Friday, March 7, 2014

The Circus Life

by: Krystalyn

For most of my life, I lived on a platform twenty five feet in the air. I swung from the trapeze. I flipped through the air. I clung (most of the time) to my father's arms. I bowed for the audience. And I did it over and over again in city after city.

So when our tutor asked my sister and me to write an essay describing what home was to us, I had to think about it. Was this a trick question?

I'd been born between shows of the Stellar Stars Circus in Dayton, Ohio. The next day, we moved on to Indianapolis. My home was a bed in a train car. My life was the show.

I peered over at my sister's paper. She had already begun her essay.

Home to me isn't a place, it's a feeling I get just before I jump off the platform and swing free on the trapeze bar. When I roll through the air and grab my father's hands, I am safe. When my sister and I fly past each other in mid air, I feel companionship. When my mother puts ointment on my blisters, I am loved.

"Overachiever," I muttered.

I scribbled "I live in the circus," but my tutor put her hand over mine. "Not where you live, Katrina. Home."


She took my paper and put it back on the cart that served as our classroom. "Why don't you mull it over for a day or two?"

There was nothing to think about, but since my paper was gone, I was forced to do just as she said.

That night as I lay in my bed and the train rattled across the country, I stuck my hand in my pillow case. Did she know?

I pulled the pamphlet out and climbed out of bed. A single lantern on the wall provided little light as I made my way through the sleeping cars and to the caboose. I went there whenever I had something on my mind. I knew I'd be alone with nothing but the stars in the sky and the sway of the train. Maybe that was my home. My safe haven.

Or maybe ...

I studied the pamphlet. Its creases were white from folding and unfolding. Its cover was worn from being smushed under my pillow. It wasn't the cover I liked anyway. I opened it. A trio of teenagers lay sprawled out on a grassy lawn, sharing books and laughing.

"The Carlton School - A school. A home. A family."

I looked around the caboose. I had a home. I had my family. My future was with them. It's what was expected.

I studied the picture on the next page. It showed a classroom with desks and a teacher and a chalkboard. I'd never set foot in a classroom. My mother always said the whole country was my classroom and wasn't I lucky.

I wanted to feel lucky. I wanted to feel like my sister did when she wrote of flying and bandages and companionship. The truth was, my tutor was right. I had a place where I slept and worked and studied, but it wasn't home.

My family has been a part of the circus for sixty seven years. Before my father, it had been my grandfather. Even my mother had been in the circus since she was a little girl. She grew up on a tightrope, but when she met my father, she moved on to flying.

My sister, Natalia, was born with wings. My parents say she flew before she could walk, and they weren't far off. I remember watching her at a playground when she was two. She climbed onto the swings and swung on her belly, laughing and giggling for half an hour. When she was done, I swore she dismounted with a perfect back flip. Me, I wasn't allowed in front of an audience until I was eleven. It wasn't for lack of trying, but apparently, my wings never grew in right.

I rubbed my thumb across the pamphlet, tracing the outline of the desks. What was it like to sit at one? What did the classroom smell like? Certainly, it didn't smell like elephant poop.

Two weeks before, I'd fallen during a show. It was a simple trick too. I was supposed to release the bar, do a single flip (because I can't do two), and then grab hold of my father's hands. I released the bar a split second too early and missed his hand by a hair. I fell to the net. The audience gave me some cheers of encouragement, and then I climbed back up and did it again with success. The applause from the audience was overwhelming. And it made me sick to my stomach.

Later that night, I got the expected lecture from my father. "Natalia was doing that trick at eight years old."

"I know, Dad."

"You are fifteen, Katrina!"

"I know." My voice was thick with tears, but I wouldn't let my father see them. I was strong. Strong arms. Strong will.

"You know this is our livelihood. Why aren't you trying?"

"I don't know." But I was trying. I did my sit ups and pull ups. I practiced late into the night, clocking more hours than Natalia ever did. I knew I was trying. What I didn't know was why wasn't I improving? Why couldn't I get the timing right? Why couldn't I be at home up in the air?

I studied the pamphlet in my hands. Somehow, without me knowing, four teardrops had landed on the classroom chalkboard. I tilted the paper and watched the tears roll off onto the floor of the caboose. I smeared them with my toe. This wasn't my home. It never really was.

I folded the pamphlet, went back to our sleeping car, and crawled back into bed. The pamphlet went back into its hiding place. I made the same vow I made every time my uncertainty drove me from bed in the middle of the night. One day, I will talk to my father.


Picture by: Graur Codrin from


  1. Oh! This is my fave of the year, Krystalyn! Loves it. I definitely see it as an expanded story. I especially like the line with her sister being born with wings and the back & forth with the tutor, good set up of conflict throughout this story.

  2. This feels like the start of a novel, Krystalyn. Love the mental pictures it evoked in me. Nicely done.