I made it to aerobic dance today at 8 a.m., and on time for once. Alas, I was awake at that hour only because I had set my alarm for 6 a.m., hoping to get some layout work done for the campus literary magazine, but I couldn't pull myself out of bed until 7:30. It doesn't take long in the day for me to feel behind.
Last night I was doing schoolwork at the Undergraduate Library until 3 a.m. The UL is the smaller, more social library that's open all night, avoided by the study snobs who sequester themselves on the eighth floor of Davis, the main library. The presence of other people at the UL helps keep me awake, though occasionally I can be found asleep in a carrel, drooling onto my international economics book. During the day, homeless people come to the UL and use the Internet, but at midnight the library closes to the public and a cop comes around to check our university IDs. As the crowd thins out after 2 a.m. to just us hard-core nerds and procrastinators, the library gets more depressing, but at least there are fewer people stage-whispering into their cell phones: "Hey, I can't talk, I'm in the library. … Yes, the library. … No, I'm not always here, you just always call when I'm here. … But I can't really talk. … I'll call you back. … Yeah. … OK, bye." The talker gets a glare from everyone else, but they never notice.
The same crowd is always up late, beating the path from the UL to Alpine Bagel in the student union, the one eatery on this part of campus that's open late. After a few weeks of this, you form a community with the other night owls, after being introduced to friends of friends while refilling library-approved coffee cups and bitching about the work you still have to do. Last night, Alpine ran out of coffee around midnight and we just stared in disbelief. Decaf was left, but it always strikes me as a pointless beverage. I'm trying not to drink coffee because it gives me stomachaches, but sometimes the fatigue is so overwhelming that I drink it anyway, knowing full well that I'll feel ill within the hour.
I mentioned to my roommate that I've been exhausted lately, and she suggested that maybe I've got mono. Having mono would actually be convenient: a medical justification for nodding off in class. But I know that the fault is all mine—and due to a simple lack of sleep. Five hours a night really isn't enough, but one of my night-owl friends has convinced me that you can train your body to get used to it, so I guess you could say I'm practicing.
Today I have only one class so I'm working on my history thesis. I also have a story due soon for creative writing, so I keep another Word document open in case I have a brilliant idea for a short story. The muse has been aloof lately, though, so I'll settle for a brilliant idea for a sentence. This morning I met with my thesis adviser, who is kind to me even though I'm behind on my project. He seems to know most things that have ever happened in America, and he has read the biographies of nearly everyone: It's his beach reading. I love the research aspect of working on my thesis—sifting through old issues of magazines, printing articles off microfilm, reading letters between Allen Ginsberg and his father—but it's hard to find the time to sit down and, you know, write it.
A friend who still lives on campus cooked dinner for me tonight; he's the student-body vice president, which means he gets a staff and an office but less time to hang out with his friends. I'm impressed with the angel-hair pasta with artichoke hearts he makes in the dorm kitchenette because I never eat home-cooked meals; I live on sandwiches and quesadillas. We talk about his law-school applications and what I might do next year and reminisce a little about freshman year. Then I tell him my policy of "no nostalgia until the spring," and he agrees. His roommate just won a Marshall scholarship, so we pledge to hang out again this weekend to celebrate. Their room is famous for wine-and-cheese parties.
I rush back to the library to get in a few hours of work, because at 11 p.m., my cell phone will start vibrating: the official start of the weekend. A lot of seniors go out on Tuesdays, but I can't manage that. Thursday nights, then, are my big reward. I meet friends for a few drinks at Top of the Hill, a bar and microbrewery that's classier than I really need. But it has a great view over Franklin Street, the main drag through town, and I can count on most of my crowd being there on any given Thursday or Saturday. (Fridays are usually quieter—homework and maybe a house party.) By Saturday evening the guilt of looming homework will creep into any revelry, so Thursday night is the highlight of my week. The lights come on at 2 a.m., and the bouncers urge everyone toward the door. We gripe that the time has gone too fast, but starting earlier is never suggested: No one goes out until 11. College may seem like a free-for-all, but there are certain rules we uphold.
Laurel Wamsley, a former Slate intern, is a writer living in Washington, D.C.