I barely remember the night I met my wife. It was late January during Freshman year of college, and all 300 attendees at the Alpha Rho Eta fraternity party on 24th and Salado were drunk on trash can punch.
It must have been thirty-five degrees outside during the Party in the USA; the big, open yard divided into clusters of college students dressed in Patriotic colors huddled together for warmth. At least a hundred bodies were grinding on the wooden dance floor to a techno-hip-hop blaring in the background. The other two hundred people were scattered along the yard strewn with woodchips and cigarette butts and empty cans of Keystone Light.
My pledgeship had been rough. Not because we were beaten or anything, but because it made me realize where I stood in society. I was nobody, and my friends were nobodies, and if we were ever going to make anything of ourselves it was up to us. My pledge master, Travis Dickinson – bond number 1757—had seen fit to extend our pledgeship beyond the winter break, something unprecedented in the history of the Texas Beta chapter of Alpha Rho Eta. On January 2nd at 0700 hours we were required by Dickinson to report back to 24th and Salado ‘pledge uniform’—whitewashed Wrangler jeans, a white Hanes t-shirts, and grey New Balance cross-trainers. No belts and no watches. It was imperative that all fourteen of us look identical. It took a coordinated effort to get everybody to Austin in time. I alone had to drive nearly 200 extra miles around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to pick up my various pledge brothers from Rockwall, Colleyville, Sherman, and Euless.
Those of us stupid enough to bring cars to college as freshmen were designated as ‘pledge taxies’ for the duration of pledgeship. Preference was given to the pledges with the nicest cars. The distinct honor of picking up the actives from the Chapter extended primarily to late-night pick-ups from 6th street at two o’clock in the morning, but would occasionally extend to the airport, to-and-from class, and sometimes even to the county jail (and then the legal services building).
By some miracle, we managed to get everybody to Austin in time. Andrew Grimes, our Pledge Class President, even brought along a giant bag of Hanes t-shirts and several pairs of whitewashed Wranglers in case anyone forgot to bring the proper attire. When we walked over to the corner of 24th and Salado, we saw Mr. Dickinson standing with his arms crossed, surrounded by two members of our pledge committee: Mr. DiLuca and Mr. Hammond. They were sporting devilish grins and smoking Marlboro Reds and passing around a can of Grizzly. Dickinson stepped forward to address us first.
“Dipshits,” he began, as we lined up in alphabetical order and stood at attention, exhausted and hung-over, “I bet you’re wondering why I’ve called you all here.”
He spit some brown liquid into an empty Ozarka water bottle. It was below freezing, and Dickinson was wrapped up in a thick Northface jacket made of APEX. All fourteen of us pledges—freshmen and sophomores—were freezing our nipples off. I could hear Gannon and Hayes’s teeth chattering beside me. The rhythm would start and stop every few seconds—tk tk tk tk tk tk tk.
“What’s wrong, you little bitches? Are you cold? Maybe you guys should warm each other up a little bit before we get started. START PICKING CHERRIES!”
The fourteen of us raised our hands above our heads and started simulating cherry-picking, raising our knees above our waists in alternating fashion.
“FASTER!” screamed DiLuca, between cigarettes. “I want to see you fuckers really raise those knees! We’re going to keep going until Barrett does it right!” I remember looking over and trying to catch a glimpse of Barrett, who was the heaviest and most out of shape of the group. He was four guys over to my left, so I could tell it was him by the heels of his feet. They were barely moving.
“It looks like Barrett can’t move his legs anymore,” said Hammond, who alternated between being our best friend in the fraternity and the biggest dickhead on the PC.
“It looks like you need to work that core a little bit, son!” yelled Dickinson, a broad smile spreading across his face. “Start frying like bacon!”
We dropped down supine and started shimmying on the dirt floor like strips of bacon. This was always by far the worst of the calisthenics we had in store. Dirt would get into our mouths and noses, and sometimes guys would have to step aside and vomit their guts out. This time it was Gannon who had to step aside and share his New Year’s Eve dinner with the ground. It made a loud splatter and a few drops landed on the back of my leg.
We fried like bacon for another minute or so, until Dickinson waved us off and told us to lock up. I stood up, brushed large clumps of dirt out of my hair, and locked arms with Gannon and Hayes—raising our gable-gripped fists over our hearts.
