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MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

Days in lives that aren’t mine by CJ Q. '23

in a parallel universe

I wake up at 9 AM, and it’s the first time in a while that I’ve been awake this early. Of the four people I’m sharing a room with, I’m the first one to wake up. I curse the morning air for being too cold to go back to sleep, and after checking my phone for five minutes, I get out of bed and put on pants. The smell of scrambled eggs brings me downstairs to the kitchen. Ben is cooking breakfast.

“Good morning, CJ.”

“I don’t even know why I’m awake this early. My earliest class today is 2:30 PM.”

“Yeah, I know. You told me that last time.”

He grabs a plate and starts stacking the eggs on it. I grab a plate, serve myself some eggs, and sit down on the dining table. I check my email, and then Messenger, then Discord, then Twitter, and when I run out of things to check, I start eating.

“I just had a dream. I was walking down the hallway on Floor Pi, and all the doors to the rooms were open, and the light was streaming in from the rooms. And there was no one else on the floor, but I’d hear the voices of Theo, and Jacky, and Carina, and all the other people who lived on Floor Pi. And I don’t remember what happened next, but there was this bit where I went into my old room and found it completely empty.”

“Huh. Maybe you just miss East Campus?”

“Maybe? But it’s not as if East Campus is the same this fall anyway. I think only two people came back to Floor Pi. I think I’m happier living here, even if it’s the middle of nowhere.”

“I’m happy living with you here too, CJ.”

After washing my plate and placing it in the drying rack, I head back upstairs and grab my laptop before heading to the living room. Kate’s there too, writing something on a notebook, and she greets me good morning too. I work on a problem set for the next hour and a half, before I head to the kitchen and cook lunch.

The whole house comes over for lunch. There are twelve of us in all, and we’ve been living here since the fall began. Half of us are from MIT, and we’re all sophomores. The other half is from pretty much everywhere, which I guess happens when people keep pulling in friends they want to live with. I’ve known Ben for three years now, but I didn’t know anyone else who wasn’t from MIT before coming here. I grab a bowl of rice and adobo, head to the living room, and continue working on my problem set while eating lunch. It’s not the best lunch, but it’s what works.

Then I go to class, which amounts to sitting in the living room with my headphones on while on a Zoom call. It’s an hour and a half of linguistics, and then it’s 4 PM, and I’m bored. I put my laptop down and start going around the house, looking for people to bother. I spot Noah in the basement.

“What are you working on?”

“Oh. 404 pset.”

“Oh, yeah. I was just working on that. I guess it’s nice living with other people taking the same classes. I can’t imagine how this semester would look like if I was living alone in MIT again.”

We talk for a while about how we ended up living in the middle of rural Pennsylvania, and then we talk for a while about problem 6 on the 18.404 Theory of Computation problem set. Then I head back to the living room to grab my laptop before going upstairs to take a nap.

When I wake up, it’s 7:45 PM, and I head downstairs to eat dinner that’s already getting cold. I had an ESP meeting 8 PM, so I eat quickly, before realizing that I forgot my laptop upstairs, so I head back up and join the meeting from the bedroom. After the meeting, Ben pokes me and asks if I’m free to play some Among Us, and we play for a few hours downstairs, and then I went to sleep.

I wake up at 9 AM, and it’s the first time in a while that I’ve been awake this early. I’d fallen asleep on the couch, and someone placed a blanket over me. Which isn’t too bad, as someone ends up sleeping on the couch every night anyway, given that there are seven of us crammed in this apartment that’s supposed to be for, what, five people? Four people?

I roll around and try to fall asleep again, and I do, for thirty minutes or so, before I wake up and feel worse. I check my phone for a few minutes before I head to the kitchen to drink some water and take my meds. I reheat some leftover pasta from last night and check my email, scroll through my Twitter feed, whatever.

No one else is up until half past ten, and Sam is the first to wake up. I greet them good morning as they lurch to the dining table.

“You know, Sam, I dreamed about Floor Pi last night.”

“Really? What was it about?”

“I was walking down the hallway, and all the doors were open. There was no one else on the floor but I heard people’s voices, you know, like there were people playing Tichu in the TVL, or people room-crashing H306. And then I just found myself in my room and it was completely empty.”


After pouring themselves some soymilk, Sam grabs their laptop and starts working on the kitchen table, next to me. I get my laptop and do the same, and started working on my 18.404 pset. We don’t talk for a while until it’s noon, and I get some more leftover pasta from the fridge and reheat it. Sam looks up from their screen.

“You really like pasta, don’t you?”

“You know, that’s exactly what my Sam simulator said you’d ask.”

They laugh. “Oh no. You might replace me with a simulation then.”

“I’d rather not. I like talking to the real you, rather than this version in my head, or like, rather than through a screen or something.”

By the time I finish eating lunch everyone’s awake. Scattered through the living room are people on their laptops, all working on one thing or another. I’m the only sophomore in this house. There’s two cruft: one who graduated two years ago, and one who just graduated. Then there’s two seniors and two juniors, one of which is taking a gap year. We all know each other from Floor Pi or Epsilon Theta, an independent living group that happens to be interested in a lot of the same things people on Floor Pi are interested in. They kinda took me in back in March, and I’ve stayed here since.

After my 2:30 PM to 4:00 PM class, which was 24.902 Introduction to Syntax, I decided to take a walk. House rules were pretty strict about meeting up with people outside a certain group, but walking to parks, getting groceries and the like, are all fine. I put on some pants, grab my mask and my phone. I sent a message to our Discord asking if anyone wanted to walk with me, and after getting no response, I head out alone.

