Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

The stairway glared at Oliver, daring him. “Come on,” it challenged. “Climb me. Do it.” Oliver looked away, his frightened heart beating like a university marching band drum. He turned, to leave and then glanced back at the stairs. Its look had softened and had become seductive.

Oliver swallowed with anxious confusion, faced the stairs again, and peeked over his shoulders for witnesses. He saw none. The Barton State University sophomore toed the first step of Waller Hall’s third floor staircase. Where the hell does this go? he thought. There is no fourth floor. He rose onto the step and gazed up the nine remaining stairs to the landing where they continued, switching back over his right shoulder. The campus’ psychology and sociology building whispered in hushed silence as a hall clock hanging behind Oliver read 9:43 p.m. He advanced another step. Why have I never seen this staircase before? the 19-year-old psych major wondered. I’ve been in this building a million times.

Oliver ran up the remaining eight stairs to the landing and turned. He stepped to the side, out of sight from the floor below. Peering up the dimly lit stairway he saw a wall-mounted iron ladder. Curious, he dashed up the steps and, as he neared the top, a trapdoor over the ladder came into view.  That’s how you get onto the roof, he surmised and began to turn back down the steps. But halfway around, Oliver noticed a heavy steel double-door to his right. Probably a storage room. BSU was scrawled on one door in thick black marking pen. On the other door, in bold red paint were the Greek letters ΘΛΟ. Can I not escape the fucking Theta House? he wondered with frustration and a laugh. A windy howl escaped through the crack between the two doors. Oliver took a step down.

“Oliver,” the wind called. The young man stopped. “Oliver.” He faced the door.

“Oliver,” the wind repeated.  This time, however, the wind’s voice had a familiarity.

“What the fuck?” Oliver said just loud enough for the door to hear. He stepped back to the landing and inched his way closer, feeling the wind in his hair, and noticing a sliver of light oozing between the portal’s halves. He pressed his face against the steel and tried peering inside. He could see nothing. Oliver turned away from the door and took a tentative step toward the stairs.

“Oliver,” the wind called again, its voice insistent and sounding even more familiar.

Louder, Oliver thought. I can’t hear you well enough to place—

“Come in,” the voice interrupted.

“Come in? The door’s locked.”

“Is it?”

“Well, I’d think it would be. It should be.” Oliver closed his eyes, grabbed the door knob on the right, the half with the red Theta Lambda Omicron, and turned it. The door opened. “What the fuck?” he repeated louder and stepped inside.

A large storage area filled with outdated desks and office furniture faced him, brushed in muted golden light from a bulb in a distant corner. Shadows hung across the room like an extended tattered black vampire cape. A young woman’s giggles wafted through the air, creaking like haunted house door hinges. “I’m glad you figured out how to get in,” the windy voice greeted Oliver. “We’re back here.”

Following the spooky light, unnerving giggles, and haunting voice, Oliver inched his way through the warehouse, sidestepping furniture, and aimed for the corner where he found a small room with a dim light over the door. The boss’ office? Oliver thought. The room had a small window from which more moody light escaped. The door to the room was ajar.

Oliver stepped with trepidation to the door, nudging it open with a shaky hand. “What the fuck?” he gasped again, as he recognized the Theta House’s third floor private date room. How can that room be here? he asked with mystified confusion. “What the fuck?” he uttered again, as the phrase became the apparent mantra of the evening. The female’s ghoulish laughter became louder and was joined by a male’s. “We’re over here,” the man announced through his chuckles.

Familiar with the layout of the room, Oliver peeked around the open door toward the simple, decades-old double-bed. A naked college-age man stood at the foot of the bed, bathed in ghostly light. A smiling, stunning co-ed sat on it wrapped in a white sheet exposing her pale shoulders, décolletage, and cleavage.

“How are you, Ollie?”

“Fine.” He did not sound convincing. “Ollie? Why’d you call me that? No one calls me that anym…” Oliver peered at the man’s face, avoiding his exposed genitalia. He fell back a wobbly step. “OMG! Now I know why the voice sounded familiar. But…”

“This doesn’t make sense. Right? How could this be?”

“Yes, Grandpa. How could this be?” Oliver Braithwaite Smythe III continued staring with disbelief at the naked young man’s face. “OMG,” he said looking past his college-age grandfather. “Jeez! That’s Gram!”

“My goodness, Ollie,” the ethereal co-ed said. “You’ve become so handsome. But why wouldn’t you? You’re a Smythe.” She smiled with familial pride.

Befuddled by the unbelievable scene, Oliver could not acknowledge his young grandmother’s compliment. He focused on his grandfather again and tried to speak. But his words sputtered. “But how…why…no, how…”

“Well, Ollie, let’s start with the ‘why.’ I’m here because you’ve done something I don’t approve of, something I don’t understand. So I came to ask you why. Why did you quit the Theta House?”

“Oh, Christ, Grandpa. I knew you’d be mad if you were still here. But you’re not here. Only you are. It doesn’t make sense. You and Gram died in your plane almost a decade ago and—”

“I’m not mad. Just curious, son. I was one of the founders of this Theta chapter. You know that. Your father was president. I’ve served as national director. We’re a Theta family. We bleed Theta. And you want to quit?”

