LOUDSPEAKER:: Circle by Benjamin Carr

PHOTO:  Flip Schulke

WUSSY is proud to present "Circle" by ATL writer, Benjamin Carr. 
If you would like to send in a writing submission, please contact Nicholas Goodly



There is a circle made from different-colored bricks at the center of my hometown. It connects two monuments in the middle of the town square. And, once I got my drivers' license, it became my usual destination if things in my life or at my house were turning sour.

Two sidewalks running in opposite directions to the ends of the town square cut the circle in half. Where the sidewalks meet, the bricks form a small square at the circle's very center, big enough for you to fit both of your feet in. It's where you start the walk, always, and where you end it.

When I was a teenager, the circle stood at the exact center of everything that was wrong or confusing about my life. In front of me was the Baptist Church. To my left was my first newspaper office, representing what I wanted to be. Behind me was the way home. To my right, I guess, was the rest of the world that I was afraid to face, road after road leading out of Buford to the Interstate, to Atlanta, to all the other places where I was afraid to drive.

If something's wrong, you go to the circle and walk it. You stand at the center, seeing all the directions you could be pulled to compelling you, and look to the lines to guide you, going back to the left toward the newspaper, away from the church. When you've reached the circle's dark gray edge, you change direction, walking along its circumference.

In the middle of the night, when it's just you inside the circle and the only light available is coming from different spots in town, you can shout anything you want. The town pays no attention. Most of the sound is drowned out by crickets, anyway. The circle is your stage, your friend, your place of peace. The walk is your ceremony and meditation. Your shouts and frustrations are for you to hear, and they're aimed at the sky.

The circle is not a happy place for me because of what it represents of my past. If I fail in something big or small, or if I have some sexual encounter that I know in my heart I shouldn't have done or didn't want to do, the feelings of childhood flood back, so I go back to the circle, finish the pattern.

There are more definite answers in math and science than there are in literature and history. Pattern, repetition, time, measurement. The circle is something complete, finite, in the middle of infinite possibilities for good and bad all around me.

Inside it, chaos in thought or in life comes into better focus, and problems become malleable, solvable. Try walking the edge and not losing your footing. Stay in line. You're at the center. The end is the beginning. The tasks are clear. The walk is outlined for you, and you know when you're here what you need to do.

The circle helps make sense of things. When lost in aimless madness or disappointment, it gives you workable goals, a place to align yourself and your thoughts.

The last time "it" happened when I was a kid, just as quickly as I could get my clothes back on, I jumped in my car. He ran after me, telling me that we never had to do "that" again. I told him something incomprehensible. I think I just told him that I had to go. I ended up at the circle, screaming and walking.

You see, I'd started talking with my school counselor about "it" happening, about how I liked it as "it" was going on but didn't want to want "it." I didn't understand how, if I understood intellectually that what I was doing and who I was doing it with was wrong, I couldn't stop myself from doing it. It's not about being gay. It's the gray area I have to go to when I tell people I was "molested." So to speak.

It's about it being my choice or something that was done to me. I made choices in the situation, and they weren't always ones where I was saying no. I kept control of certain aspects of the "abuse." I suppose we can, but you can't do that action to me. I suppose we can, but I'd rather you not do that. I don't want to do that. This feels nice. No, it isn't. I can stop myself. No, I can't. This wasn't my fault. But I sometimes chose for it to happen and liked it. And I can't tell if I was the victim of this or if I was someone inflicting an equal amount of hurt and confusion upon someone else.

Four years, it had gone on. Four years, I hadn't talked about it with anyone. Then the stupid situation with that cute boy from down the street, the one who kept coming to visit my family, the one who looked like Christian Slater. I was jealous that the boy down the street liked my "abuser" better than he liked me. That he didn't know what kind of person my stepbrother was. That something might happen to the boy down the street. That "Why doesn't that boy like me?" feeling.

So I went to my counselor and I told her that I was upset with my stepbrother. I told her that I liked this boy down the street and couldn't figure out why I was jealous that he liked my stepbrother better than me. She asked me if I loved the boy down the street, and I said, "No ... I guess ... Yes ... But not like that." Only it was like that, but I didn't really see it.

When I told her I was worried that my stepbrother might do something to the boy, that's when the story of my own abuse started to come out. I was a senior in high school. I don't really remember how old I was when it started. Whether it was four years or five. When days bleed together, you can't tell when anything starts.

I don't know if I was really trying to protect that boy down the street, even though I told the counselor I was worried about him. That boy down the street was stronger than me, so nothing bad would happen to him. He wasn't confused like I was. I was easily manipulated, I thought, and other people wouldn't be hurt by my stepbrother. He wouldn't be able to get to them. Besides, he wasn't an aggressor or evil or anything. It was something that I could do for him, while it was at the same time something that I hated myself for doing.

I told her that I wasn't going to do it. I told her that I wanted to stop. But I'd done it anyway. The motions started, and I just went along with it because someone else wanted it and I'm easily swayed. It was in the living room. My parents were out. It was just he and I.

I'd failed myself. I'd failed my goal. And I ended up at the circle. And I walked around it again and again and again, talking to myself, thinking over what I'd done. I'd said I would stop it, and I hadn't. You can't face the church in front of you, God's nowhere to be found. The newspaper is closed. There's no escape. You can barely drive. You can barely move. You walk, and you yell. And this is what the circle means to me. This is what the circle is. This is where I go when I can't go home and there's nowhere to go. And I need comfort.

I was there recently and walked it again.

I was thinking about love. How I can't seem to find it. How I can't seem to relax into it. How I seem to need it to an unhealthy degree, how I need a lover to help me move beyond my past and give me sexual experiences and memories that don't upset me.

There is no moving forward, breaking out and moving on at that time of night. Any possibility is gone for the day. Feeling good is something that only a night's sleep and a fresh morning can bring you.

It's late. You're alone. You can't or won't go anywhere. There is only the circle.

While there, everything is tied. Everything ends where it begins. And, in the circle, there is comfort and sense - if only within the lines.


Benjamin Carr, a writer and storyteller originally from Buford, Ga., has previously been published in The Guardian, Pembroke Magazine and other publications. He is one of the founders of gutwrench, an online literary journal.