Current Issue

Essay: The goulash

Miguel Barrera

“If somebody disappeared during finals week, nobody would know until it was over,” says student Miguel Barrera (Class of '05).

Fixed at the top of the screen, the cursor blinks an incessant command: begin, begin, begin. And my brain, stalled in a similar manner, won’t permit me to answer past one ineffectual plea: “God, I just want this to be over.” I haven’t even begun and already I am wishing for the end, wishing for the satisfaction of hearing the printer run its whispery fingers over the stark white surface of hard copy pages. Then, and only then, will I be able to relax, to let go, to sleep. Caught in this waking dream, drowning in night sounds and semi-connected ideas, I type the first word of the last essay of the quarter:

“The …”

But what next? It’s the question that follows each and every sentence I’ve ever written, and in this life that I’ve chosen for myself, it’s the only one that really matters. I’m a student, a vessel waiting to be filled with the knowledge of West and East: history, mathematics, English, Spanish, Buddhist religious mythology — they all combine to form a great and colorful goulash of information. Yet even though the heat is turned to high, the spices in this dish don’t quite mesh. I’ve learned so much in my years at DU, but the only thing I can think to write is:

“The essential …”

Wait, yes! Essential! It’s the word that manages to encapsulate the essence of the thoughts and feelings that have been honed by my experiences thus far. Now, I just have to pick up the thread where it lies throbbing in the grey matter of my brain, glowing like an ungrounded live wire. Finishing this essay is simply the next step towards the dimly perceived future of my graduation.

It’s not just my own expectations for the future that I face. When this day is done, I will have to face my parents, my teachers, my friends — anybody and everybody who ever invested time and money and love in this body I’m still trying to grow into. The U.S. government may call me a man, but I still can’t help clasping child-like fingers together to pray for an “A.”

“The essential idea in the novel by …”

Oh, it’s rolling now. Now I can get to the thesis statement, the body paragraphs, the conclusion — they all flow from this point. But, just as the words begin to take shape, the shaking and shivering of my cell phone breaks the spell.

It’s my friend, and behind her voice I can hear the party din, the sound of release. She wants to know what I’m doing. I tell her that I’m writing. She tells me that sucks. I say, “Yeah,” hoping only that she’ll let me return to this fledgling universe I’m trying to create. Ignoring the disappointment in her voice, I bend toward the keyboard once more.

College requires students to multitask, to maintain friendships on what oftentimes feels like the knife-edge of intellectual collapse. We students have a quiet code, an understanding that we are operating not on four cylinders but rather on fumes. If somebody disappeared during finals week, nobody would know until it was over.

Some in the “real world” might call students freeloaders, drinking and playing our way through the best four years of our lives, but nothing in this world is free. Every job well done, every essay written and every missed opportunity has a dollar sign trailing behind it, looming large.

Pushing these thoughts away, I furrow my brow and dive back in, and slowly, like a short sunrise felt but not seen, a smile spreads across my face as my fingers begin to fly.

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