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There are fraternities who initiate their pledges in November nowadays, and hey, that’s just great. But most of us post-grad guys had to do it the old-fashioned way (yes, this is one of those “you have it easier than I did” posts). Sixteen weeks of pledgeship, followed by one week of pure, shit-your-pants, want-to-call-your-mommy-but-you-can’t-because-we-took-away-your-cell-phone, horror.
I did it, your dad did it five times worse than that, and guess what, your grandpa is lucky to be alive because he did it.
Hell Week and initiation are rites of passage, one last test to make sure that you are worthy of campus legend status. As a pledge you have been broken down, built back up and now once again torn back down, harder and faster than before, during the worst five to seven days of your life…or until the actives get bored of turning the fratcastle into Gitmo North.
But Hell Week is it, the final test. It’s the par five, nasty dogleg, giant water hazard on the 18th hole, and you’re a birdie away from breaking par. As a pledge you’ve sacrificed so much to get here, and now it’s time to put up with one last big-dicked mind fuck.
Get ready for a week of nearly sleepless nights, countless pushups, wall sits, Greek alphabets and active information tests than you can handle. This is my Hell Week story, it is hands down what I consider to be one of the worst weeks of my life. But looking back I also believe that it was necessary to EARN what I had coming to me in the next four years of my life.
Day 1, 5pm- Dad drops me off at the fratcastle after a long, well-earned holiday break. A break that was less from school and more from perhaps the most taxing and mind-numbing 16 weeks of my life. I arrived and greeted my pledge brothers with hugs and handshakes. The brothers informed us that Hell Week didn’t start until the next night and encouraged us to take the night off and drink with our pledge class. We did as instructed. 30 minutes later, blackout ensued. That was the last I remembered of my freedom.
Day 2, 6am(?)- I awake to the fire alarm going off. There was something at my feet. Budweiser cans. Shit, I quickly figured out I was in the basement. There was no one else around. I was still fully dressed from the night before and had a mean case of the Bud mud begging to find the presumably still clean lady’s room toilet. Suddenly I could hear shouting. Then more noise, it sounded like an army was coming down the stairs into the basement. “On the wall, now!” shouted my pledge trainer. Oh fuck.
I saw all 29 of my fellow pledge brothers and they looked like hell. I wondered what time it was. I looked out the window, the sun wasn’t even up yet. I asked if anyone knew the time. “Six am?” one of my pledge brothers guessed, as he stood there shirtless with only jeans on. “Jesus” said another. I hadn’t even been asleep for three hours and was very much still drunk. Looking back it’s a miracle I even remember the moment, although I don’t know how I could ever forget. Finally, we were all lined up on the wall. Directly in front of me were four sophomores, three juniors, six seniors and half of the fraternity’s executive board. All of them were dressed in suits and ties.
“Gentlemen…welcome to Hell Week.”
The rules came out of their mouths like they were prison guards.
Brother Michael spoke first:
“Rule number one of hell week: you will eat twice a day,” he said, revealing a large pallet of generic canned ravioli.
“Rule number two: you speak when spoken to by an active brother of the house. Any responses to said active brother must be spoken in the third person.”
“Rule number three: you no longer have a name. You will be numbered off and will be referred to by your number.” This time, he threw four packs of xxx-large v-neck undershirts at the wall.
“You will wear these shirts through the remainder of hell week.”
“Rule number four: any time you see an active brother in the house, you will go to the nearest wall in the room and put your head on the wall until said brother acknowledges your presence. If he does not, your head will remain on the wall.”
“Rule number five: you will be broken up into five teams of six pledges and perform your tasks in those teams.”
“Rule number six: no showering. You are permitted to brush your teeth.”
“Rule number seven: no cell phones. Text your parents the house phone number and turn in your phones to us. If an emergency happens or you receive an important message, you will be notified.”
“Finally, rule number eight: you cannot sleep in your own bed and your sleeping quarters will be assigned nightly. Break any of these rules, you will be sent home and be given neophyte status for the spring semester. Gentlemen, welcome to Hell Week.”
After he spoke all hell broke loose. Brothers violently turned over tables that had what was supposed to be our breakfast on them. Eggs, bacon, sausage, syrup and orange juice flew everywhere. One brother brought out a pallet with five cans of paint on it and dumped it in the middle of the floor. The sun hadn’t even come up yet.
We didn’t finish cleaning the basement until 9pm that night.
Day 2, 9pm- After our second meal/can of spaghetti of the day, the brothers left the house and went to the bars. This was around 10pm. That left us with the house managers and a few members of exec board. We spent a few hours cleaning, sober driving and doing basic detail stuff to the house. Around 2am, the beast had re-awakened.
The brothers had returned to the house, reeking of whisky, Jager and rumpies. “On the wall!” they all shouted. Empty beer cans were thrown at our heads, we did ‘bows and toes on the floor while actives dumped bran flakes on us. Bran flakes don’t sound like much, but when they get broken up under your elbows, they might as well be shards of glass. The pain was almost unbearable, but I remember, despite their extreme intoxication, none of the brothers ever crossed the line. It was obvious that this is how it had been done for years. There was a mystique about Hell Week that was respected by the brothers so much that they didn’t dare get physically harmful. But don’t get me wrong, it scared the shit out of me.
The hazing ended and we were left with our pledge trainer in the basement. He started giving us the sleeping assignments for each six-man team:
Area 1- The attic: Wood floors, sparse heat, likely haunted and smelled like piss.