“Dipshits, I need you to get us ready for a party. A big party. I want us to throw the biggest party of the year right when the Spring semester begins. And you guys are going to make it all happen—starting with a stage. You guys have 48 hours to build me a perfect stage. Mr. DiLuca and Mr. Hammond here will be helping me oversee this whole project. None of you will be able to skate by. All of you will be pulling your weight.”
And so it went. The fourteen of us working for 18 hours a day on a stage. Hammers, nails, screw drivers, measuring tape, buzz saws—everything. It was a miracle that Angstrom’s father owns a contracting company; Kevin managed to inherit some of his father’s handiness. He took charge of the group and made sure that everything was nailed and screwed properly in place as well as properly leveled, sanded, and painted. At one point, Kevin went out to H-E-B and got us a couple of cases of Keystone with his fake I.D. He must have been gone for 45 minutes at most. But when he came back he was shocked and horrified to discover that we had made a lot of progress without him—bad progress. We would spend hours undoing the damage before we would get back on track to finishing the stage.
Thankfully, we did manage to finish the stage in time for “Party in the USA.” And the stage was a big hit. To our astonishment, the wooden stage held together under the combined weight of at least 200 people—easily over 2,000 pounds.
With about 90 minutes to spare before the party, we started the rest of the party preparations. We filled the four giant Gatorade dispensers loaded with trash can punch and dumped 40 cases of Keystone and Natty Ice into the troughs in the yard—beaching the cans on ice. After we had properly mixed the booze with the proper measurements of Everclear, Gatorade mix, sugar, and water, we each poured ourselves a glass of the strong punch and threw back our first drinks of what would be a memorable pre-game. As we poured ourselves a refill, Grimes stepped forward Presidentially to make an announcement. We all stopped drinking to hear him out.
“Here’s to booze in the glass and beer in the cup. And to poking her in the ass so she won’t get knocked up.” He paused to take a drink before continuing. “Let’s have a rowdy Party in the USA, gentlemen!” we all cheered and raised our plastic cups over our heads before draining the red liquid for the second time.
The funny thing about Everclear is that it does not hit you right away. It’s not until drink number three or four that you finally start to feel the effects of that first drink; and of course, by that point it’s too late. You’re already on your way to a runaway blackout followed by a head-splitting hangover.
I don’t remember much about meeting Hanna that night. The first thing that I can clearly remember is waking up in my dorm room next to a blonde girl I had never seen before in my life. I remembered my dick felt raw, and my head was pounding with blood, and I looked over at the pile of clothes on the floor and saw that my white and blue argyle sweater had acquired a large, Patriotic red stain across the chest. And I saw that I had green marks on the knees of my Wranglers. Had I been sliding on my knees the night before?
When she woke up, she did not act like I was some stranger she had hooked up with the night before. Rather, she was friendly and warm. She even asked if I wanted to go down to the cafeteria and get some coffee and cereal. Not knowing what to say—or even what this girl’s name was—I agreed. I offered her a pair of my basketball shorts and a t-shirt, but she declined.
“Silly, I live in the dorm too! Just let me run down to the third floor and get changed real quick. It’ll just be a few minutes.” She ran over and gave me a kiss on the lips before scurrying out of the room and shutting the door behind her.
I immediately reached over for my phone and started reading through my text messages from the night before. Anything that might help me remember this girl’s name. After reading several dozen text messages to pledge brothers and buddies from high school, I come across a girl whose name I don’t recognize. Her name is stored only as “Hanna” followed by a heart. I knew that I would never put a heart next to a contact’s name in my phone. This girl must have added her own phone number to my phone. Power move.
When she came back to the room dressed in running shorts and a t-shirt, I knew I had made the correct decision in agreeing to eat breakfast with her. Hanna was my kind of girl. She smelled like vanilla, and she had long blonde hair, big blue eyes, a thin waist and a big, firm ass—I would have had her right there and then if my pecker didn’t feel like a peeled potato.
A thought occurred to me. Wait, I didn’t have any condoms in the room last night. Where did fuck did I cum? Shit! I hope it wasn’t inside her…
The thought petrified me with fear, and I think it showed because she turned to me and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I replied, “I’m just a little hung-over from last night. “
She laughed at this. “Well, if you’re not hungover there might be something wrong with you. We drank pretty hard after we left the party. You were having a pretty good time!”
“Yeah…” I started, “I don’t exactly remember what happened last night. Do you think you might be able to fill me in on some of the details?”
