At some point in the evening, you realize you’ve been in your Butler study room longer than all of the other students. And that’s when it’s time to leave.

One minute, I looked up and the faces around me had been replaced. The guy who held the door to the reading room open for me. The girl who stood next to me in line to use the restroom. The two friends who whispered back and forth, which I didn’t even mind because they were being so quiet. All of those people I started the day with were gone now. And no one in the room even remembered when I came in.

The girl I walked into Butler 615 with at 11:30—I remember her teal Nalgene and her Pride-themed laptop stickers. She had out a Jane Austen novel and looked permanently concerned for the two and a half hours she spent typing her essay. And just like that—the zipping of a bag, a chair dragging across the floor, and the door’s lock clicking back into place. At the time, I felt glad that she could leave, even if I couldn’t yet. 

But then I didn’t know how to feel, watching the girl that took her place, and then the next one after her. Eventually, I stopped keeping track of the rotating cast of faces that filled the reading room. As seats turned over to new owners, those other students, who had seen the cool mid-morning light linger on the bookshelves, were gone. But I was left.

I was the last one who remembered how shadows traced the floor, back when it was light out. The way it felt to walk into that room, the promise of a completed to-do list ahead of me. And looking into the faces of those strangers, I realized how I must have seemed like a fixture of the room to them, like a wooden chair neatly placed at a table. Sitting there when they arrived, still sitting there when they left. Probably still there at last call when the man from the circulation desk came to lock up for the night.

I don’t know when the afternoon light drained out and was replaced by darkness. I don’t know when Carman Hall turned into a silhouette, LED lights puncturing its dim facade. At 6 pm, I stood to pack up and wondered if anyone would look up to marvel at my stirring—a statue come to life to close her laptop and return the textbook to her backpack. Instead, an awkward shadow appeared behind me: “Are you leaving?”

One last look at the unfamiliar faces I was leaving behind. “Yes.” I grasped the cool handle, and the door’s lock clicked back into place behind me. 

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