Spinning Out

by Ethan Seavey

Why do I have to help?

Because I can’t just watch from inside the house any longer. Because the sun is setting behind grey clouds during a Chicago winter. Because you can’t recognize how dark it is getting until the streetlights switch on all at once. Because you don’t realize how cold your hands get while shoveling snow away from your tires until you try to fail to wrap them around the steering wheel. Because you’ve been working all day or because you’re late to work all night, and this snowstorm was the worst thing that could have happened.

Because it’s been fifteen, thirty minutes now and your terrifically impractical silver sedan hasn’t moved, and because I can see even through the window, even through the dim winterlight, that your tires needed to be changed years ago, because they are smooth as rubber bands and the two rear wheels spin wildly, freely, disobeying God or Newton or the settings of the universe.

Because two pedestrians, a greying white man and a woman out on a walk, they have already come to the rescue and because I am just sitting inside and watching. Because they shiver in the cold and I am warm. Because they have scavenged cardboard from the alley to put under the tires for traction and because this cardboard is already shredded and dampened and useless. Because I have dry cardboard and car mats stashed away.

Because I’m convinced they saw my face in the window. They saw it fifteen minutes ago and now they think so poorly of me, of the unneighborly neighbor and the sadistic voyeur. Because I have been inside for too long now, because watching from afar is far more fun than helping. 

Because I told myself that if they’re still stuck in five more minutes, then I would go help. Because those five minutes passed and I let myself down. Because I told my mother I’d go outside in another five, because I was hopeful it would work itself out by then and because then I could still be a good person with the intention of doing good. 

Because they’ve been outside for forty minutes now and I can’t consider myself a good person if I stay inside any longer.

Why shouldn’t I have helped?

Because now I am just watching the same car stuck in the gutter but I’m outside and I am cold, too. Because I stand a foot deep in the snow next to a white woman with nose ring and a gap in between her front two teeth, because the white man with a ginger and grey beard will not let us help, because he is in charge here. 

Because the only way the white man is letting me help is by bringing him a shovel and because he won’t let me use it myself, because he is strong and a man and because I am just a twenty-year-old which is really not much of a man at all. 

Because I am stumbling into a game of race and sex, because the white man is making it so, because women cannot help push and because when it comes to men and their cars, fixing the problem becomes a test of manhood, and because the driver is a young Black man, a few years older than myself.

Because I want to push the car, because pushing is better than nothing, but I cannot. Because I stand aside instead, because the white man says, the driver is a fool, because it’s his problem at this point. Because the white man laughs as the tire spins and says to me, “There’s a bit of a testosterone problem at play here.” Because I laugh when I don’t want to, because I’ve always laughed when I don’t want to. 

Because the white man is stubborn and he is happy to be angry. Because he loves to be in charge right now, because if the Black man would just let him drive the car, as the white man tells me, we would all be inside and warm right now, because the white man has lived in Chicago all of his life and so he knows how to get the car out, because it’s so simple, because all he needs to do is rock back and forth slowly, forward and back, forward and back. 

Because tensions are only rising because of my presence. Because the white man will only speak to me. Because I would so much rather only talk to the woman next to me, who lives not too far away, because we discuss rationally that, yes, it would be helpful to push, or at least that it could not worsen the problem. Because we are only pretending as if we have the agency to push.

Because when an enormous, customized truck—every time I remember it, the truck grows bigger in size—comes rolling down the road and a young Latino man jumps four, five feet to the ground and greets the driver as a friend, I foresee the end of this catastrophe. Because the driver sheds the anxious, shy, embarrassed air he has on in front of us white people. Because the Latino man points out that his friend is stuck in the snow but when we all agree he offers to help push, which upset the white man. Because the white man steps up and tells the man to tow the car out, but he doesn’t have chains and of course we do not either. Because the Latino man tells his friend that if he needs anything, he can help, but the Black man is convinced the car is almost free. Because the moment his friend leaves, the driver reverts back to his previous, anxious, embarrassed self in his attitude and his language.

Because after a few more minutes the old white man says good luck but he does not mean it and he storms off and he leaves us alone with a void for the leader, because I cannot take charge, because I am young and useless.

Because the Black man is more embarrassed than frustrated and because he’s too embarrassed to accept our help. Because he takes the shovel away when I reach for it. Because he does not ask us to leave, either, because I’m sure being alone would be far worse. Because the car still hasn’t moved, because it is rear-wheel drive and those rear wheels rest perfectly in the gutter like a ball in a socket. 

Because the white man is back now, and he says nothing and resumes his post as the leader, because leaving his position felt good in the moment but after he left he felt small and childish for letting snow beat him. Because he shovels with his anger which is now so big that it will not go away until the car moves and he is able to reach his climax and go home. 

Because the car has been stuck for over an hour now, and it has only inched closer to the car parked in front of it. Because a collision is very possible if the car were to suddenly gain traction, and the young Black man wants to wait until the owner, his girlfriend, comes to move the car. Because I don’t know how to speak up for him when the white man tells him that waiting is stupid and that he should keep going. 

Because now, by some miracle, both rear wheels are on the ground and yes, the silver sedan is moving, without any help of my own. Because I am cheering vacantly, because yes, finally, the car is free, but I should have stayed inside, because now the white man is going up to the young Black man and asking him if he’s from Chicago and yes, he is, and now the white man is saying that he should know how to deal with this, if he’s really lived in Chicago his whole life. Because the driver waves his thanks to me as I leave and because I can’t accept his words, because really I did not do enough. Because really I did not do anything to help.

Because now, upon coming back inside, I look out the window and notice another car stuck. Because now I have to help them, too, and the white van that will be stuck in another hour, and any other car that could be stuck tonight. Because I want to be good because I fear being not good, not because I really understand why I should be. 

Because when I lie in bed tonight, I’ll hear more tires spinning out, and I won’t be able to sleep until I hear them all drive off.