Backseat Driver

Art, Essays, Non-Fiction

By: Steven Underwood

Names have been censored to protect people, identities, and relationships

Some Men have these rides with one another that isn’t very fun, it’s always very hurtful, and it’s about doing your best to destroy the person closest to you, at the benefit of rising among a hierarchy that ultimately might not matter.

I participated in this while still in high school, and to this day I can’t imagine why. We were driving in the car up Demorest Road, a long street that connects you to the most important places in Columbus, Ohio. I’m in the back seat – neither my choice, nor the first time this weekend. See, this place – the back seat– is the most toxic environment in my circle. It’s where you’re forgotten and ignored and relatively useless to the overall direction of the evening. It’s where it’s whispered: “You should honestly just be happy we invited you, several of us didn’t want to.”

It’s a place I really should not have been, because the person driving the car was my best friend, B.

There is an unspoken truth to it: every man might have a circle, but every man also has a right hand. The dynamic between the two isn’t always equal – hell, the strongest side at the moment might even realize this, and will take advantage: hoping to keep the power on their side, lest they lose something important to their character. Yet, there is an agreement between the two: you will take care of your right hand, and your right hand will take care of you.

And still, I was in the back seat, and not by any insignificant act. I knew I was put there. I knew I had done something wrong in the eyes of the highest order of the hierarchy, and this was a punishment. Maybe in some group chat they were laughing at me; I already knew that in some conversations they were: I knew because I was told about it every time, and if I got upset, It would probably happen again, this time around someone I liked, next time maybe around people who could potentially like me. This was the rule of the hierarchy, because to them I didn’t bring anything to the table and I had no point to me outside of my relative loyalty.

B and I, lock eyes in his rear-view mirror. It’s for a moment, but I still see him smirk as he accelerates up the road. I try to figure out what I did wrong exactly, but I’m clueless. The car keeps moving, and I’m interrupted by a ringtone.

It’s another friend, a good friend. Someone more loyal than we deserve, and stronger than most of us gave credit too.

B quickly takes him off speaker for the conversation. I want to tell him to get off the phone. I don’t: we don’t die this time.

Our friend’s voice is stronger than the silence in the car without the music or the radio. “What are yall doing tonight?”

It’s very obvious: we’re going to eat, and going to a movie, likely to see our other friends – a crowd of girls who either have dated, will date or thought of dating every member of our circle.

B does that thing he does before he lies, before he convinces himself he is lying for everyone else’s benefit – that he is being selfless, instead of selfish. He smiles. Not a true, full smile, no, he shows his teeth and cocks the ends of his grin, like he is caught in a hesitant laugh. “Nothing. We just staying at my house tonight, for real, for real. Nah, it’s gonna be boring and my folks don’t want anybody else here. Talk to you, later.”

He hangs up the phone.

Noone laughs at M, but there is an energy of humor between all of them. I don’t feel it. I’m not in on the joke, because I’m observing and analyzing, and I feel more outside of the group, more outcast than the times I was the one on the otherside of the phone, hearing them lie to me and convincing myself I actually did not just get ditched, during a time I really needed the people who accepted the mantle of friend.

The Truth, like the sun, can never stay in the dark for too long before it rises. It elevated off my tongue and between my lips before I realize I had been with child my own ruin.

“Why did you just lie to him?”

The energy of humor dissipates, and suddenly I realize there are worse things to being outside of the joke. It’s being outside of the circle. They turn on me, quickly.

“I ain’t got the room in my car for him, Steven.”

It was odd to hear my whole name coming from him. I’ve long since learned to measure familiarity with how people use my name. When I’m good, useful and loved, I’m Steve. When I’m boring, broodish and antagonistic, I’m Steven. Coming from a friend, it shatters. After all, there’s so much difference in a letter when it’s said by someone you love.

I remain quiet the entire ride.

The next weekend, after a long week of classes and lunch room laughter, I find myself at home again. I call my friends, and conveniently, they’re all over our mutual friend, S’s house. They’re not doing anything tonight, and hang up the phone.

I open my phone and check the social media trifecta: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. On all three, I see the streetlights and stop signs behind a window. Someone else is in the backseat.

And despite the clear excuses your consciousness plucks from the river denial, you find yourself so sad you’re drowning in self-doubt and contempt.

There’s thoughts swirling about you that are dangerous to think and you’re stranded, alone. “Have I ever meant something to someone? Or has ever moment of care just been another rush to get me out of their hair?”

Men have this way of ostracizing each other worse than any other toxic environment because we often root ourselves in the domination of other creatures. For this reason, they build hierarchies. We compete with one another to rise in them. No one can be equal, and there’s always someone to be beaten or left out.

If you’re a B, you’re at the top because you learned to make yourself the top: by choosing people who live to love and love to nurture, and bleeding out the compassion from them until you’re floating in it.

We claim a bond between brothers is the purest form of love to exist next to that between a mother and child. That’s a lie. It’s maybe the most vindictive of relationships. The few times I’ve seen my friends cry, they followed up their behavior with decisions that derives on cruelty. Often, we know the things we do to each other, as men, are horrible, because we know we love each other; we know that if we lost the other person, it’d be a pain we couldn’t speak on; we know that romantic love isn’t sometimes the strongest love we can feel, because going forever without a girlfriend is reasonable, but going forever without the person who loved you despite never having to need you for anything is unrealistic.

