I did this to myself. I have no one else to blame but yours truly.
I had a syllabus. I had a to-do list app on my phone and my laptop. I even had sticky notes taped to my mirror to remind me to start earlier. I knew having a midterm paper and an exam on the same day would be a recipe for disaster, but I didn’t think about the fact that I’m a shitty cook.
The paper has to be 1,400 to 1,500 words. The exam is multiple choice and free response. It’s 9 p.m. and I decide to head to the Hatcher Graduate Library Reference Room. It’s big enough where if I crawled under the desk and died, it would take a few days for someone to discover my lifeless body and arrange for me to take my exam in the afterlife.
On my way to the Graduate Library, I pick up a large black coffee and a Red Bull. I’ve never had one before, but it seems like a rite of passage for a small boy about to cram for the worst day of his life. My friends pulled all-nighters almost every week last year. The honors math track almost got the best of them. I’d be going to bed around midnight or 1 in the morning Thursday night, and I’d walk past my friends, their heads buried in their pages of math homework. “Night, guys!” I’d say as I walk past. They’d all look up, bags under their eyes and sadness radiating. I promised myself I’d never put myself through that form of hell. Must’ve crossed my fingers or something ’cause I went right ahead and broke that promise by waiting to start so late.
I slam my backpack on the ground in the Reference Room. Heads jolt up, but I’m too busy getting ready to face my demons to care. My coffee and Red Bull sitting on the desk, I open my laptop and pull up the study guide. In the wise words of Lil Pump, “Esketit.”
“All night, I’ve been drinking all night, I’ve been drinking all night, I’ve been drinking, ay ay”
Working through my haphazard lecture notes and attempting to stay focused on the vocab, I keep sipping from my chalices, alternating between hot and cold. As the clock winds forward, both elixirs become lukewarm and gross.
I’ve been staring at this vocab sheet for three hours now and I still know nothing, which is a really good start, I’d say. Comparing my dismal notes to the lecture slides on Canvas, there is a clear discrepancy. Sometimes I think about what it was like 40 years ago when you had to just write down everything the professor said to be prepared for an exam. When middle schoolers who love the Rolling Stones and the Who say, “I was born in the wrong generation,” I don’t think they realize the gravity of that statement. Try studying for an exam without PowerPoint, kid.
I keep looking at the exam review, then my notes, then the slideshow. Vocab, notes, slideshow, repeat. These definitions make zero sense, but writing them down is the only hope I have at this point.
My eyes are drooping. This can’t happen now. Wake up, Matt. I smack myself across the face a few times to jolt myself up. The girl next to me gives me the side eye. Nice to meet you, hardworking student who will probably leave way before me.
Just as I start to drift off a little, a loud bell chimes across the Reference Room. I look at my watch: 12:00. A voice rings over the speaker but no words can be deciphered. It sounds like a parent in a Charlie Brown holiday special. All I can make out is it’s midnight and something about University of Michigan students. He could be telling me everything on my exam tomorrow and I would never know. What a shame.
I reach for my Red Bull. Nothing. It’s empty like my soul at this point. Same with my coffee. A brown ring lines the bottom of my cup. With my body full of caffeine and regret, I contemplate my next move.
I can’t stay here anymore. I need to get out. I feel trapped like Sybil in her jar. Yeah, that was a T.S. Eliot reference. I’m capable of more than just kids’ movies and Nickelodeon references. Where’s my upper-level writing requirement fulfillment?
I pack up my stuff and head back to the South Quad Residence Hall basement, the same place my friends spent every Thursday night and Friday morning last year. Life gets a kick out of irony.
With my life wasting away, I decide to roll the dice and start breaking away at this paper. Hopefully, it’ll be better than the exam.
*Three hours later*
I think I’m delusional. I’m drying up.
If you’re reading this, if you’ve made it this far, send help. I’m only 600 words into a 1,400-word essay and I don’t know if I’ll make it.
Reflecting on the events that led me to this moment isn’t pleasant, but the only way we grow is through learning from our mistakes. Honestly, I’d rather learn enough to ace this exam and finish this paper instead, but I guess this’ll do.
I can’t believe I thought this would be a blessing. Two big grades the same day? Let’s get them out of the way! Nothing could go wrong. After I’m done, it’s all downhill until the end of the semester. Too bad I might never make it up the hill to begin with.
One-hundred words in my essay later, I check my watch again. Oh no.
How the hell is it almost 5 in the morning? I haven’t done anything. This night has been the educational equivalent of going trick-or-treating and only getting toothbrushes and Dots.
I’m writing this essay but I’m not even sure what the English language is at this point. The lines blur together. I hope this bad boy is even slightly coherent. This is the biggest RIP. Time slows and speeds by simultaneously. What is life?
____45_____ — Bon Iver
*Three more hours later*
You know that episode of “SpongeBob” when Mr. Krabs is calling the radio station asking for the song that goes “Beep beep boop bebop boop bop?” That’s basically my inner monologue at this point. Nine a.m. is not a good look on this young lad. Still wearing the same outfit as yesterday, I have made a Matt Harmon-shaped dent in this couch I’ve been sitting on.
I’ve watched the dining hall open for the unfortunate souls with 8 a.m. classes. Well-rested students fresh out of the shower get ready to face the day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind while I fade into oblivion.
The same friends in my position last year are no longer on the honors math track, which means they get eight hours of wonderful sleep now. I see them walk down the stairs from the South Quad lobby to greet me. I knew this day would come.
“How’re you feelin’, Matt?” they ask. I guess this is what I deserve. I just didn’t think it would sting as much.
They head off to their 9 o’clocks as I stay right where I was. I hope they visit in an hour.
Four hours until my exam, my paper is done. It may have been written with my blood, sweat and tears, but it’s done. I don’t think it was actually Hemingway who said, “Write drunk, edit sober,” but last night, I was not drunk and I will definitely not be editing this paper at all so looks as if I failed Ernest or whoever he stole the mantra from.
I walk into class, ready to turn in my paper and do some last-minute cramming for my exam in a few hours. My eyes are dead, the fire inside has burned out. I ask my friend in lecture when we’re turning in the paper. What she said proved someone is out to get me. By someone, I mean myself because as I said before, I have no one else to blame but yours truly.
“The paper? You mean the one that’s due next week?” she said.