A month ago, I got an Instagram DM from an old friend. I admit, I was nervous seeing that iconic red notification pop up in the corner of my homepage. After all, the last time I had spoken to them was in 2019, when both of us were still unaware of the school year ahead. Truly, it had been some time. To me, they were like an unmoved fixture in my mind—both a wormhole taking me back to before I even worried about college and an hourglass so delicate that if I were to reconnect, the sands they carried would certainly fall and break the illusion of not growing up. With trepidation, I opened the chat and found their text staring back at me.
“Hi … um … can I literally commission a piece…”
The harsh white light of its background betrayed the giddiness of its tone, evoking a sense that I was awaiting judgement in a conventional-Hollywood-afterlife waiting room. Maybe I was waiting, not for judgement, but for an impetus that would finally kickstart me out of the stagnant water that permeated my last week before college.
And yet, even after I typed my response and let it marinate in my chat box, I couldn’t bring myself to hit send. After all, was that illusion really worth breaking? Was it really worth it to accept the end of summer that once seemed so far away was now here, and that in a week I would be trekking up north to Bowdoin? I paused, feeling the weight of that future before me. A few moments passed and I hit “Send”; I knew the answer.
“YES U CAN”
Over a series of DM’s, we talked, and I felt that mellow warmth creep up on me, the one you only get when you reconnect with someone whose path in life had long drifted from your own. At first it was awkward, a litany of expected pleasantries.
“How are you?”
“I’ve been good lol, moving to Maine next week crazy af…”
“Felt, first week is nerve wracking…”
Yet soon, we fell into a familiar rhythm, increasingly comfortable with the people who were now texting each other—the versions that replaced the people we once knew.
“Yeah um I actually tested positive for COVID LOLOL I’m so unlucky…”
“Yeah IK, I have to like quarantine until the time I leave for Michigan…”
“Why did u say that??? im scared now…”
“If I test positive on move-in day idk what i’d do…”
It was beautiful how easily we shifted from topic to topic. We talked about their interest in fate, angel numbers, romance and how their current art project dealt with all three. They admitted they wanted to commission me because they loved my art style and wanted to see my take on their project. Yet despite their fondness, I sensed they were hiding something, their glee unable to perfectly mask the storm underneath.
“So what inspired you to pursue this in the first place?”
For a while, all I saw were the three dots on their end, popping up then disappearing—back and forth like waves in the DM cybersphere. But the waves ceased, and I was worried I had lost them, my question too personal, and I had overstepped. It really seemed then that I was in that divine waiting room. Suddenly, however, the dots reappeared, and the conversation shifted.
They opened up about the fallout of their attempt at summer romance and the mixed feelings of anger, sadness and confusion after being vulnerable with someone, yet still not having the other reciprocate their needs fully. It was hard because I could relate, understanding that weird, intoxicating mixture of both being into someone and being disappointed they could never be what you believed you were for them. But above all, I resonated with their story’s lesson about the difficulty of vulnerability: how scary it is to willingly place yourself in a position beyond the comfort of what you’re used to. Certainly, it’s something everyone experiences, and I knew I had to capture it, not just for them, but for me.
Titled “Ready For Combat”, the piece above is inspired by the lesson I learned that day. With other people, it is so easy to be the one hurting and the one hurt, both the archer and the prey, as Taylor Swift sings in one of my friend’s favorite songs, “The Archer”. Vulnerability is certainly something that can drive one away not only from the thought of love, but from any aspect of life. Yet, it seems that when one is vulnerable, they grow and open themselves to a previously hidden gamut of experiences and emotions, new colors and shapes bursting from every fabric of life
While it’s been some time since the last week of August, that conversation has stuck with me, especially during the three weeks I’ve been at Bowdoin. I’ve met so many people, experienced so many things and have a sense of freedom I’ve never felt back home. But strangely, I still feel that creeping ache that I spoke too much, that I don’t belong and that I have to leave because people can see me for who I am, a perception I can’t perfectly control.
As consuming as it may be, I know that when this feeling blooms, all I need is to be reminded of the lesson of the piece above. I have to be vulnerable, willing to put myself out there regardless of the outcome, regardless if I’ll be the prey that’s hunted. After all, how else can I grow? At Bowdoin, I have to be ready for combat—ready to just draw the bow, fire away and go wherever the arrow lands.