There’s a neat art show coming up here in Orlando that showcases cell phone Instagram photos. All photos entered will be displayed, and then printed off for people to buy. Proceeds to go charity. I’m thinking of submitting the above photo. What do you all think?
“We’re lost, aren’t we?” I asked, staring out the window, watching the rain drip down.
“No…not yet,” Mike said, staring ahead at the dim, red light.
“It’s been 30 minutes. Can we please pull over and ask for directions?” The show ended an hour ago, but we were still driving around aimlessly because, like most men, Mike didn’t ask for directions.
“Fine, fine. There’s a gas station at the next light.”
The gas station seemed to be the only thing awake at that time of night. When we pulled up to the front door, Mike put a hand on his handle, but paused. As I readied myself to mock his inability to ask for assistance, he asked, “Hey, Lau, can you go inside and ask? I would, but I’m still wearing my tights.”
I sometimes forget how weird it was, being in a circus. When a guy talks about the horrors of wearing tights on a daily basis, I agree and add to the conversation. Not once is it thought to be out of the ordinary, a far thought for many. Whenever I mention that I was an aerialist, I get this perplexed look of disbelief. Discuss how you were Mama Rose in a production of Gypsy, you get applause; mention hanging upside down by your ankles, you get questions. It’s all part of the lifestyle, I suppose.
I didn’t mean to go to college and do it, it wasn’t my original plan, but the red, white and yellow tent called for me. It was something different, something that would bring about adventure, excitement and stories. But mostly, it might bring me friends and really, as a freshman in college I needed friends.
Reminiscent of an early Ringling Brothers set up, our tent had three rings, and two outer nets. Sawdust that would litter my socks and, later, apartment crunched under our feet. The apparatuses, the trapezes and bars, became part of us if we were good, or enemies if we were bad, leaving bruises and bloody cuts as souvenirs. To me, they were a bit of both.
The wounds were telling. It was unusual to leave practice completely unharmed. Bruises in the shape of hand prints would adorn my arms and thighs. I’d get questioning looks from my classmates and teachers, wondering what boyfriend could do such a thing. But I didn’t mind the bruises, because each one meant that I didn’t fall that time, that I didn’t really hurt myself.
Outsiders or alumni who knew the circus could tell which act a person did by their wounds. Raw skin on your upper arms? Swinging Trapeze due to one trick called crucifix when you jumped off and caught the bar by your arms. Deep cuts on your ankles? Mexican Cloud Swing from the trick leap, where you’d jump off the apparatus, only catching by your ankles. My ankle wounds were so deep they didn’t heal for a year afterwards.
We came to class straight from practice, bandaged up and sweaty, and yet some people still didn’t know there was a circus. They probably thought we had one strange workout routine.
It’s harder now out of college, in a normal working environment, to mention my past. Saying, “yeah, when I was in the circus…” isn’t as typical as saying, “yeah, when I was an actress…” It just doesn’t have the same ring. And yet, I still say it and I still love collecting the reactions. Storing them away in my mind, ready to pull up when I need a laugh. I love telling stories from those days. They were my glory days and although they were odd, they were still mine. So I keep going, avoiding the looks and questioning glances, and talk about that time I was on ESPN spinning by my neck. Because it’s my story to tell.
We kept in touch, most of us, even after it was all over. We reminisce and compare show memories like war tales, whoever had the deepest cut won. We all won, each one of us. Although Mike doesn’t wear tights anymore, he still has that.
A few Christmases ago, he and I were at Kohls picking up a neclace for my mom. As we walked pass the clothing section, I noticed a rack of tights and fishnet stockings hanging up.
“I’m so glad I don’t have to wear those anymore,” I mumbled, remembering the grated feeling my legs would take on after a day of wearing them for performances.
A woman nearby looked at me and then the stockings. And then me again, and then back to the fishnets. I suppose she thought the worst of me, because why else would a female in her mid-twenties wear fishnets? Rather than saying anything, I just shrugged, shaking my head. It was Christmas, she needed and awkward, albeit weird, moment to remember the season by. We all need stories to tell and I didn’t want to take this one away from her.
