A poem commissioned by the Epicurean commune.
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.
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.
Why was I cursed to live?
I drown in marshes
Swallow sadness, dirt and grime
I taste tomorrow,
Then, I hope you’ll save today.
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.
By Steven Underwood
Let’s be clear, Demetrius Harmon, Black Viner Meechonmars turned rising comedic actor, isn’t inspiring because he’s sad — an understatement for what Depression really is. His struggle with mental illness has been a brutally honest battle to watch – especially considering my own struggles with the dark underbelly on depression. Rather, Meech is inspiring because of the moments outside of his sadness.
Demetrius Harmon began his career several years back during Vine’s primetime as a promising comedian. Primarily, Meech trafficked in some of the most creative skits to hit the site, yet when largely underappreciated (especially when compared with other major accounts of a lighter complexion, and weaker content). When Meech turned his attentions to Youtube and Instagram, it appeared a welcome change. Now, in 2017, Vine is as dead as Black Nationality in America. While some Viners dedicate portions of their careers to outing other black celebrities’ sexualities and hosting gigs, Meech has done something that felt is as sorrowful as it is beautiful: advocacy.
Meech struggles with many monsters. Beasts known as anxiety, depression and suicide, as evidenced in his 2016 short, BE HAPPY. The short was a speculative story of Demetrius’s journey to reconnect with his old friend, Happiness (Caleon Fox), while he is constantly hounded by the ever-present dangers of Depression (Victor Pope Jr.), Anxiety (Caleb City), and the apathetic misunderstanding of his father (Nathan Zed). In the short’s epilogue, Meech discusses a particular tweet where he talked about killing himself, and his decision not to do so, and while one may confuse this confession as an end-all cleansing of mental illness – it was only the start.
Speculative fiction isn’t new to the art scene. All artists draw on some kind of pain to shape their craft. Yet, Meech goes above and beyond to invite his fans to connect with him and his own. As a poet, he writes about the icy coldness that Depression brings and the dangers he faces when neglected by those around him. A realism that becomes that much more substantial when Meech shifts his shape from loss to laughter as a Youtuber. Much of his real life portrayals of himself reflects his own creation, BE HAPPY: Art imitating life is an understatement.
He is a Blue Boy, like me. A child cursed with something that submerges you in the secret terrors of the mind — washes you away from love and suspends you miles away from the happiness which drives a person to make it to the next day. You have no choice but to fight it until you can’t anymore. Blue Boys don’t get over it, Blue Boys can’t wait it out. Blue Boys just have to express it and damn the rules set up by people not like us. We express it, and bury it for just another minute, where we can be joyful and open and free — with the energy of life incarnate nestled in our cheeks — until the next moment of descension. We have to be so many things at once, and be these many things pretty well. A Blue Boy is a warrior with a shining smile fighting darker demons: gladiators of whole made happiness harvested from mildewed sad.
Likewise, his fans see Meech in this multifaceted point of view: from sadness to happiness, slipping between the obstacles. From tearful reflections on isolation and misery to a quick and soul-blazing dancebreak to anything in a Childish Gambino catalogue. Speaking as someone with depression that gets so dark that it becomes a struggle to bath, to get up, to even look another human being in the eye, it reminds a youthful artist that this sadness is temporary. That there is beauty in the triumph of tomorrow.
But to see Meech on the average and know that my own depression isn’t just limited to my own mortal shell, it gives a wizening glow to him. Sometimes, it is hard to even remember I’ve got a good two years on the young man; especially when you look into his eyes sometimes and see that same haunting sadness lingering there. The Inspiration comes every time he posts, and every time he speaks of his ambitions that are coming tomorrow. There is nothing glorious about Depression, though many artists swear by it as a muse for talent. There is everything glorious about perseverance, which this young black man has in mountains.
Meech, your fight never falls on deaf ears, and you are valued.
Demetrius “Meech” Harmon is a Detroit, Michigan native transplanted to Los Angeles. can be found on Instagram and Twitter @Meechonmars and on Youtube at Demetrius Harmon. Follow him for some of the finest content of this generation.