Oliver III looked down at his shoes and began to shake. His knees became wobblier than they had been when he stumbled backward. Shock was settling in. He looked to his left for the worn, stained brown leather chair that had been there for decades and teetered toward it. He plopped into the chair like dead weight.

“It’s not like it used to be, Grandpa. It’s not like 1965.” Oliver spoke weakly. “Everyone binge drinks. Guys in the house rape girls and think it is funny. Some have severe drug problems, Grandpa. And we have two Black guys, two Jews, a Vietnamese, and a guy who proudly says he is gay and some of the brothers are making life really hard for him.” He sighed as his grandfather sat down on the end of the bed. “It isn’t the house you founded. It isn’t the house that Dad was in.” Oliver shook his head. “I can’t stay there anymore and act like none of that is happening.”

A moment passed before the young older Oliver spoke. “I knew fraternities had changed, were changing, before I died, Ollie. I knew some of the changes were problematic. But I had hoped my fraternity, my chapter, had avoided the worst case scenarios, the stories we heard on the news. I had hoped this house was better than that. I didn’t realize, however, it wasn’t.” He paused, pulled a flannel blanket over his crotch, and looked at his grandson. “But do you have to quit, Ollie? Maybe you can be the change agent.”

“No. I’ve tried.” Oliver looked at his shoes again. “I have to move on, Grandpa. I hate to because I know how much the house meant to you and Dad, but I have to.”

“Well, if there is no other solution, then that is what you have to do. It’s OK, Ollie.”

His grandfather’s approval surprised Oliver. He looked up

Oliver’s grandfather had disappeared as had Gram and the entire room. Oliver was standing in front of the heavy steel door, staring at the shocking red Greek letters.  Startled, frightened, he looked around the landing, spun toward the stairs, and dashed down them to the third floor. The clock hanging over the hall read 9:47. He raced down two more flights of stairs and out the building’s main door into the refreshing night air. Without stopping to gather himself or catch his breath, Oliver tore across the campus toward the small apartment he had moved into the prior weekend, the apartment belonging to fellow psychology major Kris Olswang.

At 9:52 the next night, Oliver again found himself staring at the heavy steel door and its red fraternal tagging. He closed his eyes and reached for the door knob. Once more, Oliver found himself in the storeroom among piles and aisles of old, out-dated, deteriorated furniture. The light in the corner of the large room lured him as it had the night before and he rushed toward it. He found himself facing the doorway of what he had thought the previous night was an office. Again, it was ajar. He stepped into the eerily lit room and realized that, while the room still resembled the Theta House’s private date room, it was different. The light was brighter, the furnishings more modern. He was met by a naked young stranger.

“Who are you?” Oliver asked.

“Joaquin Mendoza, Oliver.”

Surprised the stranger knew him, Oliver asked, “How do you know my name?” As he asked the question, a male cough came from his left. Oliver gazed toward the bed, now a California King, where another young man sat, propped up against two pillows and a shiny black lacquered wooden headboard.  A lavender sheet covered his lower half.

“That’s Nayte.”

“Fine,” Oliver replied with disinterest and frustration. “But why am I here and who are you, Joaquin?”

“I’m the president of the house now and Nayte is vice–president. But it isn’t the Theta house anymore. It’s a 100% gay house now.”

“Anymore? A gay house? A gay fraternity?”

“Yes. Eight years ago you were the first Theta to complain the house was no longer a safe place for students and not a welcoming place for openly gay frat brothers like yourself. You took a lot of shit for it and quit. But right after you left, a girl was gang-raped and a drunk freshman pledge died from a third-story fall at a house party, proving your charges, and the fraternity was shut down. We took the property over a few years ago. It is the Alpha Chapter of Lambda Lambda Lambda, founded as a safe place for gay guys who want to experience fraternity life. You helped make that possible. We owe you a ton of gratitude. You were the change agent.”

Confusion washed over Oliver’s face. “Eight years ago? You mean you’re from—”

“The future? Yes. It is 2017.”

“Two thousand seventeen?” Oliver repeated with confusion. It took a moment, but a smile of satisfaction crossed his face. “A gay frat? Because of what I did. What the fuck!” he giggled with pride, turned, and walked toward the heavy steel door and the present.

“Wait!” Nayte called from the bed. “We have a problem.”

Oliver spun around and faced Joaquin again. The house president spoke. “Two straight guys have asked if they can join. They say they like our values. We’re torn about what to do.”

“You can’t deny them. That would be discrimination.”

“We know. We just wanted to get your input, wanted to make sure it was OK with you.”

Oliver nodded.

Joaquin stepped forward. “It’s really awesome meeting you,” he said as he reached to shake Oliver’s hand. But, as their hands touched, Joaquin, Nayte, and the room disappeared. Oliver found himself staring at the heavy steel door again. The bold red ΘΛΟ were gone. Instead, three proud lavender lambdas adorned the door.

“What the fuck!” spat Oliver with mystified amusement. He turned, skipped down the stairs, out the door, and into the warm night air and the future.

2 thoughts on “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

  1. I recall that back in the day you were in a frat house on 17th. To pull it all together in this time machine view is awesome. It really could all be true as to what happened once you were there. Hats off to you!


    1. “It really could all be true,” but it isn’t. My house, although founded as a Jewish frat had Christian, African-American, and Japanese members while I was there. There were a few other gay members, but because of the times, we all were closeted. I wasn’t a “change agent.”


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