I’ve been thinking about circles a lot lately. My favorite tables are circular, perfectly symmetrical and delightfully arranged with serving dishes and plates waiting to be filled. I love that moment before the dinner party, when everything is ready to go and the chairs around the table are waiting eagerly to seat diners hungry for food and connection.
Some of my favorite foods are circular, too. I like homemade cookies, made from dough that gets rolled into balls which, in the heat of the oven’s embrace, melt into circles of crisp sugary sweetness. I like chickpeas, round with that tiny nub of a belly button, and bright orange carrot rounds, sliced neatly with my favorite kitchen knife. I like radishes, trimmed of their rat-like tails, mysteriously white-hot underneath that tight magenta skin. And I like eating meals off of my colorfully mismatched circular plates, acquired on the cheap from various thrift stores, an archaeological record of the homes I’ve had since leaving for college ten years ago.
But most of all, I like circles because they have no beginning and no end. They are the opposite of linearity, a never-ending curve. Circles are all beauty and no drama—there are no sharp corners or hard edges. I like circles because they are the shape we make when we hug someone. Circles feel infinitely flexible to me, always able to stretch to accommodate more.
I’ve been thinking about circles lately because they are the shape that my family and friends have formed around me before sending me on my way to Texas. My niece, Lydia, is a natural circle-maker. She asks us to dance with her, and we join hold hands to form a ring of movement, sometimes just Lydia and me, sometimes with aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas, a mommy and a daddy. In Michigan last month, when it was time for me to say good-bye to Lydia and her mom, Amanda, the three of us formed a single hug circle, Lydia wrapped around Amanda’s hip and me with my arms wrapped around them. For a few seconds, we stood together, snug and round and radiant with love. For a few seconds, I could forget that the Amtrak train roaring next to us was going to whisk me several hours away from my family, to a place where phone calls, e-mails, and sparkly pink cards will be necessary but insufficient substitutes for hugs.
Amtrak rolled me back to Chicago, where I proceeded to spend three horrible days packing everything I own into boxes. After the packing was done and the movers had come and gone, I met my best Chicago friends for one last dinner at Dave’s Italian Kitchen, where I always order a vegetarian calzone the size of a football (it’s the small calzone, mind you) and take half home for lunch the next day. We treated ourselves to garlic bread and a giant salad followed by a delightful assortment of Italian entrees. After dinner, nudged by a glowing endorsement from Daphna, we split a chocolate mousse five ways and felt utterly and completely satisfied. Daphna left our mark at Dave’s, on one of the wine bottles that line the walls, then we headed upstairs and into the cool autumn air to say our good-byes.
Downtown Evanston illuminated the night around us, and we five stood in a circle to say farewell: me, Daphna, Ian, Ammie, and my friend Sharad. By twos, we broke into smaller circles, the better to exchange hugs. Ammie hugged me so tightly that I asked for a do-over, the better to return her hug, so strong and fierce that its impression on my heart will last until the next time we see each other. Sharad, so sweet and kind that he even brought me a box of the assam tea he likes for making his famous chai lattes, hugged me and I told him to enjoy Evanston for me, that nice little town that treated me so well for six years. With that, our circles scattered into points and we headed our separate ways.
I spent the next two days with friends, running errands by day and sleeping in their guest rooms by night. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have friends who, in spite of their busy lives, welcomed me and my stuffed suitcases into their homes. These friends showed me nothing but love in the face of my exhaustion and sadness. My impending move weighed heavily on my mind, as heavy as those damn suitcases that contained everything I planned to drag with me to Texas.
On my final night in Chicago, I rode the train with my friend Daine. We sat in a crowded Red Line car that whisked us farther south in the city than I’d ever been before, at least by train. That night, it rained buckets, the fat drops soaking into our clothes and my luggage, half of which Daine deftly managed through el stations and into train cars. Despite the weather, our trip down to Hyde Park felt like an adventure—I was seeing a Chicago I’d never seen before, slick with rain and steeped in history. That night, after Daine’s wife, Amanda, picked us up from the Red Line stop at Garfield, we laughed and ate popcorn and Daine’s amazing saag paneer and I could pretend that the evening was just a sleepover. I let the move evaporate from my mind like wafts of steam rising off our morning cups of tea.
That next morning, the start of a day during which I would spend 11 hours in transit from Chicago to College Station, I perched myself on a kitchen stool while Daine cooked a perfect batch of coconut milk pancakes. He measured out the ingredients the way an artist might dab paint onto a canvas: by feel, not precision. He melted nuggets of butter into a pan and poured batter into neat little rounds. The batter cooked up into fluffy rich circles that begged for a topcoat of Nutella or cherry butter or any of the half dozen toppings laid out before us. We ate the pancakes off of white square plates, geometrically pleasing underneath those lovely little pancakes.
After Amanda and Daine headed out to start their days inside the beehive that is academia, I wandered down to the University of Chicago, looking regal against a grey sky on the verge of rain. How ironic that I never visited Hyde Park until I was no longer a resident in the area! With just a few minutes remaining before the start of my trip to Texas, I put Hyde Park on hold and made a note to myself that I would see it in the spring when I returned to Chicago. I boarded the #55 bus bound for Midway International Airport, away from Hyde Park, 46 degrees and rainy. And so begins a new set of circles, the kind where I fly from Texas to Chicago and back again. The circles that embrace me exert a force like gravity. I may rotate around them, but within their reach I am never alone.