28 Jul There’s Safety in Circles
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"There's Safety in Circles"Written by Micah Edwards
Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
When I was a baby, I had a mobile that hung over my crib. I remember the shapes, the circles with their patterns of dots and the wires connecting them to each other. It had a motor that made the branches swing around, and the circles would twinkle and wink in the moonlight that came in through my window at night. That mobile is one of my earliest memories, maybe even my first. I can remember lying there looking up at it and feeling warm, safe and content.
As soon as I was old enough to start holding a marker, my parents taught me to draw the circles. They’d hold my fat little hand and help me trace the loops over and over. I learned their patterns before I learned the alphabet. I could draw the circles in perfect curves long before I could write my own name.
My mother made up names for the circles, silly things to help a child understand them. There was Chubby, the collector. He was the big one, with the little families inside. Three circle in a little triangle, for mommy, daddy and me. One big circle on the far side of Chubby’s tummy, for love. And three little circles outside on sticks, for body, mind and soul—if there was time. They were important, but not as important as the major circles. They didn’t do as much.
Below Chubby was little Oliver. He was plain, just a little circle with a tiny baby circle right in the middle. He was called Oliver because he looked like he was saying “Oh!” My mother would always make a surprised face when she told me this, with her eyes open wide and her mouth in a little tiny O. I always giggled. I liked Oliver.
And off to the side of both of them was Jerry, the joiner. Jerry had a double wall, and double lines connected him to both Chubby and Oliver. He had three dots inside in a diagonal line, for ready, set, go! The “go” dot was circled, to make him go. He had a chair, a quarter arc outside of him that he could sit in while he did his work. Like Chubby’s little stick circles, the chair was only if there was time. Jerry liked his chair, but he didn’t need it.
When I outgrew my crib, my parents bought me a real bed and retired the mobile. They painted the circles on my wall, and I got to paint little Oliver. I labored over that simple circle for an hour to make sure it was right, and when I was done, it looked every bit as good as the ones my parents had done. It might have just been two simple little circles, but I was incredibly proud that my parents didn’t even have to go over my lines to straighten them out.
I was eight when my dad died. Still young enough to think of him as daddy, but old enough that mom was willing to tell me a little bit about what had happened. She told me that daddy had been caught outside of the circles, and he hadn’t been able to draw them in time. She told me that I couldn’t tell anyone that he was gone, and that we were going to have to move. The way I understood it at the time was that the circles weren’t working anymore, and we needed new ones. While my mother painted over every wall of the house with plain white paint, covering up all of the old circles, I laid on the living room floor and drew two dozen new sets. Chubby with his families, surprised little Oliver and Joiner in his chair. I drew big ones on posterboard to hang on the walls, and little ones on post-it notes to carry with us.
I asked my mom if Chubby still needed three circles since daddy wasn’t coming back, and tears spilled from her eyes as she explained that daddy was always with us in the circles, that that was part of what they did for us. They would always keep us safe, even after we were gone. I don’t know if she actually believed that or if she was just saying it to make me feel better, but I believed it at the time, and it helped.
We moved to a new town, another small town, and I made new friends. I didn’t want any of my friends to be caught outside of the circles, so I started drawing copies for everyone I met. I knew I wasn’t allowed to explain the circles to anyone, so I just told them that it was a design I liked. My teacher asked if I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, and I said yes.
As I grew older, I learned that giving everyone the same geometric design was weird, and that kids would talk about me behind my back. Kids stopped taking the circles from me, but I still wanted them to have protection, so I started incorporating them into other pictures. I’d draw alien solar systems, waves topped with sea foam, marbles in a bucket—anything where I could hide my circle design. Everyone still thought I was weird, but artsy weird is better and more interesting than just regular weird, so it was okay. I’m sure that most of the kids tossed the drawings at the end of the day, but I felt better for knowing that the circles were out there.
Mom died when I was seventeen. I’d expected it by then—not when it happened, of course, but I knew that it would happen some day. She’d explained everything to me once she decided I was mature enough to handle it. Dad had died on a farm, shot by a farmer. He’d been in control of himself enough to stay away from people, which Mom was proud of him for. When the farmer heard the frantic lowing of the cows and came running with his gun, Dad had tried to flee rather than kill him. The farmer shot him in the back, killing him.
I was furious at the farmer when I first learned this, but Mom told me not to be. The farmer was just defending his land, and Dad had done right to give up his life rather than take the farmer’s. We are born to die violently, she told me. We can delay it, but we cannot prevent it. And in the end, our greatest triumph will be how few people we’ve hurt before we fall.
Dad was only twenty-five when he died. Mom made it almost to forty. It was bad luck, a pileup of really lousy events. She had gone out of town for work, a weekend business conference. On the way back, the bus broke down, smoke billowing from the engine and filling up the passenger compartment. The bus driver ordered everyone off, and Mom couldn’t find her purse. Someone had taken it, by accident or on purpose. It had her traveling circles in it, her protection.
She tried to sketch them in the ground outside, but everyone was confused and milling about, and they kept stepping on her diagram. Frantic, she started drawing on the side of the bus, but the bus driver yelled at her and came running over to stop her. Realizing it was too late, Mom snatched a cell phone from another passenger’s hand and sprinted off into the woods.
I know some of this from talking to people who were on the bus, and some from the final phone call I got from her. It was an unknown number and I didn’t pick it up, so I only heard the voicemail later.
“Honey. I love you. Everything’s gone wrong and I’m caught outside the circles. I need you to come find me. I need you to make me safe.”
It took weeks, but I tracked her down in the woods. She hadn’t even managed a partial circle, not like Dad, and she’d been lost longer. I trapped her like a common animal and I killed her there in the woods. I buried her along with the hikers she’d found, and all of their equipment. On the top of the grave, I picked out the circles in pebbles, then topped it all with a huge flat rock, sealing the circles beneath. It was only symbolic; the curves were broken and the lines didn’t match, but I had to mark it somehow for my own sake.
I packed up the house that time. I didn’t tell anyone she had died. I sold the house and moved, forging her signature on anything that needed it. When I got to a new town, I told everyone that I was twenty-two and fresh out of college. Some folks have asked about my parents, but when I tell them I’m an orphan, they don’t pry further.
I live alone now. I tattooed the circles on my stomach, and I thought I’d found a way to beat it, so that I’d never be caught outside of the circles. But skin is a shifting, unreliable thing, and I can’t depend on those lines. I realized that when I started to have dreams. Nothing solid, nothing definite, just flashes of hunger and bone and fear. I’d wake up with the smell of blood in my nostrils, my jaw clenched, my hands knotted into fists. When I painted the circles on the door to my house, that all went away again.
I used to wonder why my parents even had a child. Don’t get me wrong, they were great parents. They were good to me, they raised me well, they loved me. But they knew what they were bringing into the world and what that meant. And for a long time, I wondered why they were willing to do a thing like that.
The thing is, though, even with what I am, with how I know things will end eventually, I’ll never end it. I’ll never kill myself. I like living. I have friends, a good job, freedom. I like being alive. And that means that at some point, someone’s going to have to put me down. I can’t blame my parents for not wanting to trust that to a stranger.
Living is good. Living with a mate would be even better. I think it’s time to go exploring, to find someone else to share my circles. And in the end, I hope I’ll have someone who will do what needs to be done, and make sure that I die in a way that would make my parents proud.
Check out Micah Edwards’ collection of published anthologies and novella, now available on Amazon.com: