It wasn’t until I found myself seething over my reading, gripping my pen so hard that it was beginning to crack, and crunching up my vertebrae in fury, that I understood the phrase “blind rage.” The guy in the back of Olin had been clearing his throat for three days straight—did he sleep there?—and I was in an all-out tizzy. What nerve he had, releasing his germs into the air with such vibrato! I had to take intentional ujjayi breaths to avoid passing out in anger.

It began as a low rumbling in the back of his throat, but that was just the teaser for what followed. The sound made the fine hairs on the back of my neck stand up in tensed wrath, because I knew what was coming next: a huge, obnoxious, self-indulgent “eh-heh-heh” that filled the entirety of Olin’s first floor, echoing off its walls. I can still hear it perfectly in my head, either because I experienced it so many times or because it was so horrifying that it imprinted itself onto my brain.

It isn’t that I require perfect silence to work—and if I did, then it would be fully my responsibility to seek out that haven. I do appreciate a mild hum of low chatter and people plunking lightly on the keys of their laptops. The occasional purring of a printer is nice as well—even therapeutic and reminiscent of a womb.

But not the coughing. Or the throat clearing. Anything but the throat clearing.

Olin, though not pin-drop silent, should be held to the standard library decorum of relative noiselessness. A few coughs and sneezes are acceptable when brought on by a mild passing allergen, but in my book, people with whooping cough ought to stay home. And that’s for altruistic reasons as well as selfish ones; infecting every surface he came into contact with was another crime I pitted against the hacker. This crime I wielded self-righteously, with the full authority of belonging to the Wesleyan community.

But let’s get back to the real misdemeanor: disturbing the peace. When it’s going on for days, these guttural noises become simply selfish. This particular person held nothing back, either, emitting his strangled gurgle at full volume. He seemed to be totally unaware, or perhaps he didn’t care, that people could hear him. I looked around helplessly at my fellow studiers, but aside from a few people wearily massaging their temples or putting in ear buds, nobody else seemed ready to commit hari-kari, a point I had passed 12 minutes after the start of the noises.

I entertained the notion of asking him to find another space to study, but I wanted to spare his roommate, who I figured dealt with the creature in the hours that I didn’t have to. I pictured this poor soul, the roommate, lying awake in his bed at night, toes stiffened with rage and eyes squiggly with burst blood vessels, listening to the nightly emissions issued forth by his inconsiderate beast of a living partner. This, I thought, was why people snapped. It’s not academic stress, or break-ups, or financial troubles. It’s the coughing.

And this guy isn’t even the only one! There’s the girl who sniffles about 14 times in a row every two minutes on the minute, sucking mucus into her head with the intensity of an industrial vacuum cleaner.

“Go get a tissue!” I imagine shouting, springing up in Olin and making a tremendous scene.

That’s not all I would do, either. I have visions of myself knocking laptops off the desks of people whose music is playing loud enough to hear it despite their headphones; sending papers of hackers and chronic coughers into flurries; and emptying pencil cases over the fingers of people who use those appendages to tap private rhythms on the table.

“Unless it’s Morse code, I don’t want to hear it!” I would holler.

Maybe this rage I feel is a symptom of being around too many people all the time. The showers in 200 Church are see-through; there are people in every room I enter, no matter what; even Olin is polluted by the streptococcus virus. The library is a precious space. It belongs to every individual brain working in one physical space but variant mental ones; our bodies are grounded in community, but our minds are free to roam the expansive halls of thought. It feels like an assault when that peaceful coexistence is disturbed.

This is all to say that my vehemence is probably misdirected, and that I owe an apology to the unlucky, afflicted person who had a phlegm-filled throat all this week. Maybe I should buy him some sympathy lozenges from Weshop.

On second thought, I think that the sounds of him sucking and slurping the drops might just drive me over the edge.


Davis is a member of the class of 2017.

  • JLD

    Believe it or not, just as I was reading your post, in the library here, and had come to the end, a man with a cough sat at the adjacent table and began a riveting display of his symptoms. I picked up my iPad, and sat opposite to him, and chewed gum. Lots and lots of gum.