Friday, February 15, 2013

May all your hell weeks...

"In this world we walk on the roof of hell gazing at the flowers." — Kobayashi Issa
Eleven years ago today was one of the strangest and most painful days of my life. My now-husband's father had passed away the day before and I spent that Friday morning watching the Chief Engineer bury his father. I got back to school where I was a freshman at a women's college and this was the middle of Hell Week -- a parody of sorority rush week, of sorts. Our college didn't have sororities and hazing wasn't acceptable so we had to make fun of it, of course. As freshman we got to pick a "heller," a sophomore friend who would give us silly stunts to do. It was a rite of passage. And it was insane. And on that day I was not. in. the. mood.

Among other things, I had to run into my heller's Urban Studies class in the middle of lecture and scream "The suburbia's coming to get me and I'm moving to Canada!!" and then run out. In my German class I was to speak only Spanish. A friend of mine was supposed to provide Mystery Science Theater 3000-style commentary for Spanish class, punctuating her statements by throwing baby carrots when the spirit moved her (extra points for hitting the prof.) My best friend sat in lecture with a bottle of vodka that was actually filled with water, and periodically would take a few slugs. My geology prof was also in his first year at our school, so he got helled too, and had to give lecture on a skateboard.

Multiply these antics by 300 students and life on campus gets a little crazy during Hell Week.

The irony of all of this is that it's one gigantic conspiracy. Hell Week starts on a Wednesday and  runs until the following Tuesday. Friday night the seniors gather up all of the frosh and read "bedtime stories" to them (everything from Green Eggs and Ham to the snippets of the Kama Sutra) and then the frosh do group calisthenics in preparation for the annual Saturday 5:15 AM 3k run from our college to a the nearby duck pond. Last one to the pond gets thrown in. It's quite the party, actually.

Most of us were pretty freaked out abut the duck pond run. After all, it's February in PA and effing cold, and the duck pond is frequented by swarms of geese. But when it's all over at the end of the week you get led into a room full of flowers and handmade cards from all the upperclasswomen in your dorm. Only you don't know it's coming so it's a great surprise. You've spent the whole week thinking that it's all about the upperclasswomen enjoying making your life "hell," and then you find out it's really about them having a chance to surprise you with some unforgettable shows of affection in the form of flowers and handmade cards. The week ends with flowers.

I still have the cards in a shoebox in, ironically, that old childhood bedroom in my parents' place. I realized only today that it's still there. Those cards mean a lot to every woman who went to my school. We proudly displayed them outside our doors for the entire second half of the year. The upperclasswomen each year spend a lot of time on them, and they're a way of showing you that you may not be with your family anymore but now your friends and classmates are your family and they really do care and want you to be happy, and that anything hellish will end in beauty if you let it.

I managed to leave the cards at my parents' place when I moved out in a hurry. How important could they have been? They're just an object. And I forgot about them. But did I really forget about them?

No. Today on Facebook all of my college friends were changing their profile pictures to flowers, we were sending each other messages and quotes about flowers, and wishing each other Happy Hell Week like we were back in college. We do this every year for Hell Week, sending each other real and virtual gifts, and quotes about flowers.

It's just another reminder that the stuff isn't important.

My good friend Marta was roommates with Holland freshman year during Hell Week and posted this beautiful memory of her:

"Sometime in February 2002 an email was sent to the sophomores of our dorm that room #321 will categorically NOT participate in the Hell Week. Room #321 was Holland and me. It was against our personal freedom and we were not going to be prisoners of the system and surrender our lives to the madmen (or women). Holland ranted about the oppressions of social ideologies while I in complete agreement nodded and chain smoked in the walkway Arch, and then just when we thought we got away with it.. it started being awesome. And now Holland passed away the week of Hell Week, and I feel like so many memories of my freshman year are coming back, and at the same time, they're gone for ever. 11 years is a really short time, it is too soon in so many ways. Only half of the rebellious #321 left - not sure what to do with this, but sure feels sad."

The flowers we get may die. The cards may get left behind. The friends and family may pass away.

Back to the story that started this post -- The Chief Engineer and I didn't start dating until four years after his father's passing. But we kept in touch in part because a terrible experience bound us together. That Friday morning I learned what it meant to say "when he's cut, I bleed." It's no coincidence that I became bulimic on this Friday 11 years ago. It hurt too much to watch him and that was how I coped. But I'm in treatment now and discovering that I have a really awesome life. The Chief Engineer and I finally got our acts together and started dating, and of course, got married (best decision ever. Love you darlin'!) Once again, something awful somehow turned into something good.

The Hell will end, things will get better, the memories will still be there, and there will be flowers in your heart for the rest of your life. To hell with the stuff. And that's why my friends and I still celebrate Hell Week even though it's been over a decade.

May all your hell weeks end in flower days.

And oh, yeah, may your Fridays have fewer fashion foibles. I didn't forget! Today's Friday's Fashion Fallout for this week: 

yeah, they don't fit. no reason to keep 'em.


  1. Awwww, what a wonderful story. "...anything hellish will end in beauty if you let it." I'll strive to remember that.

  2. Great story. And the stuff left behind is just that--stuff.


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