Page Three Dispatch From the Arctic Zone

Students Were Never Alone In School's Best-Kept Secret

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Monday, December 15, 2008

We spent most nights during our college career in the library, deep in the stacks or hunched over the painfully slow (but cheap) copying machine. Does anybody still go to the college library in this age of the Internet and Google?

In 2001, I graduated from physical therapy school and donated my Apple IIe ["e" for enhanced] computer to the Salvation Army. It might have been from the Pong era, but it worked like a champ. I typed all of my papers on it -- in glowing green words.

Once, after seeing me turn in a dot matrix paper, a classmate started a rumor that I owned a Commodore 64 computer. I thought the rumor was hysterically funny, but when my printer died, my 1980s ship was sunk. I couldn't find a computer lab anywhere that would take an old-school, 5 1/2 -inch floppy.

Which was how I ended up back in the cadaver lab, the best-kept secret on campus. You never had to wait in line to use a computer. It was open 24 hours. It had Internet access, and the printer was free. The keyboard was sticky, but I was used to the smell, and the arctic temperatures kept me awake.

For 40 cents, I would get a cup of coffee out of the machine at the end of the hall. It had a metallic aftertaste, but I didn't know better. To me, the coffee machine was another bonus. I would go in the evenings and on weekends. During the day, it was crowded and noisy. In the evening, there were always a few students in there studying quietly. The ventilation fan hummed in the background.

The computer was on a table in the back of the room, where I would stare down a long corridor of gurneys. Fifty blue-sheeted bodies, like people tucked into their beds.

One night, I ran in there really late. It was almost midnight, and I had a paper due in the morning. This time, I have to admit, I hesitated at the door. The lab was dark and empty. I had never been in there alone, and I could feel the old fainter inside of me bubble to the surface as I scurried quickly across the room toward the computer. The paper was written. All I had to do was type it out. I typed as fast as I could, my heart whirring in my chest.

Bang! The paper-towel holder by the sink mysteriously popped open, and the roll of paper towels sprang out and rolled across the floor. "Yaaaaaaaaaaaa!" I was just a blur, jumping over the back of the chair and sprinting for the door. Practically choking on my tongue, I ran for my life past endless rows of the dead.

If the door had been locked, I would have knocked it off the hinges. I tore out of the cadaver lab and down the lit hallway, clattering down three flights of stairs with my ears filling up with panic. In the lobby of the building, I stopped, hands on my knees, breathing heavily and feeling foolish.

Still cringing, I thought about calling my classmate Jordan, since she had a similar experience in there one night. But only because I had followed her in and turned the lights out, while simultaneously dropping a heavy textbook on the floor. Jordan had left a path of destruction behind her, chairs and tables knocked askew, and had almost knocked herself out on the door frame on the way out.

Now I share a small house in Wheaton with my girlfriend. There's a nice sun-lit study, but I prefer to hide out in the musty basement. I do all my writing down there, on a sticky keyboard, drinking coffee and listening to the furnace hum in the background. It's pleasant, but there's something missing. The bodies.

-- Adele Levine, Wheaton


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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