Academic buildings after dark

It’s Tuesday night, which means it’s time for the Most Useless Writing Center Shift Of All Time: 8-9, with two people working simultaneously with me. Every time I come back from an extensive cycle of class, work, readings, and errands and finally collapse on the floors of Ball, only to have to drag myself back down the staircase and over to the HCC, where I know I’ll almost certainly do none of the work I got hired to do for an hour, I feel like I’m committing myself to some Herculean task. Is this a bit overdramatic? Maybe.

But I’m not here to talk about this; I’m here to talk about every time I’ve ended this shift in the last three weeks, the precise routine of it: making sure the Keurig is off and the door is locked, and then walking down the empty echoey space of the north side HCC stairs. College campuses are never really empty, but here and now, after 9 on a Tuesday, they feel more or less close.

Every time, then, I think: I am going to miss this next semester. When I’m smart enough to work out a schedule that doesn’t make me a little bit miserable, I’m going to miss this.

I know this because I have a long history of the memories of staying too late in buildings that grow gradually empty. Last year is only the beginning (or the end) – memories of late-evening meetings in Combs to work on projects, the delightful emptiness of the third floor. Walking back from the HCC, of course, or Dupont back when the honors commons was still in Dupont.

The closing shifts of both of my summer jobs frustrated me immensely; there’s nothing quite like trying to kick customers out so you can go home while fully aware that you have to be retail-polite throughout the whole thing. But after getting my license, there was nothing like the feeling of knowing I was free to get in a car and go home, like driving twenty minutes down the pitch-black forested roads of my town with nothing but a Mountain Goats song and the long extent of my brights for company.

And then there’s the original memory: science olympiad, seventh grade, staying as long as three hours after school tinkering with a boomilever that would not end up working. Late into November and December, darkness would creep in earlier and earlier, and I’d stay later, worry about the competition rising steadily. And then it would end, and I’d walk out into the dim hallways of my middle school: the lights out, the sun nearly down, the remains of its feeble lights casting shadows on the walls. And the echoes, of course, the delight of echoes that come with emptiness.

And even then, I knew: I don’t know why, but I’ll miss this.

It’s not an everyday thing. But I do miss it, every time I descend the HCC stairs after far too long of a day.

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