And yet, men put each other, and our love for one another, into the backseat.

 

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Foresight

Non-Fiction, Poetry

By: Steven Underwood

Mirror,Mirror, cast upon me

Tell me anything I don’t see in the dark.
A bog of memberance.

Plagues inside me.

Scars so wide and deep within.

Tumoured sorrows,

Why was I cursed to live?

I drown in marshes

Swallow sadness, dirt and grime

I taste tomorrow,

I recoil,

Then, I hope you’ll save today.
Mirror,

Broke inside me,

Is this the reflection I paid to see?
Our hearts go forward,

Placed on scaling,

I wonder whose a true strength goes on.

Yours is tempered,

Sheltered from love,

But too many holes

And punctured plights .

Mine is golden,

Swelled too large and —

Surely it can no longer beat.
Mirror, Mirror —

Locked inside me,

Keep the light off of me,

My shame is that i fear always,

A lonely, cold destiny.

Mirror, mirror —

Please come for me.

I cant live on,

Please watch from here on,

Keep these shadows off of–

Save me from the world to be.

Im a saddened sun,

Whose lost intensity.

Voicemails to Heaven.

Poetry

Hey Dad, it’s me,

I hope you see

I’m really doing fine.

School is hard,

But I can make it far

as long as you look over me.

 

I do my best,

puff out my chest,

but I still hear your voice.

Sometimes it’s tough

Life gets so rough,

I just want you back.

 

You taught me how to swim up stream

How to stand, be seen

and to always love myself

and I don’t know if you heard:

but I do all so very well.

 

Make sure you visit your daughters,

You know we love them the best

 

Visit Danine’s Dreams,

Her potential will be unmatched

 

And they say I look like my father,

and I wish it was true.

God must’ve always knew

I would need you.

 

I pray every day,

From June through May

even if you can’t hear me.

 

I just want you to know,

I love you so,

even if the words can’t be.

 

I promised I’d try, every day

so I can’t delay,

but please forgive me…

I just couldn’t see

you not in your face.

 

 

 

Some days I wake and

cry free the waters,

because I know you won’t be

there to see me make you proud

and do so much for me.

 

Please know I’m real,

You know I can’t conceal

all the Truths in my face.

 

I’m sorry I couldn’t see your grave.

Betrayal at your side

I know you could hear at your bed

The moment I saw your eyes,

I knew you’d fight all your might,

but I couldn’t put you through

all the pain and bite

just so in case,

I could see your face.

 

The Guilt may take my soul,

but I’ll pay it whole.

 

Every price must be met.

 

As far as it’s me,

We’ll see,

The world will spin on more.

Just sweeten my sisters,

Your shadows must see,

Your glow in the eyes of

their loved men worthy.

 

Daddy, I love you so,

but I have to go

so receive these words as they stay.

 

And as I leave this phone,

And the agony dies

Just know,

I’ve learned how not to cry.

We the People in a Less Perfect Union

Art, Articles, Culture, Non-Fiction, Poetry

Sometimes, it’s better to look at the world through poetry until it starts to make a lick of sense.

***

On Monday, he wasn’t our president, and we celebrated the legacy of a man with as many faults as he had virtues. The skies held their breath, and a world of bright blue became bleak and cried. We remembered how we love the rain, but this was different.

Together, We investigated the landscape of the world. We judged the people of the time: for treating people like cattle, for their shameful attitudes, for their racism. We couldn’t see how these people, relatives, and friends to many of us, couldn’t see what was going on in front of them. That same day, we ignored many obvious clues that history was licking its fingertips and turning a few pages backward in its book just for emphasis.

On Tuesday, We pressed our thumbs to small digital boxes and opened Twitter. We discussed “Dr. King’s Dream,” and judged the black community according to it. Are we honoring him when we kneel during a pledge of allegiance? Is calling a white person racist acting in his image? Dr. King’s progeny got into the tabloids and said Dr. King would’ve liked Donald Trump. Our world cracked at the seams.

On Wednesday, We steeled ourselves for the worse, and found that our best metals were but rust: we would lose Barrack Obama. The skies remained gray, but the winds whipped with a sheering coldness. Tempers were high, and we fought each other. We lashed out, without really knowing what we were lashing out f. Anger for anger’s sake, a test of those chains we swore would remain. Both to unite us, and to shackle our ambitions.

On Thursday, We maintained the song of Monday. Dr. King’s progeny’s comments sang again. I stare blankly at the screen for a moment. This is someone who knew him best, isn’t it? I re-read a line by Fredrick Douglas, and I make us remember.
“Power concedes nothing without a Demand…It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows or with both. “
I take to this new world of zeroes and ones, and I make a declarative. “If we are to believe MLK would’ve supported Trump, then maybe MLK isn’t the person we should look up to?”
Few comment. Many have a feeling. The words hang in the air.
On Friday, the sky wept upon his head. Orange flushes down his face and drips onto the American soil beneath his feet. The brown in the soil becomes stained in chemical lies. We shake our hands and test these chains. We meditate on what others have decided for us. We ask ourselves how people could be so ignorant. We judge the people for many things: for their racism, for their bigotry, for their sexism, for their phobias.
History hasn’t turned her page.
The page becomes wet and the ink runs down the page. Our name runs with it. These symbols hold no more meaning.
On Saturday, we ask ourselves if we can be united when these important things have no more meaning.