She sits hunched warily over her computer, typing rapidly, pausing every few minutes to stretch her tired arms or crack her aching knuckles. Dark crescents stretch toward the corners of her half-closed eyes. She halfheartedly wipes away a wild strand of unbrushed hair and continues to pick at the cluster of acne that has manifested itself on her forehead. This is the real final exam, the last one before she graduates.
Her schedule is sitting beside her, reminding her that the time is sliding by like sand in an hourglass; the less sand there is the faster it seems to glide along the smooth interior. Time to the deadline for her paper, time to graduation, time until she needs move far away from home, time to become someone else, time to embrace new responsibilities, time to remember, time to forget.
The trouble with writing papers in a college dorm room is that the desk and the soft, warm bed are dangerously close together. Ten minute study breaks turn into fantasies about a warm cocoon, covering up with the blankets like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand. Ten minute naps inevitably become 4 hour excursions into dreamland.
She’s looking out her window to a bright afternoon, but luckily college students are immune to sunshine during finals week. She remains in her room in her chair, moving only to go to the bathroom and fill her water glass and go to the bathroom again. Rooms are full of distractions. The phone is within reach. Grabbing her little black book, she reads alphabetically down the list in search of someone to connect her to the outside world. She calls her mom. An old friend from high school. The boy down the hall.
“Hey. What are you doing right now?”
“Work, what else?”
“Yeah, me too.” She is lying but it doesn’t feel like lying. She’s here, in her chair, where she is supposed to be. She is staring at a computer screen that is not exactly blank, though not exactly full either, and not filling very rapidly. Looking down at her feet she’s discovered that her shoes are untied, and vaguely remembers wanting to take them off a few hours ago. She must have gotten distracted.
She writes three sentences and deletes two of them. Changes the font. Wonders how her English professor feels about Old English. Changes it back. Writes another sentence. The books on her desk were once segregated into piles; one for each class, but sometime in the last few hours the piles merged into disarray and began falling unceremoniously onto the floor. She surveys the situation and realizes that it’s time to clean. Putting things in order gives her comfort, and soon she is manically cleaning. The dishes have been there for days! When is the last time she had a shower? Changing her laundry becomes a reward for paragraphs written. There is no one left to call.
It is time for her to leave the community that she belongs to that belongs to her, and already she is missing the things around her. In her waking dream she remembers having a giant snowball fight with 200 strangers outside of her freshman dorm, and thinks about how many of her adversaries later became her best friends. In these four years, she learned that stealing a better showerhead could be labeled as a “terrorist mission” and made more fun if done at 4am dressed in black. She complained about the workload, then spoke with pride about the things she learned. She fell, for the first time, in real love, and then had her heart, for the first time, really broken. And then picked herself up again.
She learned that the best cure for a broken heart, stress, grief, or the common cold is not getting rip-roaring drunk, though it always seems like a good idea at the time. She remembers blowing off Chemistry homework for an entire semester to watch the Simpsons, but then studying for four straight days camped out on her floor and then acing the final exam.
She cried in the office (and occasionally in the arms of) five different professors and twice in the registrar’s office, and anticipates shedding a tear or two in the financial aid office before she leaves. Her mother once told her that if she can get through college bureaucracy, she can get through anything. She never said it had to be with dry eyes.
She knows that there are some friends she can call for coffee and a study break at 4am, and others who will join her for a beer at breakfast time; the same will likely smoke a joint anytime, even if she wakes them out of bed. She’s met people who always want to join her at the gym and others that will drop everything to split a pint of ice cream and comfort her when she is upset. She belongs in this tiny center where so many spheres intersect.
And as she feels her head bobbling forward with exhaustion and typing becomes slower and more difficult, she knows that faith is the only thing keeping her going. Her head falls down and lets her sleep, in peace, knowing that the conclusion to her college experience is inevitably as ambiguous as the end of her paper: alksdmvi jgaekgnla;ksdng a;ehwoiejhlaksdnm;lafbn.
And perhaps that is not such a bad thing.