At UB, fraternities play a large role in campus life. When I saw the awesome short term benefits a fraternity offered I decided to pledge. Seven other freshmen were of a like mind and on a cool September night we met outside the dorms. We waited nervously and took stock of one another. Five were strangers but I recognized two faces. I had met them earlier that week in the dining hall. I took to the two boys immediately and we formed a trio; myself, Rubell and Ohabi.
Milling uneasily we pondered what the brothers of the fraternity were going to do. We kept this stream of thought up for the first hour, but by the time the brothers arrived we were silent. Several brothers jammed us into several cars and took off us campus and it was on our first night that we received our pledge names. Ohabi was christened Soho, Rubell became Vega and I was given the name Rockwell. Those names stuck with us like glue and we rarely called each other by any other title.
Of our trio, Vega became the only person initiated into the fraternity. Soho quit after a brother threw his BlackBerry in the toilet. My breaking point was the unbearable mental stress inflicted upon me by a retired infantryman. His sole purpose was to make my life hell and he was exceedingly talented at his job. After seventy days Vega joined the fraternity while me and Soho were left wondering how amazing it must feel to be in. Me and Ohabi both badly wanted to be in that fraternity, which is one of the very few things we had in common.
I grew up in a small town in Western New York where I knew every classmates first and last name. Sprawling metropolis would be a grievously misconceived description of my closeted town. On the other hand, Soho had spent his formative years in Long Island. His family was wealthy and that affluence was frequently reflected in Soho. He spent money freely and talked about his first car, a BMW, as if it were a firstborn child. At times I grew jealous of him but it seemed like the most prominent feeling was vexation. Ohabi often bragged about money but he was slow to share it.
With our opposing views on currency and a lifetime’s worth of differences, we had little occasion to spend time together. At the end of freshman year I made new friends at work and Ohabi left UB. His ostensible reason was a general disdain towards the city of Buffalo. However, I believe that the problem ran deeper than that.
Having grown up wealthy Ohabi knew that he stood to inherit a great deal of money. He knew that no matter how little he accomplished he would still be wealthy one day. It’s my opinion that money destroyed him by taking away his motivation. It wasn’t only in him that I recognized this but in Vega as well. Growing up in Long Island, they had had every whimsical need met but they were deprived of a reason to live.
And so it was that after one year Ohabi left college and returned to the Island. However, Vega stayed on and I saw him every couple of weeks. I watched from a distance as he partied with the fraternity and lived a life that I desperately wanted. I’ve never been so jealous in my whole life as I was then. My best friend was living a hedonistic lifestyle while every night I went home to three roommates who I couldn’t stand. It was an uneventful year where I made dean’s list and worked a steady job.
Eventually my jealously cooled as I saw the affects of the fraternity lifestyle. After two years in college Vega’s smelly grades got him expelled while another one of my pledge brothers blossomed into a full time pill addict. While still irrationally craving the playboy lifestyle, these singular incidences helped me to distance myself from the fraternity.
Then in January of 2013 I got a text from Soho. It was the second semester of my junior year in college and I had found a niche for myself. I was working as a manager at convenience store in the dorms. The job was nearly devoid of oversight and I liked my coworkers. However, I wasn’t opposed to earning some money on the side. Thus I was pleased when Soho announced that he had returned and didn’t want to write a single paper for his English class.
Several days later I went over to his apartment and he filled me in on his life. A semester of college in New York followed by six months of working in Manhattan. When that grew tedious he decided to return to UB for the spring semester. If there ever was a man without a clear direction in life it was Ohabi. And so it was that we negotiated the terms for my writing his papers. We agreed upon a discount price of $250 because Ohabi was able to tempt me where I’m weak. Before returning to Buffalo he had picked up a BMW from his sister in New York. Negotiated into our accord was a weekly ride from class to my off campus apartment. Furthermore, I was to be given the chance to take on the duties of driver. This experience was worth more money than Ohabi could have ever offered me.
Our business relationship brought us together every week, but we never saw each other casually. Several times I tried to get Ohabi to come and party but it never happened. Looking back, I get the feeling that our friendship was distinctly business. I have the impression that the people Soho revered most in life were the wealthy. I’m certain that he would overlook massive personality flaws in order to spend time with someone of great affluence. As I was effectively in his employ, I must have been the worst sort of candidate to drink with.
When the semester drew to a close Ohabi paid me off, we shook hands and that was it. I watched him drive away in the white BMW all the while wishing I had such a car. Even though that desire runs deep, never would have I traded places with him. No matter what amazing toy Ohabi found, I doubt he ever found lasting happiness. I’ve found the greatest joys in life come from setting goals and meeting them. If you’ve been raised with the knowledge that you never have to work a day in your life, what good is life?
When I returned from New York City for my senior year, I was mildly surprised to learn that Ohabi was sticking around for a second consecutive semester. However, what really blew me out of the water was what I learned next. He had found some friends in our old fraternity and at the age of twenty-one had decided to pledge again. I found the situation depressing because it spoke to a sad situation. Pledging a fraternity is a humiliating experience that is embraced by freshman, but scorned by upperclassman. That Ohabi would choose to put himself through this ridiculous process spoke volumes of his inner state.
My lifestyle rarely brought me into contact with the fraternities and I heard little of Ohabi and his progress. However, that changed on a sunny day in October. Walking out of Russian class I picked up a copy of my schools newspaper and unfolded it. The cover story was an expose on underground fraternities and the first four paragraphs were devoted to that group of men so well known to me. During a pledging ritual one of the initiates had become unconscious and couldn’t be revived. They had taken that unnamed person and dumped him in front of the VA hospital, driving away before anyone could come out the door. Based on a few poignant questions I have reasons to suspect that this unnamed person was Ohabi. It’s a depressing story that reflects clearly the quality of men in that fraternal group of brothers.
Several weeks later I saw Ohabi for the last time in my life. I was sitting on a couch and drinking beer in my friend’s apartment when he came in. There were several other people in the apartment and Soho waited a full minute before acknowledging me. His cool reception to me was odd but not altogether unfathomable, as Ohabi’s character is a complex one. He left after a few minutes and I stood up to look out the window at the parking lot.
I watched him slide into the driver’s seat of a brand new, dark silver Mercedes. Once again, I grew jealous of the car while feeling that even if it had been a Lamborghini, I still wouldn’t have traded places. Soho pulled out of the parking lot onto Main St and disappeared from view. I never heard from him again after that night and I thought about him rarely.
After graduating from university I spent some time in New York city and then left the United States behind for Russia. I’d been living near Moscow for seven months when I opened my Facebook feed and saw it was Ohabi’s birthday. Mildly surprised that we were still Facebook friends, I clicked on his profile. When I read the first comment I thought it was a joke.
“We will miss you forever bro, life sucks without you”
Someone dying is nothing to joke around with, I thought to myself. However, the frown on my brow grew as I read on. An endless stream of comments continued in the same vein. People remembering fondly a boy who I remember ambiguously. It was then that I realized it was true, Ohabi had died and I knew nothing about it. At that moment my predominant feeling was surprise. I’ve often associated wealth with immortality, and Soho seemed invincible to me.
Even if he didn’t meet the traditional definition, Ohabi was the victim of circumstance. He was given everything and learned that he had to work for nothing. Every day that I’m still here is a day he doesn’t have. I’m just as grateful for that as I am grateful for my parents instilling in me a work ethic. My childhood was harder than Soho’s but my life quality of life now is something he could never comprehend. Ohabi had the tools to do something spectacular but without the direction, he floundered and got lost in the current.