“Happy birthday, dear Pandora-aa! Happy birthday to you!” My tent erupted into a series of cheers as my family around me finished their song.
It wasn’t my actual birthday, nor were they my biological family, but as crazy and unexpected as my life had turned out to be, it was most definitely, a hundred percent, real.
The cheers continued when I blew out the candle on my cupcake with as much strength as when they had ambushed me in my tent twenty minutes earlier. I hadn’t been here long- only a year to be exact- but I still knew a crazy tradition when I saw it.
In a way this was my birthday. It was exactly one year ago today that I joined this travelling circus. It was exactly one year ago that I was considered reborn and had been given a new birthday to celebrate. And there was no doubt that these people, with their beautiful smiling faces, were my family. Everyone knows that joining the circus will get you a new family, but not everyone knows how loving and accepting the performers are. Nobody understands a circus freak like a circus freak. My biological parents didn’t understand that, but my family does, and so did my grandmother.
“So Pandora, how has your first year in Earth been?” Earth was the name of our circus troupe.
I looked over at Jillian, one of the trapezists, and smiled, “It’s been amazing! I can’t even remember what my life was like before Earth.” Some of the other performers laughed, happy that I was taking to the constant running “Earth” joke. Audiences and locals always gave us weird looks when we walked around in costume talking about coming to Earth.
“Hey, Panda, you’ve never actually told us the full story of how you stumbled upon our little troupe.” One of the male acrobats shouted.
“That’s right! All we know is that your parents disapproved of your choice- like most parents do- and that you basically stalked us after one of our shows in the city.” Another girl replied.
All of a sudden my tent felt very crowded as the members of Earth’s Travelling Circus began shouting out questions, remarks and pleads to tell them of my life before hand.
Her death was something I hadn’t mourned in a year. She was the reason I was here and I thanked her every day, but being asked about my previous life made me anxious. After all, you never really get over the death of someone extremely close to you.
“Okay! Okay! I’ll tell my story, but everyone has to be quiet- no comments!” I looked at all the faces of my true family, took a deep breath and began to explain what drove me to join the circus.
“13 months ago my grandmother, Esmeralda, passed away.” Angie, a previous rhythmic gymnast, gasped and apologized for my loss.
“No, no, don’t apologize. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t even be here. You see she made me promise her I’d never let a wish of mine go unfulfilled because we never know when life is going to nip us in the butt…”
Esmeralda had been ninety years old and fighting a nasty cold when she was moved into intensive care at the hospital in our city. My parents tried to prepare me for what may have been my last visit with my grandmother, and I tried not to think of it that way. I knew she would be able to give me some story, some piece of advice that would stay with me for my entire life. She may be gone physically, but I knew in her last minutes she would give me something important to hold onto her with.
When she finally called me, her youngest and favourite granddaughter, in to her hospital room I could tell she didn’t have much more time left. I sat by her side and held her hand as she used her last breaths to not give me advice, but a quest. A quest to live my life by the moments and not to leave life with the regret of not doing something big and exciting with my life.
“Pandora, I need to tell you something and it has been plaguing my life especially since the moment you were born.” She told me. “I knew you were my last grandchild and out of respect your mother let me have a huge influence on your life. It was I who pushed your mother into signing you up for dance and gymnastics at a very young age. She wanted to let you grow up a bit, but I told her that it was crucial for you to start training at a young age. It was I who never wanted to see you quit or give up. Your mother wanted to let you stop the minute you would whine about it being tough, but I pushed her to make you stay, and I fear your relationship with her suffered because of it.
“You see, sweet Pandora, I always wanted to join the circus, but I fear I waited too long before chasing that dream and it slipped away from me. When I saw your natural talent, I tried to live out my dreams through you. And for that I am deeply sorry. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.” I sat in shock as my grandmother struggled to hold back the tears that threatened to tumble over her eyes and down her cheeks.
I was not in shock because my grandmother had desperately been living vicariously through me, but because she thought that I cared. It was true that my relationship with my mother was not the greatest, as it was true that there were numerous times that I wanted to quit, but to me that didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because I knew that I had grown into a very talented gymnast and contortionist. I knew in my heart that it had always been my grandmother who had the biggest influence on what I did and strived to be in my short life. I wasn’t mad because I knew that if I was completely honest, there was always a part of me that wanted to be crazy and run away with the circus someday.
“I’m going to join the circus,” I whispered.
“Oh no, Pandora, I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood me. I’m apologizing for living out my dream of becoming a circus performer through you. I’m leaving now and I want you to have complete control over your own life. Please promise me you’ll live out your own crazy dreams so when you have kids and grandkids you can just enjoy them while you have the time.” My grandmother reached over and patted my hand, looked me in the eyes and told me she loved me.
It was quiet after that. For the next hour she slowly drifted in and out of sleep. Neither of us said anything, but every time she opened her eyes- a little less each time- I was there and we shared soft smiles.
I could tell my parents were worried when I came out quite some time later. I could also tell that they knew that our family was a little smaller now, without me having to put it into words.
I looked at my parents and stumbled pass them, down the hallway, towards the door and into my car. I’m not sure how, but I arrived at home safely and went to bed.
The next few days merged together. I sat at home, I helped with funeral arrangements and I bought tickets to see the Earth Travelling Circus Troupe when they came to the city the day after my grandmother’s funeral.
Her funeral was lovely, as far as funerals go. Beautiful words were said as they laid Esmeralda’s coffin into the spot right under the big Willow tree. The sandwiches were tiny and delicious. My neighbours gave me some homemade dish I had never heard of, but would eat because I knew I was in no shape to cook for myself.
Everyone wore black. I wore a yellow sundress.
My parents were worried that I had snapped.
It didn’t help when I told them I was running away with the circus.
“Are you crazy?!” My mother shouted. “I just lost my mother, I’m not losing you too!”
“You won’t be losing me, you’ll be finding me.”
“What… what in heaven’s name are you talking about?” She turned to my father, “Do you understand this?” He shook his head.
“I’m an adult mom, I can make my own choices and I’m deciding that if I ever want a career as a contortionist, now is the time to do it; before I get old, before life passes me, before I waste my days in a boring office job.”
My mother cried. She also screamed at me. She didn’t understand. She didn’t know my grandmother like I did. She didn’t know me like my grandmother did.
“And so I left for the city with a few bags and my best tricks. I watched you perform and then camped outside the tents waiting until someone would notice me and give me a chance. So don’t be sad because my grandmother passed away or because I haven’t spoke to my parents. Be happy, because the day my life turned upside down was the day I gained a new family and discover a way to get paid for doing what I love, every day.”
My circus family rushed forward, engulfing me in hugs and thanks to Esmeralda who led me to them. I had never felt so loved, so empowered as I did in that moment.
“I love your grandmother for bringing you here,” said a very teary eyed Angie.
“I realize that there had always been a part of me that belonged with the circus. When I chased my dreams, I was able to fulfill her dying wish too.”
**So I am obsessed with the circus and I plan on being a part of it somehow. When I was younger I wanted to be a contortionist like Pandora. This is a really rough copy of this story (read: no editing) but I wanted to post it before I post my other short stories coming soon! (And yes, I’ll finally post The Morning After)