Area 2- The Annex bathroom: Our house was in an L-shape and the annex housed four, four-man suites with one bathroom and two toilets, two urinals and two showers. It was about 15 feet by 8 feet, smelled horrible and was always the dirtiest place in the house.
Area 3- The Study: Carpet, leather chairs and couches. Might as well have been The Hilton.
Area 4- The Shack: The Shack was a two man room with no windows and was usually reserved for the two most hated brothers in the house. Fitting six guys in there was nearly impossible.
Area 5- The Kitchen: A standard fraternity kitchen. Greasy floors, cold, awful.
Area 6- The Supply Closet: A miracle no one died from paint fumes.
Day 3, 8am- After two or three hours of sleep, we were gently awakened by one of our house managers. I distinctly remember he walked into each room and said, “Wake up, time to work.”
Day three wasn’t filled with hazing. We pretty much renovated the entire house. We installed fresh drywall for the spring pledges to someday replace, painted the hallways and replaced a few broken urinals. The day went about as normal as you could have asked for, considering, but when the sun went down, it all started up again.
Day 4, 7:00am- It was about this time when the days rolled into one another. I don’t even remember the conversations I had, there wasn’t much to talk about anyway, only things to do. But I was there with my pledge brothers, and with their company was determined to stay strong. We started to realize about halfway through the day that the more we put up with Hell Week, the less we were fucked with.
Day 5, 2:30am- The brothers were back from the bars again. More pushups. More wall sits. More Greek alphabets, founding principles and general orders, etc.
Day 5, 4:30am- After about 700 pushups in two hours, a brother stepped forward and began to insult the pledges. These were not standard, “fuck you” insults. They were things you would never want your mother to hear about you under any circumstance. He instructed us to get on the ground. “200 pushups. Motto in Greek every time you go down.” We started the pushups, exhaustion made them nearly impossible. Guys started to puke everywhere. It was the most disgusting thing I had ever seen. Around the 40th pushup, I started to mutter “fuck you” every time I went down. With each pushup, the “fuck you” got louder. Soon, my entire pledge class shouted a chorus of “FUCK YOU” with every pushup. We saw the smile grow on his and all of the other brothers’ faces. They weren’t sinister smiles, they were smiles of pride.
“Go to bed.”
Day 5, 8am- We woke up to pots and pans banging in our faces. Some guy had a weed whacker whirling around in my face. More hazing. More “fuck yous.”
Day 5, 12pm- We were finally allowed out of the house. The brothers let us shower, change into normal clothes and go get a good meal. It was incredible. All 29 of us went to a Chinese buffet and ate like kings. I remember I looked around and could see nothing but happy faces. We knew the end was close. We hadn’t been broken, almost, but we survived. We headed back to the house and changed back into our oversized, filthy, soiled, v-neck t-shirts for what was sure to be the worst night of our lives.
Day 5, 4pm-The president and the rest of executive board had returned to the house for what was likely to be our last night of Hell Week.
Day 5, 7pm- We were called into the basement. “Is this it? Are we finally done?” The exhaustion was visible at this point. Our faces were dirty from yet another day of doing work and getting worked. The basement was clean…too clean. Sitting in the middle of the basement were five of our dinner tables, with six 300-page notebooks on each table. The president of the fraternity spoke. He and the brothers were dressed in our house’s ceremonial robes, and the tables were lit by candles.
“Gentlemen. Your final task is the brother test. Over your pledge semester, we’ve had you interview the active brothers who live in the house. Now, you must write every brother’s information in alphabetical order. If one of you get any piece of information wrong, you all must start over.”
We went to work for hours. Papers were torn up one after another. By midnight, the floor was covered in paper and I couldn’t even feel the pain in my writing hand. More paper torn up.
Day 6, 2am- Brothers streamed into the house. Seniors, juniors and other out-of-house brothers came down to the basement.
Day 6, 5:30am- By this time, the basement was full of actives, they all helped us along. “Stick with it.” “You know the answers.” The mental strain of writing the same thing over and over had gotten to some of us. It was obvious several guys were on the verge of tears. It felt like we were in a Kubrick movie.
Day 6, 7am- The writing stopped. Silence. Exec members went table to table and checked each page. Thumbs up, thumbs up, thumbs up. Finally, on the 29th test, the final thumb went up. The president spoke:
“On the wall.”
We were in shock. “Now what? Are we done?” You could see desperation on almost every face.
“Gentlemen…welcome to (insert my fraternity’s name here)”
It was like we had hit a walk off home run to win the World Series and nailed the hottest sorority queen in Greek Town. It was pure elation. The basement erupted in cheers. I hugged each and every one of my pledge brothers. Four months ago, we were strangers and now we were bonded for life. Brothers in fraternity, forever.
Day 6, 8am-8pm- The best sleep of my life.
Day 6, 10pm- My pledge class congregated in the brother room for the first time ever. Ten cases of Natty on the bar and we raised our cans. I remember our pledge class president said “To the best time we’ll never want to do again.”
That’s what most GDIs can’t understand. Pledgeship bonds you for life, makes you a better man and helps you to appreciate the things you earn in life.
Two weeks later, I sat in my tailored Brooks Brothers suit in a hall on campus as our president called our names off, one by one and welcomed us into the best 3 1/2 years of our life.