Take The Shot

Dylan Oliver

Time has a funny way of making everything seem so small when you look at it through the rear-view mirror. It seems so trivial that at twenty-two, I was afraid to start again. I’d lived a life; it felt a lifetime. Going back to school felt like taking a detour on my life’s road trip, only I was going back to visit a landmark I’d already seen and wasn’t even impressed by the first time. 

Moving forward had always been the goal for me. From the age of twelve, all I wanted was for my real life to begin. I coasted through high school, though did well enough. Got into creative writing at uni, though only gave it a half-assed attempt. After that, I’d convinced myself that the key to my future was to drift in the wind; to embrace the idea that if someone had to be the cog in the machine, it may as well be me. But you see, the thing about cogs in a machine is that they don’t move forward. They spin in place for ever and ever until they break and get replaced. 

I still remember the moment I fancied myself a writer. When I was eight, my father came across a story I had written. It can’t have been more than a page, handwritten. There was an unfamiliar kind of pride in his eyes that day. Memory isn’t the most reliable keeper of history, but in my mind, that was the first time my father ever really saw me as a person. It drove me forward, gave me a goal. It’s not as if my father had never told me he was proud of me, but this was the first time I believed I’d earned it. The first time I ever believed that I could do something with my life. 

It was part of the reason I’d signed up for creative writing my first go around at university. I didn’t get very far—too much pressure, not enough discipline. Back then, if there was no one else relying on me, it was far easier just to give up. Dad wanted me to keep going, but he knew it was time for me to make my own choices, my own mistakes. And what a mistake I made. Feeling the pressure at the end of the semester, I let the darkness grab hold of me and within moments I’d withdrawn from all my units. Technically, I’d failed everything, even the subjects I’d submitted all my assessment for, leaving quite the blemish on my record. 

If I’m honest, I thought they’d never let me back in after that. I used that as an excuse to put off reapplying for years. It was my partner at the time who broke that cycle, removed my cog from the machine. 

‘But I’d be at least twenty-five by the time I graduate,’ I remember saying to him. 

‘True. But if you wait another year, you’d be at least twenty-six, then twenty-seven.’ Fuck, I hated how often he was right. Probably what got us in the end. 

But it worked. I wanted to go back. And I didn’t want to do some ten-week writing course, I wanted the degree.  

I wanted the pride.  

I had a history of quitting when things got tough. If I was going backward to break the cycle—to start moving forward—I figured it was time to break the bad habits too. I was going to finish something I had started. 

I was twenty-two when I came back to university. I’m pretty sure I’ll feel younger on my eightieth birthday than I did that first day. I walked into my first class with complete confidence that someone was going to see just how much of an imposter I was; tell me my time had passed and I was too late. Instead of someone jumping out of the woodwork and telling me I was an idiot, no one said anything.  

It occurred to me that everyone in that room might be just as scared as I was. Even the kids coming straight in from high school were there doing something completely new and foreign, something they’d never done before. At least I’d had a first day of uni before. 

So, we skip ahead a few years and another whole lifetime. I’ve got this chance to sit at a shoddy dining table and reflect on how far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown. The twenty-two-year-old boy who took that leap is so far in the rear-view mirror, I wouldn’t recognise him in a crowd. I’ve stuck to it. My fears that I’d be old when I graduated have both come true and faded from my radar. I learned that if I put that thought behind me, I could study at my own pace, allow myself time to hold down a job and maintain a social life. Some of you reading this might agree with me; twenty-seven is old. And then there’ll be some of you rolling your eyes at the very same idea. It’s all perspective. If that’s true, then maybe there isn’t such a thing as ‘too old’. 

It wasn’t easy. I made mistakes. I made more mistakes. I’ll keep making mistakes. But I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that it’s never over. It’s never too late. Today is just an opportunity to be better than you were yesterday. You’ll have the same shot tomorrow, and the day after that. My advice: take the shot. 

Dylan Oliver is a Meanjin-based (Brisbane) writer currently working towards his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. He likes to explore a variety of themes and genres, with a focus on highlighting queer characters in a way that feels honest to the people who inspire him. Dylan aspires to be a novelist and is currently working on what he hopes will become his debut novel.