As soon as we hit campus freshman year, Kennedy had pledged his father’s fraternity. Despite my boyfriend’s need for cliquish affiliation, I’d never shared that aspiration. He didn’t seem to mind when I said I preferred not to rush any sororities, as long as I supported his future-politician need for brotherhood. He told me once he sort of liked that I was a GDI girlfriend.
“A GDI? What’s that?”
He’d laughed and said, “It means you’re goddamned independent.”
When he walked out of my room almost three weeks ago, it hadn’t occurred to me that he was taking my carefully cultivated social circle with him. Minus my relationship with Kennedy, I had no automatic invitation to Greek parties or events, though Chaz and Erin could invite me to some stuff since I fell under the heading of acceptable things to bring to any party: alcohol and girls.
Awesome. I’d gone from an independent girlfriend to party paraphernalia.
Running into clusters of my former friends was uncomfortable at best. Just outside the main library, tables of frat boys sold coffee, juice and pastries every morning for a week to raise money for leadership training. Armed with portable grills, Tri-Delts camped out in tents on their lawn to showcase the plight of the homeless. (I suggested to Erin that most homeless people are unlikely to own portable Coleman grills and REI camping gear, and she snorted and said, “Yeah, I pointed that out. My warning fell on deaf ears.”)
I couldn’t leave my dorm and walk in any direction without passing people with whom I’d had uncomplicated relationships just days before. Now their eyes shifted away when I walked by, though some still smiled or waved before pretending to be deep in conversation with someone else. Even fewer called out, “Hi, Jackie.” I didn’t tell them I was no longer using that name.
At first, Erin insisted that the snubs were in my head, but after two weeks, she reluctantly concurred. “People feel the need to choose sides when a relationship splits—it’s human nature,” she said, her second-year psych classes kicking in. “Still. Cowards.” I appreciated that she was willing to ignore her detached analysis in support of me.
It didn’t surprise me that practically everyone chose Kennedy. He was one of them, after all. He was the outgoing, charming, future world leader. I was the quiet, cute but somewhat odd girlfriend… After the breakup, I became just a non-Greek undergrad—to everyone but Erin.
Tuesday, we passed the reigning campus power-couple—Katie was president of Erin’s sorority and D.J. was vice president of Kennedy’s fraternity. “Hi, Erin! Great outfit,” Katie said, as though I wasn’t there. D.J. tipped his chin and smiled at Erin, his eyes flicking over me, but he didn’t acknowledge my existence any more than his girlfriend had.
“Thanks!” Erin responded. “Fuckheads,” she muttered right after, linking her arm through mine.
When I’d moved into my dorm room over a year ago, I’d been horrified to find myself with a roommate who embodied the sorority girl stereotype. Erin had already claimed the bed nearest the window. Above her headboard, she’d fastened shiny blue and gold high school pom-poms to a huge cutout spelling “ERIN” which was coated in gold glitter. Surrounding the giant gilded letters were posters covered in photos of cheerleader events and homecomings with hulking football players.
As I stood gaping at her light-reflective side of our tiny room, she’d bounced through the door. “Oh, hi! You must be Jacqueline! I’m Erin!”
Diplomatically, I hadn’t voiced the no shit comment that popped into my head.
“Since you weren’t here, I chose a bed—I hope you don’t mind! I’m almost done unpacking, so I can help you.” Wearing a university T-shirt that almost exactly matched her upswept coppery hair, she picked up my heaviest bag and swung it onto the bed. “I attached a whiteboard to the door so we can leave messages to each other—my mom’s idea, actually, but it sounded like a usable suggestion, don’t you think?”
I blinked at her, mumbling, “Uh-huh,” as she unzipped my bag and started removing the belongings I’d brought from home. There had to be some mistake. I’d filled out a lengthy roommate attribute preference sheet, and this girl appeared to have not one of those desired qualities. I’d basically described myself: a quiet, studious bookworm who would go to bed at a decent hour. A non-partier who wouldn’t bring a parade of boys through our room, or make it the floor headquarters for beer pong.
“It’s Jackie, actually,” I’d said to her.
“Jackie—so cute! I do like Jacqueline, though, I have to admit. So classy. You’re lucky, you can choose! I’m sort of stuck with Erin. Good thing I like it, huh? Okay, Jackie, where should we hang this poster of—who is this?”
I’d glanced at the poster in her hands—the likeness of one of my favorite singers, who also played the upright bass. “Esperanza Spalding.”
“Never heard of her. But she’s cute!” She’d grabbed a handful of tacks and hopped up on my bed to press the poster against the wall. “How ‘bout here?”
Erin and I had come a long way in fifteen months.
Arriving a minute before econ began Wednesday morning, the last thing I expected to see was Kennedy, leaning on the wall outside the classroom, exchanging phone numbers with a Zeta pledge. Giggling after snapping a picture of herself, she handed his phone back. He did the same, grinning down at her.
He would never smile at me like that again.