It’s 5 a.m. on a Saturday.
It’s late, but as you walk past the common room in your hall, you hear a muffled clamor. You suspect it’s an anti-vaxxer meet-up, with how often you hear the word “hoax” thrown around, when the door swings open. A hobo-looking fellow stands staring at you, eyes red and wide and sullen. You recognize them from your calculus lecture. You don’t know this fellow’s name, but in your defense, they’re always asleep whenever you see them. Behind them, someone is yelling about melatonin gummies. Furiously.
“Are you here for the Insomniacs Anonymous meeting?” They blink, not recognizing you. You open your mouth to say something, but they have already pulled you into the room. “Guys, guys! We have a new member! And people say advertising our meetings around midnight was a dumb idea,” your Virgil laughs.
The group hushes and turns to you, staring unblinkingly with the same red and wide and sullen eyes. The room smells heavily of lavender. Cups of chamomile tea fill the desk and litter the floor. Calming, theoretically. Why do you feel like you’re now trapped in a room full of over-caffeinated cats that are just waiting for the opportunity to go feral?
“Anyway! We were making small talk. Come, introduce yourself!” your Virgil says happily.
“I, uh…” you swallow. “Hi?”
“That’s not exactly the script, but don’t feel too bad,” your Virgil tells you. “I get it. People don’t know what they’re saying when they’re sleep-deprived. Like, there was this once when I vaguely heard someone say ‘nailed’ and without missing a beat, I went ‘haha, nail me daddy,’ and it was only when the room fell into deathly silence that I realized I spoke my meme-y nonsense out loud and the someone was my eighty-year-old professor who was telling a story about the historic hail that killed his childhood dog. And it’s like, if sleep deprivation really affects memory , then why can’t I forget about that? Where was I… oh. Yeah, things happen. Don’t worry about it. Come sit down!”
“Right,” you laugh, hoping desperately that’s the correct response to a story like that.
“Anyway,” a guy to your left drags, eager to steer the topic away from melatonin gummies and air out his own bucket of woes. “I have the utmost sympathy for the professors and TAs among us, but please stop putting in grades so late. One of you assholes crushed my med school dreams at 1 a.m.! How am I supposed to sleep after that?”
“Stop checking your grade book at 1 a.m., then?” You suggest helpfully.
“And do what? Sleep? Sounds like something an imposter would say.” He asks with a bewildered laugh.
“Nothing sus about that at all,” your Virgil says. “Let’s be realistic here. There are three things 1 a.m. is good for. First, you may be hyper-focused on one specific task and achieve the productivity of a god, though that kind of motivation might not grace you until a deadline presses a knife to your throat. You can hop online and let the internet numb your pain, but we both know URConnected will never let us off so easily. That leaves your only viable option: laying in bed, shrouded in darkness as you maw over every decision you’ve ever made until you convince yourself that your life is over at the ripe old age of 21. My friend here was telling you to pick your poison. A failing grade, existential dread, the cringe you wish you could kill. You’ll end up sobbing your eyes out, either way.”
A chorus of sighs and dry laughter ripples through the group. A girl across from Virgil suddenly bursts out crying about cheese. Someone goes back to talking about melatonin. Virgil pats you on the back. You give them a grateful nod, but they close their eyes with a yawn. Good. That probably saved them from noticing how awkward your smile is.
How do you tell these people that you never stay up past 8 p.m.? You usually wake up at 4 a.m. every morning to go jogging. You just overslept today.
The dilemma doesn’t trouble you for too long, though. As daylight settles in, the circle grows quieter and quieter. By the time you stand up, murmuring something about attending class, no one raises an eyebrow at your ungraceful departure.
They are all asleep.