No Name

I give them names. Our society has grown ever more distant; you can't just walk up to someone and talk to them, or ask them their name. So I give them names. The BioScience 37 Computer Lab repertory cast includes Homeless Lady, Janitor Guy, Chemistry Girl, Ag Boy, Dreadlock Guy, Red, and my favorite - Pretty Russian Girl.

She is here again. Like most nights, she was here when I got here at 3:00. She and I have spent countless hours together over this semester, but it's like the person you sit next to on a long plane flight. Physical proximity means nothing anymore. She could fall asleep, even let her head slip from that crappy little airline pillow to rest on my shoulder, but it would all be over as soon as we touched down.

She bobs her head gently to the tunes on her iPod and stares at her Email. Tall, and a bit too thin. Black hair in a sensible ponytail, just reaching her shoulders. Her fuzzy blue sweater is huge on her, sleeves folded back twice at the wrists. It looks like it might belong to him.

I'm tired, as are we all. This semester has been like a trip that's too long, and I want to go home now. I feel drugged; like I've been anesthetized to make it easier to stuff me in the overhead comparment. For seven hours last night I slept like the dead, but I still feel like a thin, watery substitute for myself.

And where is he tonight? He is usually at the next terminal, walled in behind piles of books on soils and irrigation and water rights. I always thought she was here because of him - the faithful girlfriend, not wanting to sleep alone, would accompany him to the lab while he wrote some rambling discourse on crop management in the high desert. I liked to imagine that they might hit Village Inn for breakfast as the sun was rising, then back to his place for a morning tumble and a brief nap before classes at 10:00.

We had a class together a few semesters back - Victorian Poetry. She always sat at the back. I think she might have been just auditing. She spoke only very rarely, and in a lush, warm accent; I remember she made some very cogent comments about parallels in Russian history when we studied Idylls of the King. I wonder how she gets through the day, coming here every night. Of course, folks wonder the same about me. At least once each night, she looks up, makes eye contact, waves and smiles. She remembers Victorian Poetry too.

It's just she and I here tonight, for about three hours. We sit at opposite corners of the lab, just about as far apart as possible. Periodically she looks over - to make sure I'm still here - and my worries grow.

Where is he? Did they fight? Her face is tired, but is it from studying or crying? Perhaps they split up because she is returning to Russia after graduation, and he couldn't handle these last few lame duck weeks. Will she give him the sweater back or keep it as a reminder of her American Ag Boy?

You just can't ask these questions. Even if I could ask, I don't think I really want to know. If I spoke to her, knew her name - it would all end. If I don't ask, she can remain Pretty Russian Girl, and I can keep her as a player in my little theatre of insomnia. I suppose that means that I like the alienation of the 21st century.

We are making our final descent now - I can tell because my ears are popping. She is huddled on her chair, her long legs folded, chin on her knees, hugging herself. No doubt the tunes on the iPod are sad ones.


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