her, was just 33, and she lost a lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis.
(It looked for a little while like she might leave us the day before, on February 14, and I had to smile, knowing that would be the biggest double middle finger in the history of the world to Valentine’s Day, a “holiday” of which neither I nor Thorpe, as perpetual single gals, were ever very fond.)
Despite work schedules and deadlines and Junior League projects and infant daughters who had just started sleeping through the night, there was never any question that the Powells Three would make tracks for Birmingham immediately. The Guy didn’t say a word, never once challenged the wisdom of driving 20 hours in four days with a three-month-old baby, but I know my husband, and I know that inwardly, he was a little perplexed: All this? For a sorority sister? Really?
Of course I’d told him about the closeness among the DGs, but I don’t think he really believed it – hell, even I had started to think, on some level, that I had mythologized the whole thing in my mind – until we got to the funeral home Friday night and he saw. We saw, really. How it was as if literally no time had passed, as if we’d all hung out in the suite yesterday, how we fell into each other’s arms and hugged and cried and comforted one another like, well, sisters. I overheard The Guy remark to another “DG Husband” that he couldn’t even remember all his fraternity brothers’ names; he was amazed that after 15 years, we could still be this close.
The next day was Thorpe’s funeral, and I don’t really want to talk about that yet except to say it was perfect and beautiful and moving, and I’m pretty sure it was everything Thorpe would’ve wanted it to be. Including rainy. With her great love for musicals, Thorpe definitely had an appreciation for the dramatic.
Her family had a special section for us in the front, and the 20 or so of us who were present took part in the Cream Rose Ceremony, a ritual that Delta Gammas perform when a sister passes away. We all more or less held it together until the bag piper began to play, and as Mere’s fiance, Andrew, said, “If you can listen to a bag piper play at a funeral without tearing up a little, even if you don’t know the person, you have no soul.”
(I have to brag on Harper a bit: Because it was raining, the bag piper played indoors and loudly. The minute he started blowing, I turned to my sister Katrina and said, in between sobs, “It’s only a matter of time until Harper starts screaming.” But she never did! The Guy said she looked startled, then broke out in an enormous grin. As Katrina said, “She’s just like her momma. She knows when to act up and when to be a lady.”)
At the end of the weekend, we all said that despite the terrible reason, we were glad it brought us all back together again. Before Thorpe’s departure, we had started planning a chapter reunion for this summer, and now the Birmingham girls have a standing monthly dinner date (with a quarterly Saturday thrown in for those of us from out of town). Thorpe would’ve hated missing all the fun, but I know she’d be happy that these renewed friendships are part of her legacy.
Through various circumstances, some of my pre- and post-college pals are Facebook friends with some of my sorority sisters, and after Thorpe’s passing, several of them remarked that they wish they’d known her. I could write the rest of the day and not even put a dent in everything there is to tell you about Thorpe, but here are just a handful of things that she was:
–She was a daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin, sister and friend.
–She had a degree in English, but she worked as a banker, a career she began while we were still in college. She’d been off work for a while because of her hospitalizations, but she held her job until the day she died.
–She had an awesome condo in downtown Birmingham, where she lived with her three cats, Issy, Beau and Hallow.
–She liked to get her party on every once in a while, but she was nevertheless one of the most responsible people I have ever met.
–She loved Halloween as much or more than I do.
–She played her illness pretty close to the vest most of the time, but she was a tireless advocate for her fellow CF patients.
–The night before the Golden Anchor Ball (yes), we dyed her hair in her hospital room. Did a pretty good job, too. (See the third photo down for proof.)
–Girlfriend loved her some hair dye.
–She introduced me to the deliciousness that is cream cheese and Keebler Club Crackers.
–She was a stellar example of doing all you can do but not sweating it when you’re doing all you can and you can’t do any more. Which is the chief reason I haven’t abandoned this blog in a fit of misguided penance and remorse.
–There was nothing she liked more than talking about high school and college. We used to give her a bit of a hard time about that, but the other night, it hit me: The past was the one thing Thorpe could be sure of. Because of her health, the future was even more uncertain for her than it is for most people, and even the present was sometimes a little shaky. So she focused on her good memories.
–She was the sweetest, smartest, cutest, feistiest little sprite, and I am so grateful for the privilege of having known her.
I will always love her very, very much.
Delta Gamma’s motto is “Do Good” (get it?), and that’s exactly what we’re going to do here today.
For every comment on this post, The Guy and I will donate $1 of our own moola to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
We’re also trying to find a business or organization to match our donation, so if you know of anyone who might be willing, please email me.
In your comment, tell me about something that helps you breathe a little easier. Or a story about someone you miss. Or your best Halloween costume of all time. Or your favorite snack involving a Keebler product. You get the idea.