In late February, after leaving Connecticut where my cousin would soon be graduating from college, I took an Amtrak to Boston. I didn’t talk much with my cousin about his imminent graduation, but seeing how ready he was for what would come next was reassuring. I tried not to think about how uncertain my own future seemed as brown salt marshes and lifeless trees rushed past my train car’s window. Occasionally, the Atlantic Ocean would reveal itself, almost as gray as the clouds in the sky. As the sun’s light dimmed behind the blanket of clouds, I sat back and let the music in my headphones drown out my thoughts.
I arrived at Back Bay station long after the sun had set and transferred to the Orange Line, which took me the rest of the way to Northeastern University, where I was staying with my high school friend, Lucas.
I was only staying with Lucas for two days before I had to head back to Ann Arbor. There was a lot to see, and on the second day, we decided that a good way to explore Boston would be to go on a bike ride. Taking advantage of Boston’s Bluebikes, we set out across town, cycling down the Fenway.
This was not like the winding North End Freedom Trail, brimming with patriotic history, nor were the structures like the commercial high rises of State Street. To our immediate left, the Museum of Fine Arts’s classical architecture stuck out like an anachronism. The brick buildings of Emmanuel College stood in stubborn contrast opposite a tall, jagged glass-window apartment building. To our right, the Emerald Necklace, a landscape conservancy project, was lined with trees whose crumpled-up leaves sat on the ground, wondering where all the shade went.
We turned left onto Riverway Park, continuing on cement trails half-covered with melting snow. The late February air was crisp but not cold, and the afternoon sun was still beaming down on us through naked branches. Soon enough, we arrived at a spot to park our bikes and decided to walk toward Jamaica Pond.
As we walked, Lucas and I talked about how school had been since we last saw each other. We laughed at each other’s stories about people we’d encountered and misadventures we’d had. It was as if no time had passed since we had left our hometown, Oakland, for college — Lucas to Northeastern University and myself to the University of Michigan. The sun began to fall behind the horizon as we made our way toward the trail that encircled the pond.
Birds warbled overhead as Jamaica Pond finally came into view, its waters thawing with winter’s retreat. Oak and maple trees ran along its border, giving the impression of an island of nature amidst a sea of surrounding urban development.
I look back on this walk favorably because, however superficial it might be, I felt like it was a scene stolen out of a bildungsroman. It was twilight in Boston, I was walking around a scenic pond with a friend from high school with no sense of direction but no pressing need to be anywhere in particular, and my Jonathan Richman-inspired romanticism for this inscrutable, magical city had come to life.
Aside from my own sentimentality, there was the very real uncertainty about my future. The newness and excitement that accompanied the first semester of college had worn off, and the pressure to make a way for myself in the world was starting to sink in. Being on my own had unlocked in me a new maturity that I hadn’t known before, but it also brought on entirely new anxieties that I hadn’t yet confronted. Although the Jamaica Pond scene looks nice on the surface, it was more than just a picture-perfect “main character moment.”
Fortunately, Lucas and I trusted each other enough to talk about our anxieties. Talking to him about where I saw myself living in ten years, for example, didn’t require the same caution as it did with family — there were no expectations. The more we talked, the easier it became to confide in each other about the less glamorous aspects of going off to college.
Lucas is a social guy, but at the time, he felt like he hadn’t found his friends yet at school, and he wasn’t feeling inspired by the classes he was taking, either. I didn’t have any answers for him, but I didn’t need to. The best I could do was listen to what he was saying, and he did the same for me. When I look for answers, I almost always find them within myself. Simply speaking my thoughts aloud, like reading words off of a page, helps clarify them. The fact that Lucas and I were willing to listen to each other made all the difference.
When asked about how college is going, I’ve been open about how it takes some serious adjusting — but often, it’s as though people are surprised to hear me be honest about it rather than tell them, “Yeah, Michigan sure is cold, but hey — I’m glad I brought the right jacket.” On the other hand, Lucas and I had no apprehension toward vulnerability. Not every conversation needs to be that way, obviously, but having people that you can confide in goes a long way.
In fifth grade I hid a science test that I got a D on behind my bed, hoping that my parents wouldn’t find out about it. It didn’t take long for them to find it, of course, and I got myself in more trouble than I would’ve been if I had just told them about the bad grade. I don’t remember if my science grades got any better after that, but I did learn that hiding from your problems doesn’t get you anywhere. It seems like a no-brainer that confronting your problems is the healthy thing to do, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
It wasn’t lost on Lucas or me how fortunate we were to be able to have a conversation about our mental health. It’s hard for a guy to be vulnerable in a patriarchal society that expects stoicism from men instead of vulnerability. I’m pretty sure that if I told Andrew Tate that I talk about my feelings with my guy friends, he’d call me a “beta male” or something worse. That is a short-sighted mentality. Being vulnerable can often feel like a weakness, but I have found the opposite to be true.
Talking about my mental health openly has helped me overcome a lot of anxiety that previously felt like an encumbrance. The University offers resources like Counseling and Psychological Services, as well as other mental health services, but simply talking to a friend can be exactly what a person needs.
As Lucas and I returned to where our walk had started, the sun had fully disappeared from the sky. Street lights reflected off of the pond’s opaque water. Only a few walkers and joggers remained on the path. Lucas and I had moved on from our conversation about mental health and were now talking about the concerts we had been to in the last few months. Life is confusing and overwhelming, and I still get anxious about the future, and I don’t know if that ever changes. But as Lucas and I left Jamaica Pond, that was the last thing on our minds.
Statement Columnist Connor O’Leary Herreras can be reached at email@example.com.