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  • Writer's picturercai48

23 Stories Around UIC in 23 Hours pt.2

1:00 P.M. – Comic Day

It’s Friday and you know what that means. That’s right, it’s the day I go out to get my comics for the week.

I love the fact that there’s a comic shop so close to campus. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a factor that influenced my choice in university. Just a simple ten-minute walk down the street and I can pull all of the new issues I have lined up. Not to mention all of the little restaurants along the way, it’s the perfect way to blow off steam before the weekend.

It’s a small thing, but it does get me excited to get through the rest of the week. Through all the classes and homework, this is what I look forward to. Not that class is particularly difficult for me or anything, I’m doing fine – I am a comic book nerd after all – I just need something for me to enjoy. Something that I can enjoy in my own time. And that’s all I really need.

2:00 P.M. – Rushing

It’s two. Just finished with my biology class. That gives me a little more than an hour to get to school. Not “school” as in my next class but “school” as in “high school” because that’s where I work. And honestly, the commute back and forth is killing me.

Every day – or weekday to be more accurate – I have to rush from classes to get onto a south-bound bus to a high school halfway across the city. I have to get there before three so I can clock in before school goes out or else I’ll be marked late.

I work there as a tutor for math and science.

I don’t really remember how I got the job, but I’ve been doing it for a couple of months and I think I’m enjoying it. Or maybe it’s just comparatively less stressful to the rest of my day. And that’s including the commute, by the way.

Some days the commute really hurts. It feels like my heart is beating out of my chest because I can’t see the bus coming. But today it seems like it will be easy or at least as easy as it can be.

Once I get off this bus, I have a five-minute run to get to the front door before students come rushing out. I don’t really know why they’re rushing – well, okay, I do know why but that’s beside the point – I’m the one who has a schedule to meet.

But they’re not that bad, at least not all of them. The kids I work with are pretty great. Smart. Eager to learn. Maybe I’m biased, but I think they’re the best this school has to offer. And I guess that’s why I do this at the end of the day.

3:00 P.M. – Should I Even be Here 

Hi there, I’m a computer scientist.

That’s what I’d like to call myself at least. All these CS classes and I’m still struggling. The work, the videos, the classes; I do everything and I’m still struggling. It hurts doubly as much when I see that I’m the only one who is.

It’s times like this, looking at a thousand lines of code, where I question if I should even be here. The puzzle pieces on screen just don’t fit, or maybe they just don’t for me. Either way, I can’t figure it out. Just like most of the other projects I have. I always end up needing to ask for help.

I’m at the base of this mountain, right? Every time I try to climb, every time I sink my pick into the rock, I end up sliding back to the bottom. And besides me, I see others scaling the sides like nothing. Like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

And it’s times like this where I think I should quit. But every time I send a message to the class, every single time, there’s a group of people excited to help me. A group of people who make me feel like I can succeed. A group of people that would pull me up the mountain, kicking and screaming, just so we can all make it to the top.

And it’s times like this where I know I fit in. I belong. So, I pick up my phone and send the message. And then I wait.

4:00 P.M. – BSB

Have you ever heard of the Behavioral Sciences Building? Some say it’s the most cursed building on UIC campus.

The story goes that it was built by wizards – or at least I think it was wizards, I’m not too sure – to be the most confusing maze designed to torment mankind. Every entrance makes it feel like you entered a different building, each designed by a different madman to ensure they don’t feel real. At the center of all of them lies a deep pit that no person has ever gone down.

Around the pit is a series of prison cells that some call classrooms. They are quiet, suffocating rooms with no view to the outside world. Nobody knows which one is which so if you need to search for a specific room, you’ll end up spending the majority of the day going around and round and round.

And once you reach the second floor you may find the most terrifying secret of all. Ancient stairs carved out of stone that lead into other worlds, never before seen by man’s eye without them going insane.

I had the displeasure of having to go up these stairs for a time; I was mandated to for several months of my life. I wasted many of my days in that maze, with no end in sight. Walking in circles endlessly, wishing I could be freed from my mortal coil so that I could escape this building though I’m not sure if it would let my soul escape.

