#203 – Swear to God

For the second time this month, angry parents have “suggested” I pay the medical bill for their son’s accident. As before, I refuse to accept responsibility for the emergency room visit. If there’s a culprit here, it’s not me but rather the vow of secrecy surrounding fraternity initiation ceremonies.

My wife’s nephew, Marcello, is a college freshman. During our call to wish him a happy birthday a few weeks ago, he mentioned that he’s pledging a fraternity. When he asked whether I’d belonged to one in college, I exclaimed “God no!” Then I shared the same information which prompted me to spurn fraternity life: my friend’s older brother had told me about his initiation ceremony, where he’d been blindfolded, forced to kneel, and then spanked with a coarsely sanded paddle until his butt cheeks bled.

When I spoke to Marcello, I had no idea he suffers an extreme fear of blindness. Until two nights ago, I’d never heard about his three relatives who lost their sight completely. Nor had anyone previously clued me in that the boy nearly wets himself at the thought of a momentary loss of vision. Even so, phobia or not, someone had to tell the lad what he might be facing, right?

As my fuming sister-in-law enlightened me two nights ago, her son’s fraternity initiation ceremony had begun a couple of weeks earlier. I say “begun” because the ritual terminated abruptly. Due to his vow of secrecy, Marcello refused to tell his parents exactly what happened. All he said was, at some point, the brothers blindfolded him and made him kneel on the floor. The temporary loss of vision alone nearly unmanned him. When combined with a loud thwack nearby and an ensuing yelp of pain, together with the sudden touch of a hand on his shoulder, it proved more than he could bear. With his mind clouded by visions of splinter-filled paddles, he bolted from the room without pausing to remove his blindfold. He ran full tilt into a support column and broke his arm in two places. Understandably, the initiation ceremony was suspended pending his treatment at the ER and subsequent recovery.

Although the strictures of his vow precluded him from sharing details, Marcello assured his parents that no paddles or other implements of torture were involved in his fraternity rite. The clatter and cry of pain he’d heard resulted from the accidental drop of a heavy wooden platter onto a brother’s foot. Had it not been for the fears conjured by my initiation tale, the lad undoubtedly would’ve survived the ritual intact.

Yesterday, I informed my friend how his brother’s fraternity experience had caused me trouble. Ned in turn advised his brother of the situation. Today, Ned relayed his brother’s response: “Didn’t Richard realize I made that stuff up? He should’ve known I swore to silence, so I couldn’t tell him the truth.”

Due to those pesky vows of secrecy, I can’t be sure if paddles 
like this one were ever used at a fraternity initiation.

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