“Sluts over dorks, sluts over dorks.”   Catherine listened to the chants of her sisters.  The majority overwhelmed the pleas of Katy, the girl sitting to Catherine’s right.   Katy was the only girl in the sorority from Longview, a tiny town east of Houston.  She’d been yelling for this girl from her hometown the past five minutes.  “She’s one of us,” Katy said.  “You just need to get to know her better.” Since the pledge up for consideration was from Longview, whatever Katy was saying now didn’t matter.  “Sluts over dorks,” always won out, the perfect excuse.  Katy began to cry now. She had lost the battle.  Catherine wasn’t surprised. 

The pledge Katy fought for came from a place too small to be worthwhile to Tri-Kap.  Longview didn’t have the money associated with Houston or the glamour attached to Dallas.  This girl, labeled “a dork,” had no family name to compensate for place, whereas Katy’s membership had been secured through her oil legacy and father’s political office; these extras made it possible for Tri-Kap to overlook Katy’s Longview roots.  The new pledge’s final mistake, however, had proven the problems usually associated with small town roots, appearing in the form of her poor designer knock-off – a little too short, a bit too tight.   Most of the girls in Tri-Kap wore the real label and could easily spot a fake.  So while the girl’s instincts were right, her bank account was off.  Everyone seemed to understand that this final mistake justified her elimination, all except Katy.

Catherine watched the girl’s small town image fall away, removed from the projector and tossed into the trash.  The sorority had kept Katy’s friend around this long only because Katy was best friends with the current president.   Everyone understood that keeping this girl from Longview was the only polite thing to do.  Still, Katy was furious now, cursing her sisters.  Katy took the rejection personally.  Catherine didn’t really care about any of it, nor did she feel bad for Katy.  It’s just the way things happened around here, she thought.  Now Catherine tried to ignore Katy and the other girls, leaning back against the basement wall, shutting her eyes. 

It was bid night in the top sorority house at Texas University, with three hours remaining, before the final list was due at 7 am.  As the slides of each remaining girl passed through the projector, the sisters repeated the pledge’s name, origin, and defining feature, adding their own additional commentary.  The defining features always were something like “head cheerleader,” “Fiji’s girlfriend,” “old family,” or “not Tri-Kap material,” “too much daddy,” “fake,” “sluts over dorks.”  Still, rush was almost over, Catherine thought, only a couple more hours. 

She’d considered sneaking upstairs to get some sleep like Katie, but decided it would be better to just endure until the end.  These girls took things so personally.  Sometimes she sort of felt sorry for them, in the same way one feels bad when looking at women with too much plastic surgery.  Their stretched faces, no longer human, make the observer uncomfortable; even though it’s something the women inflicted on themselves, the observer can’t help but feel some blame for their condition. 

Still, avoiding these awkward feelings, feelings of discomfort, was something Catherine had grown used to.   It was something she’d dealt with a lot.  Between her mother, her aunts, her mother’s friends, the country club women, and the Tri-Kaps, she’d learned to ignore them, ignoring herself.  It was a disappearing act.

Like now, sick of listening to Katy and the other girls, Catherine allowed herself to drift off.  Not to sleep, but to someplace else, quiet and blue and green, it was like a grassy sea, sky folding into earth.  This floating feeling, it was something she’d learned to activate to make the time pass more quickly, easily, numbing out the rest.  She’d learned this trick as a child, first following her asthma attacks, and again when her parents fought.  The first time she remembered actively disappearing, it occurred the night her father found his bottles gone.  Catherine’s mom had thrown his remaining bottles of chianti, merlot, and a case of shiraz over the balcony into the cliffs below their house.  

Catherine’s dad was a functional alcoholic.  His drinking never interfered with his work. If anything, her father’s work and alcoholism seemed intertwined.  Much like his fraternity, the guys in his financial firm often went out for drinks, as a way to catch up on business, to bond after work.  “It’s the same thing he did as a pledge trainer.  I always thought it was something he’d grow out of,” her mom said.  “I don’t know how his new wife puts up with it, though I suppose she probably joins him.”

“Where’s the wine,” he yelled.  “Where’s the fucking wine?  What the hell did you do with it,” her father said.  After storming through the kitchen, he began tearing through her mother’s closet, throwing out clothes and shoes across the floor.  “Stop.  Stop it now. Go look over the cliffs.”  Her mother said, “You can find it all there.” Without another word her father tore out to the balcony, silently returning to the kitchen.   

That’s when everything turned blue, swirling waves of green.  Catherine remembered in the waves, her father grabbing her mother by the arm, making her hold the trash can as he threw weeks’ worth of food she’d made, along with cookies, chips, and other stuff she’d bought from the pantry into the bag.  His cursing and insults continued this way for awhile.  Catherine didn’t remember exactly how long this lasted, just the blur of words floating, surfacing around her. 

“If I have a problem with drinking, you have one with eating,” her father said.  “I think the cliffs need some food to go with the wine.”

Catherine’s mother said nothing.  Nothing but her mother’s quiet, anonymous tears marked the response to her being jerked around the kitchen, called fat, disgusting, stupid, a complete waste.  Catherine knew it meant more to her.  She’d noticed her mother’s weight gain.  Though it was gradual, pounds added each year, the addage transformed her mother.  The angles of her face, her cheeks and chin, disappeared into a blur of softness.  Catherine noticed her mother also hugged her more gently, carefully making sure the weight remained hidden beneath the soft folds of flowing skirts and linen blouses.  Piles of her mother’s unopened diet books, stacks of low calorie dinners, bottles of appetite suppressants seemed to suggest her mother’s hopeless acknowledgment of something lost, outside her control.   

