Challenge to myself: Take an idea and expand upon it.
I was only 5.
The circus had come to town and I, like other 5-year-olds, was excited to see the clowns. You were there, holding me by the hand, as you led me through the densely packed festival grounds.
The sweet smell of popcorn and cotton candy filled the hot air, tangled up in the overwhelming noises of chitter chatter and growling animals. Carnival music boomed from each stretch and I remember feeling so funny walking in beat with it. Just beyond the food stands and carnival games stood the circus tent. Poised above all our heads with its red and white striped bounciness, it seemed to me like the largest thing I’ve ever seen. I was in a rush to enter.
Once inside, we trampled through the dirt, eventually getting to the center of the arena where a few circus acts stood and greeted patrons. The talent all matched the red and white striped circus tent, but of course in different variations.
A woman with a beard greeted us with a wink. You giggled as she lifted her white tutu up, showing her negligee. Near her, a hairy man effortlessly hoisted a barbell high into the air, not even breaking a sweat as he smiled. A lion tamer behind us cracked his whip and we both spun on our heels to face him. There seemed to be many things happening all at once – it was draining, but to me, it was fun.
You eventually pushed my hesitant self in front of a clown. Her name, I learned, was Frida.
“Hey there handsome,” she said with a wink. “What’s your name?”
“Hi Sal,” she said. “Having fun?”
She whirled around in a circle, and when she came to face me again, a balloon dog had magically manifested in her hands. She handed it to me and I remembered being the happiest boy in the world after that moment.
“Who’re you here with, cutie pie?” she asked.
“Oh boy,” she clapped. “Where is he?“
I whirled around to point at you, but where you should have been standing, you weren’t there.
“I…. I…” I began to stutter to Frida, “I don’t know.”
I looked to her and now she was gone. Well, not completely gone, but her attention had completely shifted to another guest. It was as if she dropped her liability in an instant.
My stomach began to churn. A tingling sensation erupted from my shoulders – stress, no doubt – while a feeling of vacancy arose, centered around my neck for some reason. It was a feeling of being incomplete… and that feeling made it seemed as though my well-being was at stake.
Where are you? My mind raced – thoughts of murder, thoughts of orphanage, thoughts of loneliness. And with that, I did what seemed to be the best idea at the time. I ran.
The tent was dim, only illuminated by a few stage lights that barely shined down upon circus patrons flooding the tent. In your absence, I felt I was going completely blind, so in an attempt to regain my composure, I weaved in and out of groups of people, even having to shove past a few children my height, until I finally reached the mouth of the circus tent.
My pupils allowed the light to pass through and suddenly I was snapped into the startling reality that the festival grounds are enormous. My head turned from left to the right slowly, ensnared by the many faces, the many colors, the many sounds, the many noises, the many smells. In my outrageous anxiety, it seemed as though the dirt beneath my feet began to stretch and the festival grounds were growing wider and wider. It was all too overwhelming.
And as I made my way past the people, my mind was quickly barraged with flashes of red and white. I passed by a line of drummers who seemed adamant not to look at me. A mother with her child shook their heads back in disgust as I fell to the ground in a mad dash. A clown had suddenly sprang up from the corner of a food tent and startled me. And in my current state of mind, his face contorted into that of a demon. His white face smeared with red makeup as he grinned menacingly.
“Where you going, bud?” he asked. He stretched his arms out to swoop in for a hug. I, however, evaded. I couldn’t bear to look at him so I took off down another well-populated alleyway.
Still too many faces that weren’t yours – and way too much red and white. And where I would turn to you for comfort, I saw nothing in the faces of those who passed me as I struggled to find you.
Their disgust – a mixture of raised eyebrows, eye rolls, and frowning mouths – drew out the panic in me. Suddenly, the sounds, the smells – multiple layers of burden – fell onto my shoulders. I ran, and I ran, and as the echoing noises of the alleyway slowly began to turn faint, I felt as though my legs were beginning to weigh down. There was an empty feeling inside me – I felt light as a feather! But why did it seem like my legs had given out? I stomped the dirt beneath me, but my feet felt as though they were digging a hole into the ground. The next steps seemed to take my ankles down with them. And now, my knees buckled on my next few strides.
Push, I screamed to myself, push!
I clenched my fists and lifted my legs as high as I could. The dirt kicked up and I heard screams.
“Stop that at once!”
On the contrary, you idiot, I shall continue!
I thrust my tiny body forward, digging my nails into my palms on every stride. I felt every sweat drop roll down my face. I felt every tear leave my eyes and die on my warm cheeks. I felt the hot wind blow through my hair and through the gaps of my teeth. And as I neared the mouth of the alley, I could feel what your warm embrace would’ve felt like. And though your presence at the end of this alley was not guaranteed, being out of this alley was a hell of a lot better than staying in here. I pushed, and I pushed, and I pushed…
And in a mad charge past the crowd blocking the continued fair grounds, I fell forward, rolling through legs and eventually on my face, defeated. A chorus of gasps rose up from around me.
Suddenly, the sun that shined down upon fragile me was blocked by a circle of heads.
“Breathe, child,” I heard a voice call out.
I inhaled, and I exhaled. Inhaled and exhaled. Suddenly the stress was semi-alleviated. I had the sympathy of people now.
“What is your name, dear child?” a man asked.
“Who are you here with?”
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know.”
A sea of oh my’s and dear golly’s.
“Tell me good Sal,” said the man. “What is your father’s name?”