It’s hard not to be surrounded my memories on days like these. When a light breeze tickles my arm as I leave the apartment, and the morning feels crisp, as if freshly opened and not left over from the day before. There’s no need for a jacket yet, but sweat marks don’t freckle my clothes either, from the normal mountain of humidity that plagues our state.
Every time a morning is like this, I think back to Callaway, despite the fact that I lived there six years ago. I think back to scratchy cloud blue polo shirts and khakis down to my knees. I think about waking up early so I didn’t miss one thing in our house that held 24 college students (even though I missed so much every night after my eyes closed). And I think of billowy green trees on the way to work, hiding what the day would entail.
I lived in Georgia for two summers, working as a camp counselor at Callaway Gardens. The second summer was more comfortable, more memorable, but I always reflect on the first initially. It held so much more.
I went in right after my sophomore year of college, scared and shy and clinging on to my two friends in the house. I knew everyone else by name and face, but held them on a pedestal usually reserved for celebrities. They were my peers, but so much more. They were the flying trapeze artists, the master riggers so comfortable in their skins that they could do and say what they wanted – even to our coach. They made jokes, decisions; I made my bed and hoped someone would stop by to say hi.
I was asked to go to Callaway while helping take down the circus tent. Fingers callused from holding a rope all day, and clothes a new color from what they once were, I shrieked with joy upon hearing I was accepted. I had been in the circus then for two years; I was far from one of the notable performers. I felt with this, I’d become one of the select few who were popular.
I roomed with a girl who quickly took me under her wing and opened my world up to old-timers and hair straighteners. I’d hang out with the others through her, rarely offering my perspective, but comfortable with the fact that I was included. I didn’t learn to have a voice yet, an opinion. I just wanted them to like me.
That’s not to say my friends weren’t enough – they were, and after a while, they became more than friends. Lifelines. Assistants in helping me realize who I was. I had John with me, and Abel, two friends from the dorm. Hunter, who I had Italian class with, and Lindsay, who I met while loading the truck to go to Georgia. As if it were meant to be, Lindsay and I fell into that comfortable friendship formed when two people don’t know many others in a full house. We were best friends from day one.
As the days went on, I opened up to them, and we formed a group, a clique even, and slowly added others. Mike, with his fast car and loud music; Jeff with his wacky antics. I learned their idiosyncrasies – they knew mine. I started speaking, really speaking. When forced to live together, it comes almost natural.
We drove to work together, the Georgia air just right as it flowed through the car. It was different from the breeze I was accustomed to, and it brought with it hope. I picked out CDs to play; I fought for the front seat.
Just like growing, there’s no exact moment I can point to when I learned to let go; when I learned I didn’t have to fear my own voice. I said I didn’t like a movie everyone else did; I slept an extra few minutes in the morning. I realized that no matter what I did, these new friends didn’t care. They were still there, despite my misgivings and mistakes. But more so, I realized the others, who I held with such high regard, were just like me, embarrassing moments and all. The pedestal vanished, we stood on solid ground.
When I got back to Tallahassee after the summer was over, I instantly called Lindsay, asking what we were doing that night. Within the hour, Mike came over and Hunter soon followed. We walked on campus together, hiding a summer no one else could relate to. So much happened, and so much changed. I was part of something, and when I went to the circus lot, I didn’t feel alone or shy; I was part of a giant web connecting us all, keeping us all together. I felt right and whole; the person I was covering up all those years.
So whenever the weather is just right, I remember that summer. I feel myself speeding through the woods in Mike’s car, wind whipping at my face as he takes each corner a bit too close. Red foxes running, yet stopping to admire when they’re behind the safety of a tree. And looking behind me to see my friends, singing along to a song we know all too well. The faces of the campers fade over time, and I’m sure soon I won’t remember the shortcuts through the grounds. It’ll become hazy, a memory from long ago that doesn’t want to say goodbye. Because no matter what, I know every time the weather is just right, I’ll think back to that time. And know it as the summer I became me.