I walk past the T station on Central Square and down Prospect Street, making my way to Sennott Park. It’s a fifteen minute walk, which is a nice opportunity to think about some of the problems on my 18.404 pset. Compared to a few weeks ago, there are more businesses open now, and more people walking around.

I sit down on one of the benches in the corner of the park, and just watch for a while. People are sitting on the grass and talking to their friends, and people are taking their dogs on walks, and every once in a while a runner would pass by the park. My mind wanders, thinking about my 18.404 pset, thinking about how Cambridge feels so foreign to me even if I’ve lived here for the past year or so, thinking about what it’d be like if I stayed on-campus or went back to the Philippines or went with another group of friends.

The sun starts to set at around 6, which was when I decided to walk back. It was my turn to cook dinner, and then I had a meeting at 8, and then I was going to call some friends on the Floor Pi Discord.

I wake up at 9 AM after a two-hour long nap. My sleep schedule these days has kinda naturally adjusted to being biphasic, so I’m asleep for some time early morning and then I’m asleep for some time through the afternoon. It’s probably not the healthiest thing to do, but it’s not as if I have a lot of options when I’m living halfway across the world.

I make some oatmeal in my room before hopping on a call on the Floor Pi Discord. We play Among Us for two hours or so. The lag wasn’t too bad, since it was just a voice call, but I did break up three or four times in the middle. One time, this actually worked out to my advantage—I was the impostor, and my Discord connection silently dropped out for a few seconds during the meeting, so no one thought to question me about where I was.

Eventually, enough people leave that we decided to stop playing. Joseph shares his screen, showing us the Geoguessr game he was playing, and we watch him play Country Streak for a while. We look at road signs and architecture and emails and URLs. We get this country that, for a while, Joseph thinks is South Africa, before following it up with the complaint that South Africa, Eswatini, and Lesotho all look so similar.

As the morning progresses and midnight passes on the East Coast, more and more people drop out of the call. Eventually it’s just me and Reagan, Floor Pi alum, who’s now working in the Bay Area. He shares the dream he had the previous night, in which he’s in a summer camp after ninth grade and he meets this girl he begins to like. I share a dream I had that morning, in which I was walking down Floor Pi and no one was around.

The conversation subsides and we put on some music through a Discord bot. I eat a banana while doing some logic puzzles. At around 2 PM, Reagan says he was going to try sleeping earlier that night, so he logs off. I decide to go to sleep too.

I wake up at 8 PM. I didn’t have any classes until 2:30 AM, and wouldn’t really have anyone to talk until midnight.

That night, I wondered what it’d be like if I didn’t decide to go back to the Philippines back in March, if I decided to stay on-campus. Would I have really felt better then, if I was going to be pretty much alone either way? At least there, I wouldn’t have to nightshift or deal with bad internet. Or you know, what if I decided to just take another gap year here, work on some projects, maybe try to pick up a job? I didn’t know. I don’t know. I don’t even know what I want to do next spring. I don’t even know if I’d come back on campus if MIT offered us to.

I stare at my 18.404 pset.

It’s going to be a long night.

I wake up at 9 AM, and it’s the first time in a while that I’ve been awake this early. Unsurprisingly, it looked like Justin was already awake, while Nathan was still asleep, and would probably stay asleep until noon. I roll around bed trying to fall asleep again.

The next time I wake up, it’s half past eleven. I head downstairs and see Justin just finish cooking lunch. I grab a plate and eat while I browse my inbox, and scroll through Facebook, and Twitter, and Discord. Everyone else joins for lunch. Well, everyone except Nathan, who’s still asleep.

I’m living with five other sophomores in this house in rural New Hampshire. We moved here around the time fall began; in fact, Eric and I moved from campus to here together.

The four of us at the table talk about getting our flu shots done at the CVS nearby, since it’s a state-mandated requirement for MIT students to get flu shots. After lunch, I toss my stuff in the dishwasher, which was apparently broken until Justin fixed it the other day? I’m still not sure what happened there.

Then I work on a pset. Then I go to class. Then I work on a pset again. Then I eat dinner. Then I go to an ESP meeting. Then I head down to the basement. Then I’m on a call on the Floor Pi Discord. There’s me, there’s Reagan, an alum working in the Bay Area, and there’s Vincent, a senior who’s living on Floor Pi this semester. Reagan’s streaming himself doing logic puzzles. Meanwhile, I ask Vincent about how he’s been doing.

“So how’s life on-campus, Vincent? Did the food get better since I left?”

“Well, there’s chicken half the time.”

“Oh. And I know how much you hate chicken.”

We talk about what it’s like having to live on-campus, having to get tested twice a week, and all the new rules they have. We talk about Floor Pi and what it’s like now that the only two returning residents were him and another senior.

We talk about the things we miss. We talk about having conversations in the hallway, blocking people from passing through. We talk about board games in the TV Lounge and crashing each other’s rooms to work on puzzles. We talk about tea time, and fruit bowl, and the frosh, and the future of Floor Pi. We talk about where everyone else is now.

At the end, he says he misses me. I tell him that I miss him too. But I also tell him that it was the right decision for me to leave on-campus housing.

Then Colin joins the call, and I ask if people want to play Tichu. The four of us play games for hours. By the time we finish, it’s 1 AM, and Vincent had to go because he had a meeting early tomorrow morning.

I close my laptop and head upstairs. I see Nathan, sitting on his bed, scrolling through his phone, getting ready to go to sleep.

I say, “Wow. You’re going to sleep early.”

And he says, “Wow.”

I reach out my arms, and he gives me a hug.

Would I have gotten these hugs, if I was living somewhere else?