Catherine watched from the upstairs as her dad grabbed her mother, his fingers sinking into the soft flesh of her arm.  She watched as he forced her mother to fill the trash with cartons of cookies and bags of chips.  Her father threw two bags of food over the balcony, down into the canyon.

Before finally leaving them both, they watched her father crash around the house, knocking things off of shelves, throwing anything he could grab.  Her father seemed content in displacing the things he’d spent the last twenty years collecting, smashing his world into chaos, broken plates, cracked mirrors, a tangle of clothes and shoes.  After filling his suitcase, her father was gone. 

Catherine noticed Katy had disappeared.  She’d probably slipped away upstairs, gone on to sleep.  She figured no one probably cared too much about her vote anyway.  Katy was one of the girls kept in the back, serving up the lemonade trays during parties.  There were a handful of girls in Tri-Kap that worked with Katy, all large legacies with important fathers, all who resembled them a bit too closely.  The girls with “a little too much of daddy in ‘em,” was the phrase Tri-Kap used to describe its heavier girls, or those with less delicate features.  On parents weekend Catherine was always amazed by how much truth there was in that description.  Despite their teacup sized mothers, these girls like Katy had broad shoulders, strong noses, and high foreheads like their fathers.  They were also louder and pushier, though usually out voted. 

Catherine took the ballot to write in the names of future Tri-Kap pledges, but then decided not to bother.  She’d just throw her blank ballot sheet in the trash, since there was no way to tell who had or hadn’t voted.  Part of her didn’t care enough to write out fifty names, but another part refused to take responsibility for accepting the girls into the fate of her sorority.  Tomorrow, following bid day, the new Tri-Kap pledges would receive a bottle of champagne to celebrateAfter drinking the bottle, they’d be rounded up and dropped off at the Fiji house.  There was no way to get home, except for the girls to walk, so most ended up staying there.

It felt like an offering of sorts, this present of the Tri-Kap pledges to the older brothers of Fiji.  She didn’t know why they deserved it, the brothers or the girls.  Still, the purpose of that first night had worked.  Despite Tri-Kap’s chanting “sluts over dorks, sluts over dorks,” the sorority would never take a girl who’d already made a name for herself in high school.  And so Catherine had dated the guy who’d found her slumped across his bathroom at the Fiji house her freshman and sophomore years, primarily because she didn’t no what else to do.  Catherine figured that she’d used the relationship to justify that first night, though she continued to cheat on David, until he took a job in Dallas, which gave her the excuse needed to end it

The guy’s name was David, though it might as well have been Bobby, John, or Justin, which was why Catherine called him Omelette.  There was a little diner down the block from the Fiji house that had pictures of breakfast foods on the cover of the late night menu; there was a slice of bacon, an omelette, a piece of toast, some sausage and a bagel, all drawn with similar smirking faces. Catherine had noted the similarity one late night after the Fiji Jungle Party, when she and Katy were at the diner.  Katy said it looked like the foods were smirking, because they knew where they were going – straight to her ass.  This comment got equated with the Fiji boys, since they were always trying to ‘get some ass.’ That’s when Catherine noticed that the faces on the omelette and the piece of bacon looked just like David and his best friend Eli.  From then on, David and Eli forever became known as Omelette and Bacon, the stupid pictures of dancing food.

All were Fijis, all the same to her, all reminded her of her father.  The looked like mini-me CEOs, with their parted, combed hair, dockers, deck shoes, and polo shirts.  They all laughed in the same reserved manner, cocked their head slightly when greeting one another, drank too much, and stood about 5’10,” studying finance, accounting, or communications.  She wondered if David knew she’d been sleeping with her German professor.  Catherine figured David would have cared only if it interfered with his attention at parties, or became common knowledge amongst his Fiji brothers.  To save herself the trouble, really to save herself, Catherine always referred to her meetings as study sessions. 

She hadn’t started seeing Nathan until the end of her freshman year, after taking his accelerated German language course.  Catherine justified her affairs by what she learned, while they were together.  Nathan was able to hold her attention, able to keep her from disappearing completely.  She’d trained herself to disappear with David, laying there silent and still until he’d finished.  With Nathan, however, it was about her.  In the same way he’d refused to allow her disappearance in class, Nathan held her attention during sex.

Catherine decided only then what had happened with David was nothing.  Nathan had told her so, too.  He said she knew nothing about love, what it meant, or could mean.  And that, for it, the physical and the mental must come together.  Being passed out, unaware of what passed between her and David, like what passed between so many couples, was nothing but false obligation, empty and meaningless. She didn’t remember it happening the first time, her first time, only the crying after.  It was why she thought David had stayed around so long.  She’d tried to explain then, attempted to push him off, but she assumed now they were probably both too drunk.  Both of them felt guilty at what had been lost, or taken away, though neither was too sure who to blame.  Because David had begun calling her his girlfriend, Catherine assumed what passed between them had been normal.  She’d assumed it was just another strangely unpleasant part of college life, so she never questioned it until later.

Nathan forced the question, forced her to question herself, her own wants, desires.  He’d become her mentor, a father figure of sorts.  Because he was older, Nathan made her feel comfortable.  With him, he’d made her feel safe, safer than she could remember feeling since her father had gone.  And so for the last year with David, Catherine had lived two lives.  With David she remained silent, with Nathan she learned how speak, how to be heard.  Both seemed necessary, David more of a social requirement, while Nathan reminded her of something more.