She smiled at me coquettishly. “You mean you don’t remember what we did last night?”
I looked down in shame. I felt my face get hot with embarrassment. She started laughing hysterically. “Well, you should definitely stay away from Facebook this morning. You’ve been tagged in more than a few pictures. Do you remember going downtown?”
“Oh my God. You really were drunk! I guess you did a good job of masking it. Yeah, we went downtown after the party. It must’ve been around 11 o’clock or so? Your pledge brother Parker came up with the idea.” Her face alternated between shock and delight.
“Oh, great. Gannon had the idea? Where did we end up going?”
“Oh, let’s see,” she said, tapping a perfectly manicured hand to her temple, “Rooftop, Blind Pig, Shakespeare’s, a few other places…I don’t really remember that much either, to be perfectly honest with you! Are you ready for breakfast?”
“Oh yeah,” I said, suddenly remembering that I was still in my underwear. I sat up on the bed and immediately felt a wave of nausea sweep over me. The contents of last night’s party were about to acquaint themselves with the hideous brown shag rug on the floor of my dorm room.
“Ohhh….” I groaned in pain. Hanna laughed and tossed me a pair of dirty Wranglers from the floor. The silver buckle on the belt hit me on the forehead, but I managed to stifle a cry.
“Quit your belly-achin’ and put some clothes on! They’re only serving breakfast downstairs for another 30 minutes! We need to move! I’ll let you finish getting dressed and I’ll meet you outside. I need to make a phone call anyway.”
I threw on the Wranglers and a pair of topsiders before buttoning up my fraternity PFG and putting on my sunglasses. I’m not sure what it is about Sunday mornings, but they are a bitch on the eyes. Hangovers have always made my eyes hypersensitive to light.
On the walk to the cafeteria, we were stopped by a group of blonde girls—they appeared to also be freshmen. They squealed when they saw me and my new…friend.
“HANNA!!!!” the shortest girl screamed at the top of her lungs, “Oh my God! How are you doing??” All four girls ran over and huddled around Hanna—whose name was finally confirmed—and alternated between hugging and screaming in her face.
She seemed to take it all in good stride. For about five minutes, to my total exclusion, she answered questions about her classes, her professors, and how her Christmas break had gone. According to my eavesdropping: well, okay, and “pretty good, I enjoyed seeing my parents.” After they were satisfied with her answers—and after screaming a few more times—the four girls locked arms and walked away toward the elevators.
“Sorry about that!” she said, looking over at me with big blue eyes, “Those are some of my sorority sisters. You may have met Kayla last night at the party…but I doubt you’d remember.” She started chuckling again with that hearty laugh.
“Yeah…anyway, ladies first!” I said, holding open the door to the cafeteria.
“Oh! Such a gentleman, are we?” she responded, curtsying dramatically before passing through the threshold.
Breakfast was almost over, so the selection was somewhat sparse. I grabbed a small box of Cocoa Crispies and a small carton of 2% milk. As I stood in line for check-out, I noticed a small basket containing a few apples and bananas. Thinking back to the previous night, I decided to grab two bananas and an apple as well.
I paid using my student ID and stood behind the Pakistani cashier waiting for Hanna to re-appear. She did so after a minute carrying two plates: one containing scrambled eggs, toast, and bacon, and the other holding biscuits and gravy. I set down my plate at the booth nearest to me and went over to help.
“Looks like you’ve got more than you can carry,” I said, immediately regretting opening my mouth, “let me help you.” She smiled and handed me the plate holding the biscuits and gravy. The thick, white cream was starting to drip over the edge of the yellow plate.
She paid for her two meals and set her food down on the table across from my plate. To my surprise, rather than sitting down and eating, she immediately said, “Hang on. One more thing,” and went back for something more. She came back about a minute later with two steaming cups of black coffee. She set one down in front of me.
“Thought you might need the pick-me-up! And what’s with the cereal?” she said, motioning toward my Cocoa Crispies judgmentally, “have you never been hungover before?”
She motioned to her two breakfast plates and urged me to pick one. “If you don’t sacrifice something greasy in tribute,” she insisted, “the hangover Gods will punish you severely.” I picked the biscuits and gravy.
I don’t know if Hanna made up that hangover food superstition. But I swear to God—I felt like a brand new person after a cup of coffee and a plate of biscuits. There were worse things in the World than waking up next to a woman like this.