Why am I telling you any of this? A warning my friend. You don’t want to end up mad like I did, do you? Afterall, I am talking to myself.

5:00 P.M. – Waiting for the Bus

The day’s over for me, which means the travel begins. I’m standing outside of Student Center East, at the bus stop on Halsted, waiting for the bus. And this is where I’ll be waiting for the foreseeable future. Until the lights change. Until the winds stop. Until the bus finally gets here.

The bus I’m waiting for is the number 8 bus, by the way. I need to get to the Orange Line station and take the train home. There’s also a second way to get to the Orange Line. I would need to get on the Blue Line heading to O’Hare and get off in the loop so I can transfer onto an Orange line train.

So why am I waiting here then? It’s not like I would need to pay more, I have the U-Pass so I can travel however I want until the end of the semester. As long as that way is using CTA public transport.

The reason I don’t take the Blue Line is because life is cruel. Every time I decide to take the train instead of the bus, I end up waiting longer for the train than I would have if I had just stuck to the number 8. I can tell because I can see the bus cross the bridge from the station. Like it can tell where I’m waiting and decide when and where to show up to test my faith.

Some type of cruel joke.

So, I have resigned myself to standing here and waiting. To hold firm to the 8 bus even when it isn’t faithful to me. Even when it arrives packed full of people and I’m not allowed to get on anymore. Even through all that, I have faith.

That’s all I can do now as I wait on Halsted. Watching the cars pass. Watching the lights change. Feeling the wind bite into my face and pull at my hair. Waiting for the bus.

6:00 P.M. – One Hour Left

One hour left. That’s all the time I have until school is out and the weekend begins.

I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve done a good job today, though. I’ve managed to get all of my work done before class, a rare occurrence for me. And my last hurdle before getting to head home is in front of me.

Now I want to preface this by saying, no, I do not hate this class; it’s fine, nothing particularly eventful or infuriating. But once you spend six or so hours at school, your patience wears thin and all you can really do is wait.

Your professor is explaining a new concept related to economics. And I’m sitting here waiting.

Your professor presents the changes in inflation over the past 20 years and talks about the causes and impacts. And I’m sitting here waiting.

Class is almost over and she’s asking the class questions and people are answering her with how their own families were impacted by the latest recession. And I’m sitting here waiting.

My goal isn’t to be impolite; if she were to ask me a question, I’m sure I would be able to come up with some sort of answer. But it’s really the most I can do at this point. My brain is fried. Closer to a mess of soup then normal gray matter.

I can tell that she knows too. Whenever she looks my way I can see that little glint in her eye. Maybe it’s pity or maybe it’s understanding, either way she usually lets me take it easy for the hour.

And so, I’m left to sit here and wait.

One hour left. What happens after, who can honestly tell? All I really know is that there is one hour left and that’s all the assurance I need.

7:00 P.M. – Night Classes

For most people, their school days have already ended. But for me, my day has just begun. Most people also lament having to go to classes early in the day so I guess I should consider myself lucky. I appreciate the opportunity I’ve been given after all. Not everyone gets a second chance at college. Even fewer get the chance without a mountain of debt so I guess that gives me two things to be thankful for.

Night classes have a special air to them. It conjures images in peoples minds of smoke-infested business men and exhausted parents crowding into a room in order to finally get that degree they’ve always wanted. Maybe this is the first chance they’ve gotten at a bachelor’s or maybe they’ve finally decided to work on their master’s, who knows.

All I know is that the life I’m living might not live up to what people imagine. First off, I’m not that old. No insult intended, I’m just saying, I’m not a business man approaching his mid-40s. I’m only 25. My original time in college was cut short due to… let’s call them personal reasons.

But now I’m back. I’ve managed to, miraculously, convince a scholarship program to give me money to finish my studies while I work during the day. A real second chance. And I intend to make right by it.

I just finished with my first class of the day and have a 30 minute gap before my second class begins. Usually, I would try to get some food during this time – nothing fancy, maybe a simple sandwich or something – but today I found myself something to think about. As I was leaving class, I walked out onto a little balcony. Usually I just take the stairs to get down and leave as fast as possible but now, in the cold winter months, I get to see what the campus looks like painted in black.

