It really is more than just clowning around.
|I woke to a fuzzy dark room and in a bed I instinctively knew was not my own. It was comfortable; my own beat up, fourteenth-hand mattress was anything but. Through my grogginess, I heard something beeping somewhere. My mouth felt as though it had a towel stuffed in it and my head. My head hurt! My eyes felt as if there were lead weights on them and I fell back to sleep.|
The next time I woke up, it was daytime. I couldn’t see anything clearly, but what I could see was two of every object I tried to focus on. Oh. Right. I had no idea where my glasses were. The door opened and a nurse came in.
“Good Morning, Ms Greenfield. How are we feeling this morning?”
“Um, we are feeling like we had our head bashed in. What happened to us?” I’ve never understood why nurses always talk in plurals. Don’t they know how they feel? And if they don’t, why are they asking me? I mean, shouldn’t a nurse know how she feels? And, since I’m lying here in a bed with the headache from hell, shouldn’t it stand to reason that I don’t feel all that swift?
“You’ve got a fairly severe concussion, as well as a broken foot and ankle.”
I tried to focus to the foot of the bed. That’s what the lump was; the foot that I couldn’t move. No wonder I hadn’t been able to roll over earlier. I never sleep on my back.
“I don’t suppose my glasses are here somewhere?” I asked her as she took my blood pressure.
She reached over to the nightstand and handed my glasses to me. The blurred multi-images came into focus. I squinted and they gradually merged together. Whew! That was better.
“Do you remember what happened?” she asked as she stuck a thermometer in my mouth. I thought about it for a second. I remembered finishing my act and heading backstage. I remembered Bessie trumpeting and. . .oh yeah.
“I think Bessie went on a rampage.”
“You mean the elephant that knocked you flying? I heard it took a while before they were able to get her under control. Seems someone dropped a hammer and it spooked her.”
Made sense to me. Bessie never did like quick movements. Temperamental elephant, but great to work with as long as there were no surprises. I rode her in the third act opener, and usually, she and I got along well although she did always try to wrap her trunk around the flowers on my shoes.
“How’d I break my leg? Don’t tell me she stepped on me.”
The nurse hesitated a moment. “Actually, you apparently broke it when she dropped you. Then she stepped on you when the handler was trying to get her back in her stall.”
I smiled. Good ole Bessie. Knocked me flying and then tried to help.
“You need to rest now. Doctor says you’ll be with us for a couple of days. It’s a nasty break and he wants to be sure it sets well, and that there are no complications with your concussion before he releases you. Do you have family nearby?”
I tried to remember what town we were in. I didn’t think so. But the circus was supposed to be here a couple of weeks, and we’d just had our first show, so I’d be out before they left. I was feeling very sleepy and I think I fell asleep before I answered her.
I woke up a bit later because I was cold. All I had on was one of those hospital gowns with no back. My costume was lying on a chair across the room. I could only see one of my floppy red shoes with the yellow flowers on it. I wondered what had happened to the other one. I supposed I should call my folks, but I was not looking forward to that conversation. They were not one bit happy that their college graduate had run off to join the circus.
I’ll never forget the day I’d told them. My parents and I had been relaxing after Christmas dinner, enjoying the calm after the storm. We were all sitting around the fireplace, my mom and dad, my brother and I drinking our traditional drink of the day. Ever since I’d been small, we always had a drink called a grasshopper on Christmas night. I remember drinking them, crème d’menth and cream in tall skinny glasses.
I waited until we were on our second drink before I dropped my bombshell. They’d known of course that while in college I’d worked as a clown in local hospitals and as part of the college theater group. What they didn’t know was that I thoroughly enjoyed being a clown. I mean, my brother had called me a clown my whole life, never in a nice way either.
“You just graduated from that expensive school with a degree and you want to waste it clowning around?” That was my dad, he the one who’d always claimed my school was determined to make a pauper out of him.
“A clown? You mean like in a circus? Perfect place for you. My kid sister runs away to join a circus. Maybe they’ll put you in the sideshow! What a joke!” chimed in my ever so loving brother.
