I used to be a frat boy.
It was the “in” thing where I came from. Being “cool” meant hobnobbing with other guys who were deemed popular. In my case, I wasn’t given much of a choice. I was bullied during my school days; either I step up the ante or end up in a morgue.
I joined three fraternities without anyone in my family knowing what I did. My handful of friends, too, was left in the dark. I was an unico hijo craving for attention. I needed then to be part of something bigger than me. Fraternities offered me respite from my aloneness.
I was totally into being a full-fledged member of fraternities until I faced what to me then was the last straw. Instead of safeguarding the idea of brotherhood, my would-be “brothers” took the initiation rite to a level that I felt then was absurd.
It all began with a three-day initiation rite. The first two days saw me grovelling on all fours, licking a coin across a basketball court. That’s just for starters. Others were made to run naked across a street with just a paper bag over their heads. Fortunately for me, I was fat then. So they had me do the most humiliating stuff for their enjoyment.
The last day took me from the ground to a hallway I now could barely recall. But I remember every little bit that happened that day. I went through an initiation rite that left my two thighs black and blue from blows from a wooden paddle (40+1).
Prior to surviving the paddle blows, which was the last part of the rite, I was made to run a gauntlet of teenage boys, two rows of fifty boys all lined up for the "kill," all carrying something to hit me with--from sticks to chains, rocks to bare fists. The only way to survive the gauntlet is to cover one's head with one's arms in case someone takes a crack at it (forgive the pun).
Standing at the end of the two rows was the man with the paddle and a table. After surviving the gauntlet, I bent over slightly using the table as support. On the third blow, which all in all was 40+1, my knees began to buckle due to pain. I fell seven times, each time the would-be "brothers" poured water on my head. I could barely stand, let alone cry due to what felt like electricity running through my whole body.
As a final rite, having survived all that violence, I was asked to take my shirt off. On my left upper chest near my shoulder, the head of the brotherhood drew a circle using a 25 centavo coin. With a live cigarette, the man burned the outer layer of skin until a full circle was completed. I was two seconds away from collapsing when two boys held me up for the last blow of the paddle. My blindfold was a bit loose. I saw the man hit me with the corner of the paddle in full swing.
I fell on my face, barely conscious. They all left without an audible word save for a note scribbled on a piece of paper telling me where to receive my "brother" status the next day. I pulled up my briefs and pants and rushed home, careful not to let anyone notice my serious limp. I barely slept that night.
The next day, at an old abandoned warehouse a number of blocks from school, I stood before three men, old enough to be my father. The other boys were nowhere in sight. I noticed that the younger of the three was the same man the day before.
As the older of the three recited something in Latin, I pulled out my brass knuckles and lunged at the other two. I was thinner, more agile and quick on my toes (thanks to pain relievers). I might have landed twenty or so punches on both their faces in quick succession, I can't remember. But my rage was enough to land both guys in the hospital for months. The leader of the group ran for dear life.
My life as a frat boy ended as quickly as it began. Little did I know then that some of my rather powerful friends found out about the initiation. They never told me what they had in mind then. All I know now is that the older of the three left for the United States days after the incident at the warehouse. And the two, well, I hardly saw their faces in school. News came days later that both guys spent two months in the hospital. One had surgery of close to twenty stitches done, from his right eye to his upper left neck. The other frat boys shunned me like I was the plague.
After that I had many close brushes with different fraternities, but none vicious enough to force me to leave my school or my country. I was fortunate to survive the brutality inherent in this misguided sense of brotherhood. Not all are as fortunate as I was. In the end, I quit all three fraternities.
Since then I have learned to choose my battles. But more than that, I have learned that life is all about learning to live with yourself. I don’t need anyone to tell me what to do or how to act as a price for being accepted.
As a father and a survivor of this insane rite of passage, I have only this to say: if you're thinking of joining, drop the thought now. It is not worth your life. Let someone know you're being invited, or forced to join. Better yet, let your parents know.
In a world where violence is as real within the confines of school as outside of it, it pays to always have someone watch your back. And parents, listen to your children. They don’t need to say it out loud. If you’ve spent enough time with them, you will know.
Joel Pablo Salud is the editor-in-chief of the Philippines Graphic