Self-Portrait at 21

Inside a bold V shape, an inverted reflection appears in a rippling puddle with fresh green grass sprouting along one edge. Outside the V, the image is in black and white, the water still, the grass dry.

It’s all computer screens and cables crammed on a gray desk that’s built into the wall. It’s drawers filled with crumpled up rough drafts and quizzes. It’s drawings in faded pen and scribbled notes your friends cared enough to mail, taped on each corner and stuck to the wall. 

It’s passing an acquaintance from high school as she lies in the field on the edge of campus and fiddles with her hair. It’s exchanging hellos before hurrying to class. 

It’s sticky note to-do lists and checked-off assignments, fluorescent lights staying on until you finish the book you should’ve read over the weekend. It’s late nights perched in your office chair—white noise and headphones drowning out screaming tinnitus.

It’s all road trips back home and potlucks. It’s waiting for the uncle who smells like cigarettes to arrive on Thanksgiving. It’s small-town Idaho gatherings at The Pond, where sixty percent of attendees have the same nose you do sticking out an inch from their faces. It’s fireworks that break a laundry list of laws crackling into the night until the sheriff shows and demands Whose property is this? despite knowing it’s his cousin’s. It’s battered cans of beer you turn down even though you’ve been twenty-one since August. 

It’s pouring yourself a gin and tonic and curling up in the stiff chair by the window of your friend’s cabin to watch the rain.

It’s all friends you should write back to but never do.

It’s all thrift stores and tacky pants. It’s a shirt with frills on the front you’re holding up in the mirror. Your shoulders are too broad to wear it, and your chest too flat. Your friends all say it looks cute. It’s three a.m. tea parties in the living room of your dorm. A place you decorated with six-dollar paintings of a girl in a blue dress feeding ducks in a park, and one of a hunting dog posed on a rock—all purchased to make up for the shirt you didn’t buy. 

It’s daily texts from your anxious mom.

Motorcycles roaring you from sleep at four in the morning.

The box of old clothes left on the stairs labeled “FREE.”

Mason Stubbs

Mason Stubbs is an undergraduate at the College of Idaho currently studying biology, history, and creative writing. This piece is his first publication. As he enters his senior year, he is excited to continue writing and hopes to gain experience and feedback working with editors and peers. He is passionate about music, poetry, and all things fantasy.

Header photograph by Linds Sanders
Header artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

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