“A circus? Aren’t they dirty? And you’ll never know where you are sleeping from night to night. And they can’t possibly be safe for a young woman. NO, I won’t have it. Tell her, dear. Tell her she cannot join a circus. Oh my heaven, what would your grandmother say?” I’ve got to give it to Mom: She always worried about my getting dirty.
“Yes, a circus. It actually pays well, I get to travel around the country doing something I love and that I’m good at.”
“I didn’t spend all that money for you to be a clown in a two bit, rag tag circus!” Dad’s face was turning as red as the nose on my clown suit.
“It is just for a year, dad. Then I’ll go get a real job. Okay?”
“No. I won’t have it. Look what you are doing to your mother.” I wasn’t doing anything to her, except following a dream, getting out on my own and leaving home. Okay, I guess I was doing something to her in mom-speak.
We went back and forth for about an hour before I wore them down enough to agree to a year in the circus. Of course, that was three years and two circuses ago. I’d risen in the ranks and had just received my Master Clown Certification. I could ride a unicycle, been fire certified and could even walk the low wire and do tricks on the trapeze. That was my newest gig—clown in the air.
Well, not now of course. A busted leg would ground me for a bit. I dozed off thinking about what kind of act I could put together with a broken leg and crutches.
I was released from the hospital two days later. I refused to stay in bed and when I discovered the children’s ward was just around the corner and down another hallway, there was no option in my mind. I was down there clowning around with my one shoe on my good foot, half my costume on and my red nose firmly in place. I had no make-up, but my two black eyes served almost as well. The kids loved me and there is nothing on this planet as fun as making a child giggle and smile. Especially sick kids. I think they kicked me out so the kids could get some rest.
Frankie, one of the other clowns, picked me up from the hospital in one of the circus trucks. I made quite the exit, and left in character. I waved to the kids in the windows as we drove away.
First thing after I got back was meet with the boss and let him know I was fine and already working on an act I could do with crutches. Frankie and I were working out the pratfalls I could do one legged. He said he’d check it out in a few days when I could return to doing two shows a day.
Then I headed off to see Bessie. There she was in her stall. My missing shoe was there as well. She’d half buried it in the hay near her manger. All that stuck up was the yellow flower. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear she was happy to see me and worried—all at the same time. She swayed back and forth, back and forth, her trunk wrapping around my head and my shoulders. Then she wrapped it around my waist and picked me up. Although a bit surprised, I hung there and thought about how we could work this into the act. Sure would beat having to get out to the center ring on crutches. Maybe we could even work my shoe into the act.
A week later I was back in the ring. Bessie carried me out with my shoe hanging off my cast. I’d drop it and she’d snag it. I’d get it back and she’d grab it when it fell off my cast again. She’d try and put it on my head or my hand. Back and forth we’d go until Frankie would come out with an elephant sized shoe just like mine. I’d get her to lift her foot and put it on. It would fall off her and she’d grab my shoe again. We’d end up leaving the ring with her shoe on my cast and my shoe hanging off her tusk. Lots of laughs. Big hit.
So big, it became a permanent part of the act. I didn’t get around to telling the folks about my leg until they showed up to surprise me about a week before the cast came off. It wasn’t until after the show that they realized that the cast wasn’t part of the act. My grandmother was with them because she wanted to see her granddaughter, the clown. They’d had a ball watching the show, even though Mom was surprised to see me up close and personal with an elephant.
Mom was all worried about my leg and a bunch of other mom-stuff. My dad was impressed (although he tried hard to hide it) when I showed him my certifications and he realized that being a ‘clown’ was not only hard work, it truly was a real job.
We couldn’t find my grandmother for two hours. Eventually we found her having coffee with Sihann and Hansii, our conjoined twins. Turns out grandmother wasn’t the slightest bit upset about my being a clown. She was a big hit with all the circus folk. I was very glad my brother had had better things to do that day. I think I might have asked if he could join the side show. They’d never have taken him though; he was way too strange even for them!
But me? I fit in here. It’s become my home. And everyone from the Boss on down to elephant wranglers and the scruffy dog act are my family.
Maybe you’ll come see me someday. I try to hit the local hospitals on my days off and during the year we see some two hundred small towns. I’ll be taking a break from clowning around in a few months though. Me and Frankie will be having a clown of our own.