“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.