Sunday, July 31, 2005

That Jessica story

Ok, while I am remembering Jessica, as sad and poignant as her death is, remembering this story can still make me laugh.

This happened at the 2003 American Medical Informatics Association Convention in San Antonio. Another grad student--let's call her Amy for the moment, until I find out if she's ok with her part in this story being shared--was crashing in my room, but was not benefiting very much from the talks, because she was working on a project for an undergrad CS course she was taking. Unlike grad courses, undergrad courses aren't flexible about things like conferences, so she still had to get this in on time, even though she was at AMIA.

One night, Amy was up working late on her project, and she was concerned that she was keeping me up, too, so she offered to go down to the hotel lobby and work there. She said she'd be back by midnight, and I went to sleep. I woke about 3:20 AM, and not only was she not there, her bed had clearly not been slept in--there was no evidence that she had ever been back to the room.

So now, I wasn't sure what to do--if she was genuinely missing, I was the only one who knew about it, and I should sound the alarm right away. But if on the other hand, she had only just lost track of time, and was having fun with friends, then it would be overreacting to report her missing.

I went down to the lobby to look for her, and there was no sign of Amy there. I asked the desk clerk, who hadn't noticed anyone working in the lobby. So I went back up to the room still wavering.

I wasn't sure what to do, although I knew if I did wake up the grownups (profs, admins from our group) at this hour, it would instantly escalate. So I was hesitating over what was the right thing to do, when it occurred to me to ask Jessica. Ok, I knew she'd bitch me out for waking her up at that ungodly hour--she had a temper and a mouth on her, I knew that--but more important, I knew that she would come through in a crisis, as when she had taken me to the ER in Utah, and that she could help me decide what to do. If she thought this was an emergency, then I would wake up our profs about this. If not, then I would have awakened her for nothing, but I would spend the rest of the conference doing penance to her, and it would ultimately be all right.

I dialed Jessica's room, and let it ring. The phone rang about 20 times, but there was no answer. This was starting to get really weird, and I was starting to get scared, when I heard a cardkey slide in the door, and Amy walked in.

In relief, I put down the phone. It turned out that she had been in the lobby working on her project all this time, and the moment I had chosen to go down and look for her had been, perversely enough, the time when she had hit a snag and gone around the corner to a phone booth to call another friend for technical assistance. We both had a good laugh over the whole thing, and then went to bed, as it was going to be a busy morning.

Around 10 AM, I ran into Jessica at a bioinformatics talk, and she looked awful. I asked her what the matter was, and she responded irritatedly, "Some ratf***er called my room at 3:30 this morning.".

Oops! I quickly decided against honesty being the best policy in the moment, and instead went with a more "Really? Do tell!" approach.

She continued "I thought it was my 7 AM wake-up call, so I got up and got dressed and put on my makeup without looking at the clock.". One thing I haven't mentioned yet is that she was a Goth, so she went to a lot of trouble with her clothes, hair, and makeup; getting ready meant about an hour and a half in the morning.

Still without looking at the clock, she walked over to the convention center, attributing the morning darkness to the latitude. Only when she tried the door and found it locked, and noticed that absolutely no one else was there, did she look at her watch and learn that it was 5 AM.

By this point in the story, I am feeling absolutely, horrifically, guilty. But this is the story that keeps on giving, so it didn't end there--in an absolutely foul mood, she went back to the desk clerk on duty, and tore him or her a new orifice for messing up her wake-up call.

Much, much later, did I tell her what really happened, and by that time, she was able to laugh at it. So that is the story about the time Jessica called me a ratf***er.

Jessica made me laugh, and she made me cry, and I miss her.


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