Surviving the Sorority House

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“I love my sisters. I love my sisters. I love my sisters.”

This was the mantra I repeated over and over again as I cleaned up puke, unclogged the sink and quieted 2 a.m. screaming during my term as sorority house manager last year. It worked—most of the time.

As a liaison between the university and the sorority, it was my job to oversee all things concerning the house and the sisters living in it. The experience tested my limits and tolerance for the sisterhood, but I somehow survived and emerged still basking in the glow of sisterly love.

For any collegiette considering a year in the estrogen-overloaded sorority house, I share a few stories of how I survived near death by sisterhood.

The 13th House Girl

Even though there were only 12 of us in the house, there were a couple of stragglers who unofficially lived there, most infamously, the one we called “The 13th House Girl.” The 13th House Girl, let it be known, was male. Specifically, he was a good friend of one of the sisters living there, but he’d also had a brief romantic fling with another.

Sound like a recipe for disaster? You bet it was.

He was at the house almost every day, doing homework, having dinner or hanging out, treating the place like it was his home—and based on the smell of any guy’s dorm room, you can imagine what that meant for me as house manager. Worst of all, he frequented the upstairs portion of the house, much to the chagrin of the occasional sister walking out of the bathroom in a towel.

No matter how many hints we dropped, he never took the bait and realized how annoyed we all were with his presence. Even calling him The 13th House Girl to his face wasn’t enough to make him leave. In fact, we think he might have actually liked it.

My Sisters’ Keeper

When I applied to be house manager, I expected to be an older sister to the girls in the house, providing guidance, giving advice and being there when they needed to talk. Instead, I became more like their mother.

So who did they turn to when they didn’t feel well? I spent more time holding back hair over the toilet and cleaning up puke than I thought twelve girls could possibly produce. Since then, I’ve lost any gag reflex I once had, and I’m fairly certain I’m single-handedly responsible for keeping Lysol and Febreeze in business that year.

And just like Mom, I was the one who had to scold them for misbehaving. The 2 a.m. Tuesday night karaoke sessions, while all in good fun, had to be put to an end for the sisters with early classes. I’ve never gotten dirtier looks than when I shut down the party in the middle of Britney’s “Oops, I did it again.”

The Tornado of Sisterly Love

While some houses hire chefs and maids, our house was largely responsible for its own cleanliness, making my job as house manager double the fun. Our spacious great room instantly shrank when it was covered in sisters’ possessions – laptops, textbooks, sweatshirts, shoes, DVDs and an assortment of costume parts from our latest social events were constantly strewn across the house. It looked like something right out of Animal House.

It also didn’t matter that the house was less than a five-minute walk to two dining halls – some of the sisters insisted on cooking for themselves. By the end of the year, I was starting to learn the names of the firefighters who showed up when the house girls filled the kitchen with smoke for the hundredth time.

My personal favorite addition to the mess was Fabio, a mannequin one sister found abandoned in a department store parking lot. Typically dressed in a thong and dollar store sombrero, he became a sort of mascot that the girls liked to display in a prominent spot near a window. Try explaining that to the director of Greek Life.

sorority house girls portrait photographer

As a running joke with a fraternity, the house residents would take turns stealing bigger and more important objects from one another’s houses (Fabio was kidnapped several times, complete with ransom note), culminating with a plush sofa that appeared in our living room one day.

And then there were the little presents the sisters left for me. Once, I came home to find at least a cup’s worth of salt poured on the hallway floor, with a heart drawn in the center of the pile. Now that’s sisterly love.

The Belligerent Cleaning Lady

I wasn’t the only one who found the mess less than amusing. Melissa*, the university-employed woman who came to clean our house twice a week, was in charge of vacuuming and wiping down the kitchen and bathrooms, but when every surface was littered with belongings, there wasn’t much she could do.

Three weeks into the fall semester, we learned that Melissa had told girls in another sorority house that she “hated” us. Shocked and determined to make it up to her, we made an effort to be super friendly and do our best to clean up the place. We even apologized to her and gave her holiday cards to make peace.

But our poor relationship with the housecleaner wasn’t entirely one-sided. Every few days, we’d walk into the great room to find Melissa and a friend of hers lounging on our couches watching soaps – with no sisters in the room – and sometimes she’d even try to sell us things out of catalogues, unprofessional behavior that made us a bit uncomfortable.

One day, a sister came home to find an unusual number of clear garbage bags sitting on the back porch. One item caught her eye – a monogrammed travel bag that she thought she’d lost. When she opened the trash bag to take it out, she found several t-shirts and miscellaneous belongings, none of which their owners had thrown out.

To spite us, our housecleaner had decided to teach us a lesson in organization—by getting rid of the belongings she thought we didn’t need!

The Key to Survival

After dealing with all of that, sometimes I wonder what kept me going. I could have been bitter and burnt out, ready to ditch sorority life altogether, but as cheesy as it sounds, sisterly love really did keep me going.

When I broke down from stress, sisters held me while I cried. When I needed the occasional escape from the house, some of the older girls took me in as an unofficial roommate. Whenever I needed help, I could always count on a house girl to volunteer.

The house was in a state of constant chaos, but the house girls made it bearable. Though it took months of passive-aggressive glaring, the sister closest to the 13th House Girl took it upon herself to introduce him to the wonders of the library, dining hall and his own dorm room. The girls never did get the hang of quieting down on school nights, but I can’t say I didn’t join in midnight dance parties and YouTube marathons for an escape from mountains of homework. Every now and then, I’d come home to find the mountain of dishes gone and the kitchen spotless. It wasn’t often, but when some of the sisters went on cleaning sprees, they meant business, giving me just the relief I needed. And most of all, when we found out what Melissa had done, one of the sisters took over. She filed a formal complaint, wrote letters and made phone calls until Melissa was transferred to another facility. I didn’t have to lift a finger.

Living in a sorority house will always be a crazy experience, and there will always be unpleasant things to deal with. Though it was my job to take care of them, the house girls took care of me, too.

I mean it when I say it: I love my sisters.

*Name has been changed

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