They say that the ancients, our ancestors, early man and woman, believed that time was circular, not linear, like we moderns do today. I say that time itself is an artificial construct, a linear abstraction superimposed over apparently eternal circular events. The sun and moon rise and fall, seasons come and go, men and women are born and die. There, you say, a perfect example of linear time- one is born and in a straight line, shortest distance, one dies. End of time. I say sometimes when you’re in the circle, and the other circles are spinning around you and beside you and beyond you, it’s hard to see for the spinning, unless you can grab onto something in the center to hang on to.When I was eight my father moved our family, my mom and sister and I, to the outer rim of a circle. Kirby Haigh Circle was the name of the street, but only on our half. The other half was called Tarpon Place, I guess because it was on the water and a tarpon is a kind of fish. What Kirby Haigh meant nobody knew, plus it was hard to say and we always had to spell it when we were telling someone our address. The first day my sister and I came home from school, we couldn’t remember which of the houses on the circle was ours, although we knew it was on the outer rim and not one of the houses in the center, whose backyards all came to a point in the middle like spokes on a wheel. So we walked around the circle and finally chose one that we thought was our new house.The house we went to was actually our next door neighbors, a Navy family like ours but they were from Germany. The wife spoke no English at all and she was the one who answered the door and looked blankly at us while we tried to figure out who was this woman in our house. Later we would become friends with her two sons and would trade German words for English. Once my sister asked them what was German for “firefly” and the older one said “light bulb” and we laughed until they went home angry. The older one’s name was Burnt and the younger one was Jurgen, pronounced “yoor-gen” not like the hand lotion. We wondered what kind of people would name their sons so oddly; after all, we were German but had good American names. Mari Lynn and Cheryl Lee. Southern in tone but I was the only true Southerner, having been born in the Naval hospital in Portsmouth, VA. My sister was born in Pennsylvania like my mom and dad; but really true Southerners wouldn’t have allowed me to call myself Southern. Just cuz the cat has kittens in the oven, they’d say, we don’t call’em biscuits.Anyhow, while we’re still standing on the German lady’s porch my mom came out of our house next door and saw us and then we knew we were at the wrong house. The houses all looked alike and as we found out later, they all had the same floor plan although some were reversed. Our house was supposed to have three bedrooms but one of them connected to the kitchen so we used it as a dining room and tried to ignore the closet that was there. My bedroom was billed as a study and was so small I could sit on the floor with my back against the bed and my legs drawn up against my chest and still my feet would touch the dresser on the opposite wall. At night in this bedroom I could hear a clock ticking (although I didn’t have one) that I thought was the house’s heart beating or my own and would be scared because I thought it meant my life was ticking away. My sister’s bedroom was right next to mine and our parents was across the hall. I would try all sorts of different strategies for sleeping with my sister in her bed and sometimes it would work. Sometimes I would try to sleep in my parents bed but when I got old enough to know that sperm came out of the man and went into the woman it made babies, I got scared to sleep in their bed because I didn’t know how the sperm got from the man to the woman. I thought maybe it just got out in the night and crawled across the bed until it found an opening and maybe if there was some in the bed it might get me by accident.

The next door neighbors on the other side of our house had two girls that were older than us who baby-sat for us sometimes. They went to the same church that we did but the older girl went to Rock Church a couple of times and so she got thrown out of our church. Rock Church was a place where ladies in purple robes held their hands up to the ceiling and sometimes spoke in tongues and occasionally went into ecstasies right there on the floor. That wasn’t allowed at the Methodist church we attended and so anyone who went to Rock Church had to be kept away from the others, so that they wouldn’t be impregnated by accident. Their father had a heart attack at home alone one evening and when the wife and the girls came home they found him dead, the upper half of his body in the refrigerator. What would it be like to find your father dead in the refrigerator, we wondered. Was the food spoiled? Could they ever again open he refrigerator door without thinking of their father’s face?

I heard this story from Sheila, the girl who lived across the street from us on the inner circle. She was a year younger than me but was my best friend for most of the years we lived on the circle. Her mother was the gossip queen and if you ever needed to know anything about anybody, they were the ones to ask. I say she was my best friend but Sheila might disagree. As the youngest of our friends she was pretty badly used, most of the time. Once we told her we were playing a new game where we took turns getting under a blanket and you had to take off whatever piece of clothes the people outside of the blanket said you had to. When it was her turn under the blanket we got her to take off all her clothes and when she was completely naked we ran away with the blanket. We were playing this “game” in the Jones’s yard which was about a quarter of the circle away from Sheila’s house which meant she had about one-eighth of a mile to walk naked. I knew this because one of our other neighbors said that walking completely around our circle was one-fourth of a mile. She and my mom and some other moms would walk four times around the circle in the evening so they could say they walked a mile. This was before treadmills.

