Tom moved into an apartment with two brothers, while six other friends returned to nearby homes, where they completed their degrees as commuter students. I found a studio apartment on Belden near Clark. Jake shacked up with Connie Delgato, then Tracy Wingem, Audrey Oliver, and eventually lost track of the names of the women from whom he mooched.
Of course, it sucked to lose the house. However, all things considered, losing the frat and the house meant we didn’t get expelled. Although, Jake wouldn’t have minded going out in a blaze of glory, more proof of his wisdom and the source of it. We did manage one bacchanalian going away party. Seventeen people arrested, four injuries of a variety so bizarre there’s no time for the details here, and barely a memory clearly recalled. It was a fine farewell.
That last year passed, the first few months of the semester going more to earning the calluses necessary to ignore the looks others gave, getting easier as time went by, to the point all that had been didn’t seem to matter. True, it would have been easiest to come back as some kind of heroes, but none of us were ever meant to be legends. We liked to think of ourselves as the misfits who would one day be admired. However, the truth is often too harsh to appreciate. Ol’ Jim Donnovan only ever got laid because he realized he could use that straight A average to outwit drunk girls, while Marvin Goldstein didn’t get so pale by being social. The house on Kenmore had been a safe house for people who didn’t get along with the rest of the world. Hell, we only tolerated one another because it made living together less of a burden. Once college ended we all went our separate ways, barely a letter or call as a look back, which, in a way, we all knew was coming without ever saying.
I took my degree in English and settled into teaching (not what I‘d wanted to do but as a necessity, one that got easier to live with over time). The facts of our disbanded fraternity transmuted over time; I sometimes told stories about then, always leaving out the details that would lead to awkward explanations. Suffice it to say: a crusty dean, an overzealous conservative administrator, an alumnus with clout who couldn’t stand us, for one reason or another, and not to mention our arrogant archenemy fraternity; the prank war that ensued, only our victories ever told; efforts on all sides to seemingly fight fair eventually escalating till it was all just mindlessly over the top; the girls that passed back and forth; half remembered speeches, rants, and diatribes, all booze induced and fringed in weed, recounted to emphasize the epic nature of our struggle; nostalgia creeping deeper in than I could have expected, refashioning memories to sound better than they probably occurred. To the point where things are no longer what they were but a good story I’m glad to tell whenever the occasion permits. Maybe that’s the slow steady way we come to accept things.
Until one night, feeling forty though I’ve only just past thirty, I went to a party in Roger’s Park. The story came up, a friend of a friend asking me to tell an interested group, people I‘d never met who recognized me from a famous tale, so I told it.
“You tell it so well, you’d think that’s what happened.” He’d come over from another room, perhaps simply passing through. His attention caught by a quote, he lingered to hear more. Recognizing the events and not agreeing with the telling, he felt the need to comment.
“Excuse me. Do I know you?” I asked.
“Not anymore,” and he disappeared towards the kitchen.
“Who was that?” I asked the group I'd been entertaining, but no one knew. So I let the matter go, shrugging it off as some drunk interjecting. Later, one of the ladies in the group mentioned, “Hey, that guy who was all like, ‘You tell so well,’ and all. I was talking to some folks. His name’s Patrick Sullivan. If that means anything.” Too much, but I shook my head, “Nope.”
I got home that night, hours later than I ever planned, leaving my car behind and taking a cab back. The first thing I did was crack open a bottle of Old Crow -- I’d kept a bottle for years out of some sentimental impulse I’d never fully understood. Pouring a drink, I turned on the TV to feel like I had some company and went trolling through the channels for something to own my mind. It’s a funny thing when you can’t command the gears in your own skull.
Rebecca Donnelly came to DePaul in the Winter of 2001. She didn’t come with much, just a suitcase and a student loan. She liked to wear black, and though she never did it maliciously, she seemed to delight in bringing up rebuttals to teachers’ lectures. I loved her the moment I heard her speak. My fingers crossed in the hope she was pretty though not sure if I cared, till I saw her, and the matter seemed settled. Rebecca liked karaoke, not performing but watching others. I ran into her one night when Jake, like so too many occasions before, thinking he could sing, dragged us into a spot to play rock god. “You’re in Heinemann’s class,” she said. Somehow I managed to stammer out, “Yu-yeah. I liked your last story.” -- about growing up on a farm and being surrounded by characters straight out of a David Lynch film. She smirked, “Too much autobiography.” From then on out, everything that followed was my fault because we kept talking all night long. Even after the bar closed, we went to a Mexican diner just down the block, closed that, and wandered past sunrise till she needed to sleep.
Now, we, meaning the frat, never really threw parties so much as weekend benders. Jake would concoct some witch’s brew in a five gallon Gatorade drum, typically several handle jugs of Wolfschmidt Vodka, concentrate fruit punch, and a liberal splash of Everclear; Our reason always hinging on the idea liquor undid our social awkwardness. At the very least, it made us feel less misfit, especially by the time other people stopped by, which was known to happen when we didn’t try inviting anyone. Besides, it was college life and depending on who you ask, excess is part of the equation. Jake’s potions had the unique quality of seeming to be devoid of alcohol, despite the severity of their intensity. Rebecca came over one weekend. She drank but typically knew her limits. She and I were three months into our relationship. I was sitting on a bench, escorting her home, when she tripped over her own feet, falling onto the El platform. Rebecca didn’t fall, bodily, in front of the train, only her head hung off the edge. The Red line cleaved it off while she laughed about the fall. I like to think she‘d been dancing, enjoying herself, not stumbling about.
Her cousin, who loved her in a way I sometimes I wonder about, went to DePaul, and I think, in the interest of a long story short, the line of events thereafter is pretty clear. When he found out where she’d been, the night of her accident, he went on the war path. And I don’t blame him one bit. I’d like to think I’d’ve done the same. In a way, I’m lucky he blamed us all. Otherwise, I don’t like to imagine what he might have done. However, he set his sights on ruining our lives collectively. Unfortunately for him, he thought the frat meant something to us, and I suppose, when we seemed to retaliate, we re-enforced that opinion. There’s some gratitude owed to Jake there, since he got us burning for battle. Poor Patrick Sullivan, he must have thought he’d won. Whatever that reward might have been, it must have stopped him from assaulting me in Roger’s Park. We’d known each other, barely casually, through Rebecca. I remember he smiled a lot, like one of those people whom it seems wrong for them not to be grinning. He didn’t smile in Roger’s Park. He didn’t look capable.
It just makes me wonder how much we’re heroes of our own histories.