I woke up, stomach in knots, pleading in my dream with this kid I knew in law school.
He was two years below me. When I met him he was soft-spoken, a bit sarcastic, and mostly wanted to talk to the professor. He hung around the library a lot. We all had our reasons to be there, our own hills to climb. Edel and I, we both kept our heads down and our grades up.
His social media profiles are still up. It’s a picture of him on the front page of an El Salvadorean newspaper, “A” story, front and center, wearing a bright-orange, volunteer cotton tee, helping kids there. He was cool like that.
I heard about it through the alumni grapevine. I thought he knew that there was a life other than the corporate one constantly thrown at you in grad school. Edel saw the little guy. Edel in his bright-orange shirt, that was the Edel I was shaking by the shoulders in my dream.
He died fall semester, two years after I left, in our school’s dark, covered, snowcapped parking lot. The third floor of that structure had direct access to the library. Sitting in his car, he threw back some arsenic like a shot. Anybody leaving the library would have seen him. Why he left his body in that soulless cement block, I’ll never know. After three years of competitive clawing, that bastion of conceit would be the last place I’d want to leave my leaking body behind. Why leave it there for the assholes to find?
I was talking to him in my dream. Edel in that bright-orange tee. I was convincing him to wait for adulthood. Once you leave grad school, I said, you can say fuck you to everyone and live unbound. The glory of having a job, I said, is giving yourself the tools to finally discover your real wants.
I woke up sweaty, confused, and on the brink of tears. Who was I to convince Edel of anything? Is adulthood freedom? Is it happiness? Would he have escaped whatever he needed to escape with a law degree and a job?
I’m stuck. My husband feels more like my child. He nods his head and says “sure” without looking up from some sort of screen. I feel like a single mom, working full time and trying to have a life but also trying to save. Save for what? Save for some emergency to come around and take it all away. Is that adulthood? Is it working full-time for the next thirty years? I’ll still never pay off a mortgage.
Maybe he knew a significant other wasn’t going to raise him up. I thought a significant other was supposed to raise you up.
Turns out nobody could do that but yourself.
Elise Swanson Ochoa’s work has been featured or is forthcoming in Allium, Five on the Fifth, The Loch Raven Review, Los Angeles Poets
for Justice, The Opiate, Packingtown Review, Potato Soup Journal, Word West Revue, and Wrath-Bearing Tree. She holds a BA in Spanish and linguistics from UCLA and a Doctor of Optometry degree from Southern California College of Optometry. Elise is an optometrist in Santa Barbara.