The Jones’ were the poorest family on the circle. They had about ten kids and the father was a mechanic and I don’t remember the mother doing anything except raising kids. They were always dirty and the yard was always a mess and full of broken toys and junk cars. My dad once sold Mr. Jones an old car of his and the father never finished paying for it so my dad got to brag for years about how he essentially gave Mr. Jones a car. They lived on the outside of the circle and behind their house was a large overgrown field where we would go to do illicit things like smoke cigarettes we’d stolen from our parents. One summer when the grass in the field was waist-high Mary Zimmer and I were smoking butts there when she said watch this and she lit a whole book of matches and dropped it on the ground. The grass was dry and caught fire and time then was neither circular nor linear it stood still while the fire and the Jones’ house nearby became the only things in the universe. When the clock started ticking again I ran to Mary’s house and called the fire department and later after the fire was out and the Jones’ still had their house the firemen came to our house to get a report from me and that’s how my parents found out I was involved. My dad said I’d have to go apologize to the Jones’ cuz they could be homeless but I said they didn’t lose their house and besides I didn’t start the fire Mary did but he made me walk the eighth of a mile to their house and again there was no time or somehow time was compressed so that the walk seemed both endless and over in an instant.

Next to Sheila’s house opposite the German family and catty corner to our house was Kim’s house. Because we weren’t directly across from them the neighborhood would gather on our porch in the evening to listen to and watch Kim’s parent s fight without being really obvious. Kim’s dad would come home from work and find Kim’s mom drunk and the fights would begin. They believed in airing their differences so lots of the action took place outside which is why we’d all gather on the porch. Over the years the fights got worse and worse, from yelling to slapping to real violence and then things would really get interesting cuz then we’d have to call the cops. This all ended one night when Kim’s dad came home and Kim’s mom had locked him out so he got an axe out of the car and axed his way into the front door and when he got in he found Kim’s mom passed out on the couch and so he dragged the couch outside, set fire to it and proceeded to axe down the garage while the couch burned with her on it in the front yard. In front of their house is usually where the ice cream truck would stop.

On the other side of the circle, Tarpon Place on the water, is where my other friend Casey lived. I envied them living on the water even though it was really only a small creek that led out to a lake that led out to the ocean. Her brothers had small boats, canoes and so on. The only that I had was an old beach float that leaked but I’d go out on it anyway and catch crabs with a string and a piece of chicken stolen from home. My mom would tell me that I could float all the way out to sea but I didn’t believe her because any one could see it was only a tiny creek little more than a ditch and it wasn’t until I got old enough to read a map did I see that she was right. Her brothers were fishing from their canoe one afternoon and found a dead man in the weeds along the bank. He’d been dead awhile and they entertained us for weeks with their descriptions of how he looked after the crabs had been eating on him. Casey was not a popular girl; she was too smart and studied too much and carried huge armloads of books back and forth to school. She loved to play tricks on people and embarrass them so one day I’d had enough and played a trick on her. We were walking home from school and she had her usual armload of books that was so large she had to carry them in both arms in front of her body and I stuck my foot out and tripped her and she went over like a top heavy tree in a forest. She wouldn’t drop her books even to try to catch herself so she went flat on her face on those books.

Sometimes I walked to school with my first boyfriend whose name was Bobby Pelkington who lived at where the circle started if a circle could have a place where it started. He was the oldest of four brothers and we would go to their house to play football and devil in the ditch and dodge ball because they made up a half a team just by themselves. There were no rules about being gentle on girls so we would get tackled just as hard or hit just as hard and as we got older the boys seemed less interested in the games than in grabbing certain places so we quit playing. During one game I had just been tackled and was lying on the sidewalk recovering and one of Bobby’s younger brothers started yelling I see her titties and my shirt had popped its buttons all down the front and there I was exposed. Bobby didn’t want to be my boyfriend after that.

Bobby sometimes worked for Mr. Bloomfield, Casey’s across the street neighbor. Mr. Bloomfield was the circle’s full-time drunk and paid us kids to mow his lawn and take out his trash and once he paid me to take care of his dog who’d had a litter of puppies. I wanted one of those puppies and begged my parents to let me have one when they were old enough but my dad was due to be transferred and we couldn’t take a puppy with us. It turned out that my dad’s orders were to stay in Norfolk on the circle and so my mom said I could go get one of the puppies so I went through the spoke-shaped backyards to Mr. Bloomfield’s yard which was surrounded by a chain link fence and before I got there I could hear his dog howling and when I got to the fence I saw that Mr. Bloomfield had thrown all the puppies at the fence and they were hanging there dead. We used to walk past Mr. Bloomfield’s house in the mornings on our way to school even though it meant we had to walk all the way around the circle because he would sit in front of his picture window that all the houses had in an old armchair completely naked and drink Mad Dog. One winter he couldn’t pay his heating bill and it was the winter we had the big snowstorm and the temperature was below freezing and he froze to death in the big armchair in front of the picture window.

We did eventually get a dog and we named him Peanut I guess because he was a tiny rat terrier-type dog. We didn’t have a fenced yard then and so Peanut had to stay inside unless someone took him out on a leash or just stayed with him in the yard but once my sister and Sheila and me had walked up the street and my mom let Peanut out of the house and he was running up the road to where we were and just then the Midgett boys came around the circle in their car too fast and they hit him. He was lying in the road and I ran to where he was and said Peanut are you dead and he wagged his tail at me and then a huge wave of blood came out of his mouth and pooled around my bare feet. I began to scream and cry and one of the Midgett boys got out of the car and when he saw the blood he threw up and now there was blood and barf all over the road and my feet and my dad had to come up later that day and wash it off the street.

Living on Kirby Haigh Circle I learned a lot about circles and time and life and death and what seems to be isn’t what is- necessarily.

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