ISSUE #15: David Backer, Conor Simpson, Mission to the Sea

Posted: Monday, October 11, 2010 | | Labels:

Photograph by Conor Simpson

by David Backer

We're driving down 95 south to wreck my car on purpose and I remember Robert's name for us. Not just the four of us in the car, but the people like us, our friends and their friends and the people we all meet at parties where the friends of our friends get together and laugh and drink and listen to the same music.

He calls us the Impressives.

Why does he call us that?

Issue #15 soundtrack: Mission to the Sea "Pearl For A Heart"

We were sitting together on a hillside when I came up with the idea to drive my car south to our nation's capitol and have a charity event where people could pay money per minute to hit my car with a sledgehammer. I had seen this kind of charity event before at a Presbyterian Church in our town and it amazed me to see how long the line for the event was. I asked a volunteer, a fat kind of woman selling brownies with sprinkles, and she said that the church had bought an old car from a used car salesman and that they had been doing this for years because they make four times the amount of money they spend on the car. I stood and watched for an hour while people took the sledgehammer from an old man's hand, paid him, and beat the hell out of a Dodge Caravan, an old model with the crystal in the hood piece. Teenagers, tweenagers, twentysomethings, middle-aged men and women, and even some older men sent themselves into the car, denting the doors and cracking the windows and beating the hubcaps until they flew off.

One guy who looked a little older than me seemed to lose control of himself and smashed the windshield until pieces of it were everywhere. There was a moment when the glass hadn't shattered but was cracking and cracking after every hit that the man screamed this primal kind of scream, and when he did it the glass shattered and went everywhere and people in line started clapping.

Anyway, I had found out that day, the day the four of us were sitting on the hillside, that my parents wanted to get rid of our old Nissan Pathfinder truck to get a newer one, and several days before that I’d read in the newspaper that Washington, D.C. has one of the largest homeless populations in our country, that about one in five children living in the District of Columbia don't have a house and only eat one meal a day. I thought: How unjust that in the most powerful country in the world, the capitol of that country has the most homeless people? We were sitting on a hill where my Dad's office building sits looking out over the Danbury Airport and the Danbury Fair Mall. I had my ankles crossed and little twigs were itching at the back of my legs and I groaned because it was annoying and I had to keep scratching and that and the mall and the airport and the four of us sitting there
next to the old Pathfinder all made me think of the homeless children in Washington, D.C.

Why did all that make me think of them?

* * * * *

My father is a real estate and zoning lawyer and works on that hill overlooking the mall and the airport. Robert’s father is a chemical engineer. Patrick’s father is a lead salesman for a chemicals corporation in town. Maya's father is a third-term congressman that represents our congressional district. My mother is a corporate writer. Rob's mother owns her own international music business. Patrick’s mother is a sales representative for a drug company in New York City. Maya’s mother is a middle school teacher. Danbury is located in Fairfield County. Fairfield County is considered, at this time, to be the wealthiest county in the United States.

Why does any of this matter?

* * * * *

Robert, Patrick, Maya and I go to Danbury High School where we are in the honors program. Right now I’m working for Maya’s father's re-election campaign, Maya is working in my father's law firm, Patrick is interning with Robert’s father at his engineering firm, and Robert was going to be an assistant in Patrick’s father’s company but instead he started working at a nursery hauling mulch onto mulch trucks. He said he wanted to work with his body.

Why did Robert decide to haul mulch instead of intern somewhere, and why does this make me nervous?

* * * * *

Robert has had a rough year. He told me a couple days ago that he had a nervous breakdown while visiting colleges because he couldn't hide the fact that he wasn't eating anymore except maybe a piece of bread during the day because he felt that that was the only way to feel like he had any control over his life. Robert and I are very good friends. He’s seemed weird over the past few months, but I couldn't sense anything was wrong. Actually, there wasn't a lot of time to talk between our classes and homework, and he was going away every weekend on college trips with his parents so I didn't really see him.

But he said that on the last college visit he went on, the weekend before we were all sitting on the hill, that he woke himself up screaming and that he was sweating and had clenched his nails into his fists so tightly that he was bleeding from little slits in his palms and his parents ran over to him and asked him if he was alright he looked around and he said he didn't know.

Why did he wake up screaming?

* * * * *

We're passing through Princeton Junction on 95 south and Maya says:

"I don't think I'll get in."

"Where?" I ask.


Robert sighs.

"You'll get in," Patrick says.

"I don't know, you know? I mean, I didn't do great on my SATs and my grades aren't that great."

"You've always gotten A’s!" Patrick retorts.

"I wonder if my grades are good enough," I say.

