Wild Cravings: The Lonely Cheeseburger

I’m craving the cheeseburger deluxe from Golden Apple on Lincoln Ave. in Chicago.

I was living with a couple, two of my best friends, in their living room on a futon whose removable block arms I’d place on the floor at night so I could unfold what was, during the day, the couch on which we watched Netflix marathons and turn it into my bed.

I owe so much of my writing career to those two friends who let me crash with them for over half a year while I applied to jobs and wrote and wrote and wrote. They were like family to me. Even when I saved enough money and built out my freelance career, we still ended up living together, moving into an apartment in Ravenswood where I had my own room.

But in that living room in Lakeview, they let me figure out my shit. In the mornings, they left for their jobs, and I was alone. I drank at least two French presses of coffee and haunted their home in the same outfit I wore every day: wool socks, a mock neck undershirt, a flannel or sweater, fleece-lined leggings. In Chicago, even inside is cold. I wrote, and I applied to jobs, and I picked up as many freelance assignments as I could. In the afternoon, I ordered a cheeseburger deluxe from Golden Apple on Lincoln Ave. I got fries, sometimes with cheese. Not every day, of course. But those were my favorite days. The ones where I left my little writing cave, booted up, and walked to Golden Apple.

Sometimes, my friends and I ate there in person. Open 24 hours, its large sign stayed lit up all night long on the wide corner of Lincoln and Wellington. It’s a quintessential Midwestern diner. It’s got a display case for pies, obviously. The menu has a million options. It operates on diner time, which is to say your food comes out either freaky fast or real, real slow. We ended up there at 3 a.m. after the New Year’s party we hosted, and one of my friends fell asleep sitting up while waiting for his burger.

The best part of the day was when the friends I lived with came home from work. Before that, I’d make a list on my phone and walk to the grocery store across the street so I could get ingredients for our three-person dinner. In lieu of rent, I made them home-cooked vegetarian dinners whenever I could. It was nice. I was deeply unhappy. Mostly because I was lonely.

There were some constants during my alone time: the chill, the cheeseburgers, the stained French press. And her. The friend from college I talked to throughout it all. We weren’t friends in college, just acquaintances, in each other’s orbits but never really colliding. Until after graduation when we finally became friends. Despite distance—we lived in different cities—we were very suddenly very close. We texted every day, all day. We emailed sometimes, too, like our conversations were too big for texts. They were Texts. Tomes. Things to be studied and decoded. There were times I should have been writing but instead wrote a thousand words to her. Who hasn’t been there?

I was newly out as a lesbian but also, confusingly, fresh off of a dramatic breakup with a boy. All the time, I was lonely and confused, lonely and confused. My intense friendship with her helped and also didn’t.

When I told her she should watch a movie I’d just seen, she did the very next day. She asked if she could FaceTime me about it so we could discuss. The movie is about two best friends: a lesbian and a straight woman. They love each other very much, but they’re just friends, whatever that means. Maybe you know what movie I’m talking about, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s not very good. I watched it three times in the same weekend, and I told her she had to watch it. When she called to tell me what she thought, she said the characters should have ended up together. I agreed.

I had my morning routine. I listened to my friends ready for work in the kitchen from my couch-bed in the living room. I thought it would feel more awkward to be that up-close-and-personal with a couple, but it never was. I liked hearing their morning banter, the sounds of them trudging out the door and down the staircase of their walkup they’d so graciously opened up to me. I bent the bed back into a couch. I drank loads of coffee and pulled on many layers of clothes. But it started to feel like the day didn’t really start until I heard from her. I hinged so much on those exchanges. I felt pulled away somewhere else.

We were friends, just friends, always friends, really fucking good friends. She liked burgers and fries and Cokes like I did. And sure, who the fuck doesn’t like burgers and fries and Cokes, but I convinced myself it was further evidence of our deep, deep connection. We liked all the same things. Why hadn’t we figured this out sooner—when we’d lived in the same place? Would she come visit soon? I was certain we’d have a great time together, just us, just friends, at Golden Apple.

I had friends in Chicago, lots of them. I have happy memories with them. We had a lot of fun—a lot of it in the late-late hours of night. We like to reminisce about those nights now during the Zoom catchups I wish were more frequent. The best nights back then ended at a diner. Not always Golden Apple but someplace like it. Chicago is crawling with brightly lit, buzzing diners open all hours. Everyone has a favorite, and Golden Apple will always be mine. Even on those days when I traveled there and back alone, when I ate the burger and fries on the couch that bent into my bed, that cheeseburger deluxe was a comfort. It’s easy now to look back at that time and know I was depressed. At the time, I just thought I was lonely. I just thought I was cold. I just thought that here, in this time and this place, I was a ghost and my real self was somewhere else, in a different city.

I felt an ease with her, but I also felt a restlessness. Like I might burst any second. Listen, this isn’t a metaphor. I’m not saying our friendship was a cheeseburger deluxe!!!! That’s not the point. I just. When I think of that time and place, those seven months in a Lakeview walkup, I think of those cheeseburgers, and I think of that friendship. I guess the thing they do have in common is that they’re not really in my life anymore.

It’s not as dramatic as it sounds. By the time I moved to her city five years ago, we just weren’t talking much. I can’t remember if it was a fade out or a smash cut to be honest. And then she moved to a different city entirely. Right before, we met up for brunch. I got a burger. It wasn’t as good as the cheeseburger deluxe from Golden Apple, but of course it wasn’t.


Wild Cravings is a biweekly series by Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya about food and memory.


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Kayla

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 324 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. Oof. This is so good and so evocative. I love how you’re able to be so specific and yet hit on more universal feelings in this series. You captured so much of what I remember feeling in my 20s – trying to find my place, my voice, struggling with mental health problems I didn’t fully understand yet and yes, so so much longing.

    And also, I know the Golden Apple! It was a family favorite when I was a kid. We lived on Wellington until I was 8 (back in the 70s).

  2. Love reading the Chicago references. I know exactly where that Golden Apple is (and the one closer to me in Ravenswood) but I’ve never been. A late night cheeseburger and fries sounds great right now.

  3. I have no idea how one of those burgers taste… but this “I just thought that here, in this time and this place, I was a ghost and my real self was somewhere else, in a different city”. this is painfully familiar right now. I have been suspecting for a while now that I might be depressed, maybe this is my sign to go and check with someone. Thank you.
    Also, is it a common trait to identify certain food with periods of our life ? I know I do.

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