Tuesday, December 19, 2006


On television, they're running the same ad, over and over. Come see the Greatest Show on Earth! I haven't been to one in years but I still remember the feeling of panic and fear and excitement the circus used to bring.

When I was little, we used to go to a ragtag little show set up in the parking lot of a flea market. Three red and yellow tents, creased and faded, worn through in places. Paint-chipped wagons, the letters faded from too many shows, too many towns. It wasn't much but to us, to a bunch of poor kids who didn't know any better, the circus was a treat.

It was always the same, the ringleader in red coat and black top hat, mouthing words I don't remember at a crowd of indistinguishable faces. Bodies squeezed onto cheap wooden bleachers, the smell of slightly stale popcorn and the crunch of peanut shells under my feet. Hands and face sticky from too much cotton candy, waiting anxiously for the lights to drop.

The elephants were always first, a train of tails and trunks, skin like old newspapers, faded and mottled gray. They moved through their routine with a kind of dull grace, the same slow, lumbering steps over and over. Once, I rode on the back of one, terrified at the feel of muscle and bone shifting beneath me. I was afraid of them, afraid of their size, at what moved in their eyes. Now when I see the elephants I feel only sadness for them and I wonder if they remember, if they know, what it was to be wild.

The lions came next, roaring over the noise of the crowd, each waiting their turn to demonstrate their ferosity. The lion tamers followed behind, cracking their whips and shouting out commands. Inevitably, one of them was brave enough to place their head in the lion's mouth, sending oohs and aahs through the crowd. I never understood it, was never impressed by it. My idea of bravery, of courage, was and still is something different.

There were the fire-eaters and the sword swallowers, testing the limits of their bodies, choking on the taste of fire and ash and steel. The clowns, with their permanent smiles and plastic flowers pinned to their lapels. The tiny car which managed, impossibly, to hold them all. I have a friend my age who is still afraid of clowns. I used to think this was silly but maybe he's right not to trust something whose smile is always painted on.

My favorites were the trapeze artists, those beautiful girls with their glittering costumes and wide smiles. The ones who dazzled the crowd with their beauty and the way they flew through the air, weightless shadows. They were always the stars, the ones who received the longest and loudest applause. I wanted to be one of them, to know what it was to live in the spotlight, to be the most loved. They were always so much more glamorous than the tightrope walkers. The trapeze is about timing and reflexes and showy movements. The tightrope is different. It's about concentration, focus, balance. It's about learning to trust the person on the other end and knowing that there is still a chance you could fall. I was never impressed by the ones who worked without a net. It seemed foolish to me, to risk so much. Now I see that a net doesn't always guarantee safety and that there are risks worth taking.

And now I'm here, waiting on the platform, the crowd below a single moving blur. The choice is mine, the tightrope or the trapeze. I can fly into nothing and fall safely in the net or I can step out into open air with only my own faith to catch me. I choose the highwire. My trust is in the rope, this body, you. I'm still finding my balance, still choosing my steps. I can, will, make it to the other side. Cross your fingers, hold your breath, don't look down. Keep your eyes on me, I'm almost there.


Blogger Lex Ham Rand said...

Damn it's good to have you back, Rebecca.

And happy holidays while I'm at it!

12/19/2006 9:11 PM  
Anonymous Nic Sebastian said...

Welcome back, Rebecca, and Happy Holidays!

12/19/2006 10:24 PM  
Blogger briliantdonkey said...


As usual your words and the way you manipulate them is as awe inspiring as any tightrope walker, clown, or roaring lion. If I haven't said it before I envy your writing style and ability. Greaaaaaat to see this post which was quite enjoyable as always.


12/20/2006 12:42 AM  
Blogger Inconsequential said...


BD said it.

WOW :)

cool stuff.

12/20/2006 4:24 AM  
Blogger Michael Thomas said...

Good to have you back, Rebecca. Happy Holidays, and a moving post, as usual.

12/20/2006 8:09 AM  
Blogger jason evans said...

I too missed your writing.

I agree, you gain nothing but fear by looking down.

12/20/2006 11:12 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Happy Holidays to everyone and thanks for stopping by. Hopefully I can keep the words coming.

12/20/2006 6:05 PM  
Blogger ruby said...

you're back! SWEET!

12/29/2006 3:42 AM  

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