And honestly, it does look special. It’s a sight that’s only really seen by the people who dorm here and even they might take it for granted after a while. But when they first see it, I imagine they feel just like me right now. A silent feeling of wonder.

You don’t really appreciate just how big this school is until you see it from up high. And you probably don’t really care about the architecture until you see it illuminated by the lights of street lamps, reflecting off the glass onto the concrete pavement.

It’s sights like this that really drill into your heads that you are somewhere. Not just an office building in the middle of the loop or a warehouse somewhere on the south side. This place feels like it matters, at least for the couple of years people stay here.

And those moments are special. Those moments matter and, in my opinion, those moments make life unique.

I’m glad I got my second chance. Even if it was only for this.

8:00 P.M. – Dinner Date

I hope she isn’t late. Or maybe I’m too early.

I’m starting to regret my choice of restaurant. Picking the chain bar on the south of campus might be a bit of a turn off. There’s a nice-looking Mexican restaurant right next to here. Maybe I should have suggested we go there instead.

Probably should have picked a nicer shirt too. Why do I only own 5 pairs of jeans and no other types of pants? Am I really that hopeless when it comes to fashion? Was I really so terminally single that I thought it was okay to live like this? I know I can barely hold onto a girlfriend for a couple of weeks, but I would have hoped one of them would have taken the time to fix my wardrobe.

Still, I have time to make a good impression, at least. I’ve talked to her friend before and she always had nothing but good things to say about her. I hope she didn’t tell whoever is coming about the way I act during class. I don’t want to be pigeonholed into being the “funny and weird guy” again.

You’d think the label would wear off, but it really does seem to stick.

But enough about that, I think I see her coming. And let me tell you… she looks like a bit of a mess. It looks like she tried to poof up her hair to hide her obvious bed head. And she doesn’t look like she’s slept in a while. And her makeup looks like it’s already started to smear. But underneath that, I do think she’s kind of cute. So, I guess I should thank Diana later for setting us up.

I give her a little wave that says “Hello, I’m enthusiastic to meet you, but not so enthusiastic that it would be considered weird.” and she walks over to the table I’m at. Slowly. Kind of sloppily. But again, that’s okay. Maybe she was more nervous than I was. Which, if true, thank god.

She pulls her chair out and takes a seat. As I think about this I realize that maybe I should have done that for her, but it’s probably okay that I didn’t. Now that I think even more about it, that might be a bit too old fashioned.

She’s in front of me now. And she isn’t smiling. Or talking. In fact, she looks kind of sad. So, I’m forced to be the one who starts talking.

“Hey,” I managed to squeak out.

“Hey…” she replies back in a soft tone.

Not the most interesting start to a conversion if you ask me, a bit too Tinder for my liking, but she sounds cute. I carry on.

“My name’s Will, it’s nice to meet you. Diana has had nothing but good things to say about you.”

“I… Thanks, I’m Mercedes. It’s nice to… meet you.”

Yikes. Am I striking out already? I usually have a bit more success than this. I’ve barely finished a sentence and she already sounded like she wanted to leave. Maybe I need to change up my strategy.

“Do you want anything to drink?” I ask. I of course quickly realize the implications of what I’m asking so I add a quick follow up. “You don’t need to or anything, no pressure.”

“No, I… can’t really drink anymore.”

“Oh, okay. No problem.”

She looks like she’s about to have a breakdown. But before I can plan my next action, she just bursts out talking.

“I’m sorry, it’s just… I didn’t think I would be coming here today. I was going to cancel earlier, but this morning I was busy and had to see a doctor and just ended up forgetting to. Sorry. I just got some news this morning and now my life is changing and I don’t really know what to do. But I didn’t want to be rude and just ghost you, but now I’m probably upsetting you and… I can’t believe I told you before I told my parents that I’m pregnant and…”

Right at the end of her sentence, its like something just set her off. Like she was just beginning to crumble into herself. She started to weep, softly at first, but moments became seconds and a few tears became a full stream and now I feel like everything is somehow my fault and I’m sure the other people looking at us feel the same way.

