Art by Melissa Clark,
Art by Melissa Clark,

Rite of Passage

by James Goldberg

Dedicated to the Lost Pledge Class of Pi Sigma Gamma

We were brothers. I still believe that—it wasn’t just a game we played; it wasn’t just a club. We made promises to each other, swore we would pass together through the crucibles of our dawning adulthood: heartbreaks and hormone-aches, crashed expectations and unexpected successes.

My brothers sacrificed their own grades to help me get an A in my O-chem class—then turned around and helped me find a new major when I realized I had no desire to become a doctor after all. My brothers held the party where I met my first college girlfriend, then helped me drown my sorrows the first time a girlfriend cheated on me.

From our first days as pledges, we learned to test and taste what our bodies were capable of. Together we pressed through new frontiers of pain. And beyond that pain, we found new rushes of pleasure. We knew how to play hard, yes—but only because we worked harder together than we ever had alone.

We were young. And we were free. And if we were sometimes like Icarus, then the flights were good enough to justify every fall.

At least, that’s what I thought we all believed. I never would have imagined that by graduation, I’d be the only one from my pledge class who stayed in the House.

It started with Michael—just after the accident. He was still shaken up, I guess, when Yumi invited him to her church. Now I wasn’t raised religious—my mom said all religion gave her as a kid was a chapelful of guilt, and that all she saw that kind of guilt do was keep women with men who didn’t deserve them—but I had nothing against a brother going to church with a girl he wanted badly enough. Doug, though, didn’t like people mixing church and school, so of course he had to say, “Mike doesn’t need Jesus. A Mercedes just died for his sins!”

We should have known something was up when Michael didn’t even give a pity laugh and got all quiet instead. But we genuinely thought he was only embarrassed because Yumi was there. Even after the two suits showed up at the House the next week, Tim still thought he was in it for her, but the rest of us knew better, because we saw the way he listened to them.

What were you looking for? I asked him later. Did you get hungry for God overnight when you drove into that ditch?

“I didn’t know yet that my body was a temple,” he said. “But for a long time, I’d known my spirit didn’t feel quite right in it.”

Luis was next. He started out mad that Michael kept ditching us for his church stuff, but before long he was following him Wednesday evenings to the church. There were some guys at the LDS Institute who were practically grandmasters of foosball, Luis said, and you could learn a lot from watching them.

But we knew he’d been watching a lot more than foosball when he invited the suits back. And we knew things were serious for him, too, when he stopped kicking Doug out of their room every other weekend.

Was it worth it? I asked Luis the next fall. Did getting baptized do that much to boost your game?

I thought he might get annoyed, but he just laughed. “Some weak things are becoming strong to me,” he said.

That spring, a few of us from the House went down to Panama City Beach for break because an alumnus had just bought property there and wanted us to come check it out. The sun was good and the water was so close to transparent that sometimes a nearby swimmer would look like she was flying in a dream. And we met so many friendly people there, we decided to skip classes and stay for an extra week.

By the time we got back, Tim and Skyler were also ready to take the plunge into the Latter-day faith. Why do you want to be Mormon? I asked the two of them one night. What makes you think getting religion will be worth giving up so much sex?

“Love,” said Tim. “It sounds cheesy, I know, but my whole life changed when I started to think about what love should mean.”

“And who’s giving up?” said Skyler. “I’m pretty sure I’ll have more sex in the long term. You watch old Mormon guys sometime. Just listen to the way their voices change when they talk about their wives.”

By senior year, it was just Doug and me left from our pledge class. I mean, the others were still technically brothers, but they weren’t really active in Greek life anymore. Did I miss them? Yes. Did I feel a little betrayed by them? Absolutely. I mean, I realize they had made too many promises to keep, but did the promises they made with me have to be the ones they decided to slack off on?

Can you blame me for resenting them a little? And can you blame me for feeling so blindsided when Doug—who I had only recently helped wean off designer drugs—went out and got himself hooked on the Book of Mormon?

It took me three years to forgive him. Took three years before I was ready to track him down, and go out with him for no drinks, and ask him the question I’d asked the others.

We were brothers, I said. We were there for each other, learning together, building memories to last a lifetime. Why wasn’t that enough?

“It wasn’t you,” Doug said. “I wasn’t trying to let you down. I just needed more than a fraternity can give.”

What did you need? I asked him. Why’d you all go?

And he tugged at his ring, then he looked up at me. “Pi Sig taught me how to be a guy,” he said, “but the Mormons showed me how to be a man.”

 

James Goldberg teaches at BYU, blogs at Mormon Midrashim, and spends as much of his time as possible at home with his wife and kids.

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