"Oh my God you're so smart, Dave," Maya says.

Robert exhales again.

"You'll definitely be a shoe-in," Patrick assures me.

"But Maya, you're really smart, I mean, like, you're the one who tells me what to write in Mr. Jordan's class all the time, you're not my lab partner, you're like my lab answer."

"Yeah, but Dave, you won all those science fairs when you were just a freshman."

"Yeah, but, like, you've got those debate team things and that history competition, plus aren't you on varsity tennis?"

"She's number two or something," Patrick adds.

"Our problems are not real problems," Robert says very loudly into the window.

There's a silence between us, and we look at him. None of us knows what to say.

"Do you guys remember when Mr. Jordan hit me in the head that one time?" Robert says.

"Yeah," I say.

"I don't even remember what I did, I just remember him walking up to me from behind his desk and hitting me in the back of the head. It was so unreal."

There was another pause. I check the rearview mirror intermittently to see Robert. His forehead is pressed into the window so his left eyeball almost touches the glass. His mouth is slacked open and I can’t tell if he’s smiling or grimacing.

"I hate chemistry," Patrick says.

"But didn't you get a 5 on the AP test?" Maya asks.

"Yeah, he got a 5," I say, growling a little bit.

"What'd you get?" Maya asks.

"I got a 4."

"But you're not a math person, Dave," she assures me.

"And you are?"

"I always did well in math," she says.

"I hate math," Patrick says, "I always get B’s."

"I guess I'm more of an English person," I say.

"Yeah, you are. You can write," Maya says.

"I don't know what kind of person I am," Patrick says.

Robert snorts and laughs when Patrick says this. I look back at him, and his face is still pressed up against the glass. He doesn't stop laughing.

Why does he laugh?

* * * * *

After he woke up screaming, Robert said his nose bled and that he passed out and woke up in the hospital. I asked him why he thought all that happened, and he said he didn't know. He said his parents took him to his doctor back in Danbury, and the doctor said he was in great shape, that he was a "healthy young man." He doesn't smoke. He gets exercise. He doesn't drink. He said:

"My stomach felt like it was crashing in, like there was this tightening, like had I had to go to the bathroom. I got hot chills up and down my arms and I started having trouble breathing, like my chest hurt, stung in the middle. Then I started crying because it hurt so much and I passed out. I woke up on my side in the hospital and someone was looking at my butt or something and my eyes were heavy like I was still crying. My parents were there and I passed out again and then I woke up and no one was there, I was still behind the curtain, but I felt fine, like nothing was wrong. I was tired and my stomach felt empty. But I was okay."

I asked him if anything had happened since then.

"No," he said. "Not at all. No one could figure it out. The doctors said I was healthy. They said everything was fine. That there wasn't anything wrong with me. My parents looked scared and asked me all the time how I was, they still do, but I feel fine. Well, not totally fine. I feel a little scared sometimes that it'll happen again, like I’m just sitting there and wham! I'm terrified and can't breathe. But it's been like a week and I'm okay."

I asked him why he thought this happened to him.

“I don’t know, I mean, we’re expected to be so much and do so much. We’re supposed to take the tests and study and do these internships get into college and go to college and no one really cares why. No one asks. No one thinks. We’re expected to be impressive for the sake of being impressive, so other people will think we’re great and think our parents are great. That’s what we are, we’re the Impressives. But why?”

* * * * *

Maya's dad helped us set up a venue near the capitol building. Patrick’s dad got permission from the city. My mom and dad helped get the word out to friends and paid for fliers. Robert’s parents found a company that would take the Pathfinder away after it got destroyed.

* * * * *

We make it past Baltimore and we're going through a tunnel that our Internet directions say will get us to D.C. The fluorescent lights inside the tunnel are over us and we drive in a steady stream of cars going about sixty miles an hour.

"What are we doing?" Roberts asks the window.

We all look at one another.

"We're going to help people," I say.

Then my stomach clenches, it tightens, and I feel a stinging in the middle of my chest and my throat closes and it feels like my arms are asleep and I can't breathe and the last thing I see is the wall of the tunnel, dark and electric yellow, coming at us and my friends screaming and then nothing.

Why did this happen to us?

Because we’re the Impressives.

David Backer is currently pursuing a PhD in philosophy and education. He's had fiction in Metazen, > kill author, and Emprise Review, among others. David edits, and blogs at

Conor Simpson is a filmmaker and photographer working freelance in Chicago. Currently he is writing a feature screenplay that he later plans to direct. Visit Conor's online portfolio at

"Pearl For A Heart" is from Mission to the Sea's new album Tranquilo which released last week. The band is based in Dallas, Texas. For more information, visit