Swerve by Nathan Haist

My earliest memory is of the desire to be different.
I was hot, I said I was cold. I was cold, I said I was hot.
Too young to know what life held, but even then I knew that I didn’t want to be normal.

I knew that I could never be a part of a matched set.
Relished in being hard to understand, but still longed to be understood

When I was young what if
I didn’t build admiration of the golden generation
What if I was never exposed to “up north”, to the freedom of bare feet pounding on pavement, to a personal beach by a house where you lived, to the notion of a pocket paradise.

Would I still be hungry to get it regardless of how I got it? Would I still connect with the sons and daughters of gatekeepers, would I still be open to learning from them and still be able to impact them if I wasn’t able to


It’s good that I was comfortable being the odd one out because
I was the odd one out regardless.
Too black for the white kids, too white for the blacks

If I didn’t seek out ways to be different
Would I still weaponize my uniqueness
Would I still be a safe window for the other side to peer through?

Why wasn’t I picked on? Why wasn’t I the weird kid?
It wasn’t intimidation, it wasn’t wealth, it wasn’t style
Was it people sensing opportunity to hitch their cart to a rising star?
Was it people seeing a piece of themselves in me?

But never too large a piece

Because if I got along too good with the home crew then would I still be hungry to travel? Would I still be willing to strive beyond my station – would I even be able to build a niche in a world I knew nothing about? If I wasn’t an outsider who didn’t understand belonging, would I still be the type to risk it all and


But I want so bad to be different I always push it to extremes
Always breaking walls and ceilings to see if they are real

How many times have I made it through based on luck
What if Dave and I panicked when we had a gun to our face
What if he fought and we lost?

How many times walking back from the gas station could I have been Trayvon
Should I have been Trayvon – no one asks if the hoodie fits but
Where would I be without those experiences?

At 16 years old, I walked 10 hours across my hometown of Flint
With only a team of angry teens to back me up against a top 5 “most dangerous city”
We passed pitfalls from police to possible pedophiles masquerading as pastors
And yet I still made it to work in the morning, no worse for wear
With the $50 I spent on snacks the only evidence anything ridiculous happened at all

I see myself walking that path longer and making a mistake that gets caught and brought too far – the feeling when my back was against a police SUV, dog ripping apart my car, terrified someone dropped something somewhere, a sinner in the hand of an angry god, light chaff before the whirlwind but somehow I still managed to


How did I end up in my high school – a comically small diamond in the rough
Strange, budget paradise where you’re gifted
But not The Gifted

But still a very stark reminder of difference
But again, weaponize – remember – this window is safe
It shows the black’s side and I’m uncomfortable being the mouthpiece but
It doesn’t matter because when they look at me what do they see?
Sure as hell isn’t curls that aren’t as tight or skin that’s not as light

Such a stark reminder you feel comfortable making up shit
Because the world you came from is so far removed from the world they know
So – maybe my window was distorted, more whimsical than it should have been

Maybe I get comfortable here, maybe I marry a nice white woman
With a nice rich family – she’s sweet, smart, and beautiful but what do I feel other than
“Look at me!” “Look who loves me!”
What kind of child comes from a father like that?
What future am I missing if I’m afraid to


The reward is a cornucopia of fresh
First woman I met was an Iranian woman with an English accent
Who smoked
The image broke quickly

I became part of a group where the only reason we were a group is
We were too ragtag to fit in anywhere else
People from all walks of life
Many people who fought harder than me and were smarter than me and

I ate that shit up

In that gorgeous hotbed of culture I grew but soon found that the system still sucks
I was a kid who should have had the University of Chicago to back him up, but despite funding the largest privatized police force outside of the Vatican they couldn’t find someone to ask “are you okay?”
They have Professors who won Nobel Peace Prizes, they were called the “Ivy of the Midwest”
And yet don’t care to hire financial aid staff willing to talk a kid through a financial aid form that will irrevocably change his future?
No. No matter how high you rise, they still don’t care about you when you fall through the cracks.

How could I divest myself in a system that was so thoroughly fucked?
What do I want to do? Dedicate my life to studying upholding the rules for the system that terrifies me?
Or I want to “heal people”, but I want to be wealthy, so I’m only “healing” those who could afford what I couldn’t.
I will not jump in the pool when I see there are sharks.
Former Sheriff of Genesee County, my former science teacher, taught me that bullshit detectors are important and the only higher power that doesn’t set it off is the


I believe that even if a cop kneels on my neck for eight minutes and forty six seconds today and nobody witnesses it, I will have made a difference. I know that my perspective is unique, and that makes it valuable.

I believe that I will live the life that I meant to lead – if life was random, then I would have been killed a thousand times over when alone and blacked out on the streets of Chicago. Cop sees a black man acting erratically, there’s no way he couldn’t justify a bullet. Criminal sees a college kid with no street smarts, finds a way to make some extra money. I couldn’t have been more vulnerable in that moment and yet the world didn’t crush me, still didn’t touch me.

How can I not believe in fate when I am still here? How can I not believe in a higher power when I keep fucking up and yet I’m still given opportunity after opportunity after opportunity while the people I grew up with get buried after one mistake?