There's man next to me at Starbucks, blasting his music and writing in a drugstore composition book. The spine is split from being open so many times. I'm not eavesdropping — or whatever you'd call it, looking over someone's shoulder at his writing — but his writing is so dark and the lilt of his strokes so, well, striking, I can make out the word "exhausted" from just a sideways glance. Then again, it's a word I'm so familiar with these days that it's probably burned on my retina and locked in auto-recall in my brain. I'll pretend we're kindred spirits and take a bit of comfort in that.

I couldn't do my writing longhand. Too permanent and too telling. Looking at old journals I attempted to keep, mostly during big, important vacations or brief attempts to summon teenage angst that just wasn't there no matter how deep I dug, it feels silly that I ever even used the ink to write what I did. Wasted hours and futile hand cramps.

No one will ever flip through those when I've died and think, God, now there was the beginning of a brilliant life.

There's a man here, too, who looks like Viggo Mortensen's estranged, mildly insane brother. He's always here. No matter the season, he wears a stocking cap, ripped jeans and a crewneck sweatshirt. He always looks up when I come in — we have that in common, that nonexistent attention span — but there's never so much as a glimmer of recognition. It's been years. And nothing.


It's been almost two years to the day since I sat in this Starbucks, finishing out a mental health day (and this), and watched him hurry in for the first Venti Earl Grey I ever saw him order. I was supposed to be at work, far away in Arlington Heights; he usually went to another Starbucks across the neighborhood. He looked on the outside how I felt inside, and that was the beginning of it.

We shared packages of dark chocolate–covered graham crackers and he warned me off of boys in baseball caps. We kissed in my entryway the night I got back from Vegas, and I guess that was the beginning of the end of it.

Last night, he saw me with the very boy in the baseball cap that he'd warned me off of in the first place; we'd been trying to salvage a furtive friendship — or whatever you'd call it, going out together and making a mess of things that probably should have been left well alone — and everything seems to have come full circle now. Full circle but everything is different. Even me, even if it doesn't seem that way.

But still alone and exhausted and wondering what the point is.*

This is not the full circle I imagined.

But there are more circles to come around. Life isn't one big loop, even when it feels like a nonstop carnival ride threatening vertigo and vomit — I know that's just the booze — it's a series of rings. Like a tree.

That's funny.

I know I'm not actually stuck in this pattern. This is one part of my story, and it'll always be part of me, but the other rings will crowd around it until this vicious circle is so small I have to take a microscope to my heart to see it.

And I will.

But for now, this is how I grow.


Are you the plane That shapes the board Part of a history Smoothed and worn Oh the windy weather Dry spells, brushfire Isn't it strange To see my life You must cut me down To look inside Oh the simple pleasures This ring tells of rain This one, summers Good years, nightmares How is it i remember Knowing that i would live forever Isn't it strange How truth can change Oh the windy weather This ring tells of rain This one, summers Dry spells, brushfire







* This is not entirely true. I have a cat and a few absolutely brilliant friends who could help me through just about anything, including this.