But the worst part is I only have one idea on how to handle this. And I’m not going to lie, it’s a really bad one. Like, nuclear-option type bad. She would need to be a very special type of person for this to work. Otherwise, it’s the scorched earth policy. I’ll probably have to move states, change my name, and the whole shebang.

“Hey, don’t cry, it’ll be alright. You don’t need to worry, you’ll look fine when your pregnant.”

I can feel the world grind to a halt. People definitely heard that. Everything hinges on what happened next. I watch her face. And, to my credit, she isn’t crying anymore. She looks kind of stunned. In a good way I hope.

The sides of her mouth are starting to quiver. She puts her face in her hands before beginning to shake. Lightly at first, before eventually bouncing her shoulders up and down.

She’s laughing. Thank god she’s laughing.

And from there onwards I just begin to speak the first thing that’s on my mind. I guess being the “weird and funny guy” can be useful sometimes.

9:00 P.M. – The Fake Test

I’m rushing across campus. Yes, I know nine is too late to be running across campus, but trust me, I have my reasons. My dad just called and he’s ready to pick me up. I have to make myself look tired. I have to let the cold attack my skin so that I can look more stressed.

I told him that I had a test late at night. I told him that I can come home on my own, but he insisted that he needed to pick me up. But there was never any test to begin with.

A movie was getting shown in theaters for the first time – in America, at least – and I really wanted to go, but they were all late-night showings. Something my parents would never allow.

So, I lied to them.

That may seem like a big deal to some people, but I guess I just have a different relationship with my parents than most other people. They always lied to me growing up. And I’m not talking about any Santa Claus’ or Tooth Fairies, either. They just lied about everything. What we were going to do today, where would we be going, what would we be eating, and so much more. Many of those lies served no purpose either. They just lied so they could lie.

So, I grew up on lies and now I can add some of my own into our home. I know this isn’t a good thing, but I swear I don’t do this with anyone else.

That’s what I tell myself as I rush towards the front of Student Center East where he’s parked. I open the door and hop in.

“How do you think you did on the test?” he asks me.


10:00 P.M. – Pregaming

Just a little tipsy. Haven’t had that much to drink. Wandering towards the party. I wonder who’s going to be there. Should be fun.

Steps are getting tiring though. Getting harder to walk towards the apartments. Don’t have class tomorrow. Don’t need too much sleep tonight. Should be fun.

Met some nice people at the last party. Not really a party school, but when there is one, it’s fun. This one should be fun, too.

Stayed up late yesterday. Eyes getting a bit heavy. The apartment is right ahead though. I can see the doors getting close. That means the party is getting close too. Should be fun.

Through the doors. Up the elevators. Down the hallway. Knock on the door. Knock again when nobody answers. Tired of knocking now. Going to start kicking soon.

In three.



The door has opened. The party is inside. So is the floor that I’m falling onto. Should be fun.

11:00 P.M. – The Party

I don’t know how they convinced me to throw a party. I’m not exactly the most fun-loving type. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I’m straight-edged, Chicago style. But now my apartment reeks of booze and smoke that I pretty sure isn’t from cigarettes.

The party has barely started, but I already have someone passed out in the corner. Well technically, they passed out on the floor and someone put them in the corner.

Now people are going around my home and touching my stuff. People in my living room, in my kitchen, and, god forbid, my bathroom. Thankfully I had the foresight to lock my bedroom, but this still feels like a massive invasion of my privacy.

But I guess I’m okay with it because every so often I get a chance to look around and see people having fun. Danny and Greg cuddled together. Hector, Dante and Aia all hanging out together. Cynthia with what I presume is her fifth drink in hand talking to Tina and Gabby. Even Will managed to bring someone over.

And, of course, I see Diana. She’s staring out the window, overlooking the west side of the loop. It was her idea to host his party.

And I want to go over and thank her. As I make my way towards her, the music and bright lights of the party encapsulate me. I can feel the cold air through the window and hear its howling. I can feel the wind. It’s crazy.

She’s sitting on the windowsill. I sit across from her. I stare across our little bridge. For one moment, it’s our own little world. And I say thank you.


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