The worst can happen.

In-person final exams are back. I didn’t miss them, but I will confess that I do at least enjoy the hard roadblock to my anxious antics that is my professors snatching my exam away from me at the end of a one hour and fifteen-minute chunk of time. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a real phenomenon.

Unfortunately, that proverb applies to many things, the worst of which is my cheat sheet. So please indulge me in the following.

POV: You are me.

It is a Tuesday, 8:40 am class. You are having your final exam in 309 Havemeyer—the one where they film things when big-budget movies want their casts to pretend to be Columbia students. Tony Shalhoub once lectured in there. Something something, Spider-Man, too (since you’re me, you don’t watch Marvel movies—you can choose if it’s because I’m too hoity for that, or if it’s because I have taste). Anyway, it’s a storied lecture hall. And now you are taking your final exam in that very same room.

309 Havemeyer is tall; it’s got a whole little mezzanine of seats. Once you’re up there, you realize that the whole thing is not an integral part of the classroom but something built up and added in. If you look around, you’ll see grates, and weird edges, and realize that you are sitting on a wooden shell. This will be important later. But for now, you sit down in your seat, high up in the mezzanine, and settle in, pulling out your TI-84 calculator (because you are a woman in the M part of STEM) and your professor-sanctioned cheat sheet, lovingly crafted in pencil on a page you tore out of your notebook. Everything is going to be fine. It is 8:34 am. You are there early. You are going to take this exam, and you are going to be fine. 

But then a classmate comes and has to scootch past you to get to their assigned exam seat. The shuffle causes a gentle gust of wind, or maybe more of a breeze, or whatever movements of air happen in a closed-off room. As you sit back down into your seat, you watch as your cheat sheet clings to that disturbance of air and drifts off, off of your desk, and softly, oh so softly, down below your knees, down into the only opening in the whole wooden structure not secured by a grate, the only path into the bowels of the 309 Havemeyer creation.

Down, down, down. Like a figment out of a stress dream. Like the thing your anxiety tells you will happen but is never supposed to actually occur. Like the last part of your will, settling down underground.

Unfortunately, I have nothing left to offer for this POV. This did literally happen to me this semester. No, I don’t want to talk about it further. But maybe there is another side to my woes down in the dark…

The void.

POV: You are the cheat sheet, relaxing into the dust and paper and gum of the bowels of 309 Havemeyer.

Because there is no grate, you get more light than your compatriots, your fellow lost misfits in these guts; you get to see what happens, get to measure the amount of stress in the room by how students people tap their feet or fidget their fingers above you. Things never get cleaned down here—who cleans the bowels of a beast?—so you know you are in it for the long haul.

Your ticket into this world takes her exam and leaves. Maybe she did well; maybe it was by overachiever Columbia standards, maybe it wasn’t. It’s not your place to decide.

You were meant to be the final helping hand across the finish line of the semester; a paper with the answers. Now the semester is over, and change is happening for your creator, for her classmates, for her professor, for everyone else who stumbles and clambers around the mezzanine of 309 Havemeyer. They’re moving on, exams or no exams; after all, time is a relentless thing for most.

Not for you, though. No one cleans the bowels of the beast. Time doesn’t matter down here; all that is left is the fact that you’re here for the long run, whatever “long run” decides to mean. One class will graduate, then another. Another celebrity might come through and film. In your 309 Havemeyer void, your timeless little space, you’ll get to bear witness to that. You’re going to bear witness to so many things.

Out there, the world is full of change. But cheat sheets only mean so much for so little time. Maybe it’s a blessing to be down here, preserved and tucked away. After all, the you in 309 Havemeyer is okay. The you outside of it is okay, too. It is all going to be all right.

Happy finals season via Bwarchives