by Mike Blanchard
Walking down the corridor on my way to class, I notice people covering their nose and others staring at me in disgust. I shoot them a glance as if to say, “What are you looking at?”
As I take my seat in the biology classroom, my buddy leans toward me and says, “Hey, Mike, umm… you smell like shit, dude.”
Ah—now I know what they meant.
Last night, I went to a pledge meeting at Delta Sigma Phi. It has been nearly three and half months since I became a pledge for this fraternity. The past months have been difficult on me, physically and emotionally, but I am no quitter. Pledging usually starts around 10:00 p.m. and ends about 3:00 a.m.; with class starting at 9:30 I do not have enough sleep to function throughout the day and the lack of sleep has taken a toll on my body. Most of pledging is a complete head game. The tasks challenge the groups to work as one to complete an objective as opposed to one person attempting the impossible alone, for example scaling a 15 foot wall without using rope.
I considered skipping the pledge meeting. I was exhausted. But in the back of my mind I knew that there were only two weeks left until I was accepted into the fraternity, invited to join something larger than myself --- to become a true brother.
Two weeks left, I thought. I can do this!
“It’s 10:01. Run!!!” a voice behind me shouted. “Hurry, we’re late line up… line up.”
The thirteen of us, wearing matching green shirts and bandanas, lined up, single-file, at the front door of the house. The green letters over the white door read ΔΣΦ, Greek for Delta Sigma Phi. As the door screeched open, my heart beat like a drum, my palms sweating. Brother Bossa stood in the doorway, his shaggy blonde hair combed to one side, wearing a white shirt with the fraternity’s letters on it., “Put on our blindfolds and come in.” he said.
Holding hands, the thirteen of us pledges, still blindfolded, navigated the stairway in the dark. The first time the pledge class was brought together we were strangers; now we were brothers, a family that worked as one to overcome any obstacle.
At the top of the staircase, we were herded into a room like cattle and pushed against the wall, and then a voice commanded us to take off our blindfolds.
The room was pitch black; I couldn’t even see my hand in front of me.
The sounds of evil laughter filled the room. The pledge beside me was breathing heavily. The anxiety of pledge night took over my body and my knees locked, making me stiff.
A switch flipped on, the black light buzzing as its filament warmed up.
The light flickered on and off, revealing a dark figure, about six feet tall with broad shoulders. His head was down. A hooded black cloak covered him from head to toe. Slowly, he lifted his head, pulling off his hood, revealing our pledge master, his yellow eyes glowing.
“Welcome to the night you all have been waiting for,” the pledge master said, in a deep, eerie tone that reminded me of something from a horror movie. “Without further ado, I give you—the Delta Apple.”
All at once, the dark room filled with light, the light illuminating the rest of the thirty-seven fraternity brothers, gathered before us, smirking. One of the brothers wheeled a cart into the center of the room. In the cart were eight huge onions. These were not your typical onions: These onions were the size of a softball and each contained a different “prize.” Some were covered in hot sauce; sardines had been inserted into the middle of others; to this day I do not know what was inside the rest of the delta apples.
The onions were distributed to the pledge class, along with big black trash bags. There was no need for an explanation. We knew exactly what the bags were for. My stomach was already in knots just from the look and smell of those disgusting onions.
The pledge master ordered us to bite into our onion. After taking our bite, he informed us, we were to pass the onion to the next pledge, and continue passing until all eight onions were entirely eaten. “Enjoy,” he said, a wicked grin on his face.
I watched my fellow pledges biting into their onions. Their cheeks filled with air, then they gagged, the gags followed by coughing. I closed my eyes, hoping to wake up in my bed, wishing this was all a bad dream.
When I opened my eyes, the kid next to me thrust a delta apple in my face. The onion was covered with bite marks; saliva dripped down its side. I gave the onion a shake to remove any loose pieces, and raised it to my mouth, pretending the crunching sound was the crunch of an apple. It wasn’t all that bad. It’s only an onion, I thought—until the onion hit my tongue.
I took another bite. Crunch, crunch. Squirt…Something thick and wet poured into my mouth. I clenched my teeth. The green solution dripped out of my mouth and onto the floor. Crap! Hand soap. My mouth was foaming. I took another small bite of the onion, mustering all my energy just to swallow, and handed the onion off to the next victim.
The room spun, my stomach curdling. Eeerrrrub. Oh man, I thought, I’m not feeling so hot. As I continued to eat the onion, I started to have an inner struggle with myself. Is eating this disgusting Delta Apple worth it? I couldn’t give up; it isn’t in my nature to give up. My buddy to my left was on his second onion. On his third bite, he bit into the head of the sardine. A piece of onion hung off its tail. He slurped it into his mouth.
I heard a trash bag open and someone behind us barfed. The sound of vomit started a chain reaction, then the entire pledge class was vomiting, the odor horrendous.
I didn’t know how much longer I could bare it. I swallowed hard. Somehow, I managed to refrain from getting sick. Right when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the kid behind me missed the trash bag and puked all over my buddy, who spilled his guts just as he was passing the next delta apple to me. This isn’t worth it, I thought. Throw your apple down and walk out the house. You don’t have to take this. But I couldn’t leave my fellow Pledge Brothers behind; it was my duty to stay and finish the task as one.
My forehead broke out in sweat, my heart beating uncontrollably. I took off my bandana, wiped the sweat from my forehead, and looked at the onion, then around the room. We had only a half an onion left. Thank God. I can finish this onion in three bites, I told myself, and dove in.
This time, my stomach had had enough.
I emptied myself into my trash bag and looked up, bleary-eyed, at the rest of pledge class. One of the brothers, probably noticing my distress, handed me a warm glass filled with yellow liquid and told me it would make me feel better. Maybe it was apple juice or some type of tea. I didn’t care what it was, anything to take away the taste of vomit and onions. Besides, half of the pledge class had their own drinks. Couldn’t be that bad, I figured, and threw my head back and sucked it down in a single gulp.
“Aw, tequila!” I drove my head back into the trash bag.
When I lifted my head again, I saw the pledge master in the center of the room. “You have completed tonight’s objective,” he said. “Now go home and take a shower.”
The brothers pointed at us and laughed, saying, “wait till tomorrow morning.”
Tomorrow morning? What did that mean? I was too exhausted to think. I headed outside with the rest of the pledge class, dragging my feet through the wet grass, and went back to my dorm.
I stood with my back to the showerhead, the warm water splashing off my back causing a stench. It never occurred to me that the odor of the onions would seep out through my pores. I hopped out of the shower, went to bed, and passed out until morning.
“Hey, Mike? You okay?”
I shake my head, snapping out of my daydream. “Yeah,” I say to my buddy. “I’m okay. Rough night last night. Sorry about the smell.”
The professor, standing in front of the class, instructs us to get our microscopes. “Today, class,” he says, “we are going to look at the cells of an onion.”
I look at the ceiling, closing my eyes, “You have got to be kidding me!”
Walking to the back of the room, I grab my microscope and an onion, still in a daze from last night. Under the microscope, I see the cells inside the onion, each cell entwined with the one next to it, making the onion whole. If the onion were to lose the bond of these cells it would lose the its form. It is the same for the bond of a fraternity: if the Brothers went astray the brotherhood would be broken, destroying everything that Delta Sigma Phi stands for. As member of Delta Sigma Phi, I am like the cell of an onion, part of a whole—a true Brother who has endured a range of challenges to become something larger than myself. I am Brother Blanchard.