Traveling Circus

by Gaia Klotz

I’m waiting—waiting to see how the rest of this will unfold, the rest of this twisted sideshow that has managed become my reality.

“I just want to go home,” I manage to choke out, strapped in the back seat of the Prius alongside the empty McDonalds’ wrappers.

“I wish you were there,” my father spits at me, the same way he used to spit tobacco out between his teeth: lips curled back, words forced forward.

“I really hate. . .” Here is the scene where the unruly teenage daughter is supposed to scream, “You.” I want nothing more than to say those words, just to see their effect, but I don’t because I’ve watched this same show ten times over. I don’t because I know he’ll regret this later. I don’t because it’s useless. Instead, my throat opens up long enough for me to say, “. . . that tone of voice.”

“Yeah, well, I hate any tone of voice you use with me ninety-nine percent of the time, Gaia.”

Silence. He’s letting the words sink in, letting them hit home. And they do. They knock the air right out of my lungs. I feel as if the tiny Prius is collapsing in on itself, turning into a clown car filled with carnival workers displaying painted smiles for an imaginary audience.

“I need to get out of this car.”


When my mother finally pipes up, she automatically assumes that she is the ringmaster.

“Actually, I need to use the restroom so we really do need to pull over.”


“Excuse me!” My mother shouts, trying to be heard through all of the thoughts rushing through my father’s head. She is not used to being neglected, denied, or ignored by this man that she shaped. “We really need to stop.”

As soon as the suffocating vehicle stops moving, I am on my feet and out the door, walking as far and as fast as I can. I find myself in a church courtyard, adjacent to the 7-11 where our car is parked. I sit in front of a white marble statue of Jesus Christ, arms wide open, as if he were saying, “You’re safe here.” I can still hear my parents arguing; ironically, they had just celebrated their anniversary the day before. My mother manages to grab all of our luggage and heads right towards me, my father in tow.

“So, you’re leaving?” he says.

“You need to get it together and get back on your medication and see a counselor, that’s what you need to do,” she says.

“Obviously I shouldn’t live with you if I can’t even function around my own daughter, right?”

“Maybe not.”

“I can’t remember the last time I was really happy”—“Let’s just go home”—

“Everything you do to me I’m going to do right back to you”—“I’m calling Rick; he can take us home from here”—

“No, Helen, please”—“Give me that”—“What am I doing wrong?”—“How can I fix this?” “Just stop and talk to me . . .”

An older woman approaches hesitantly. She looks at me, huddled under Jesus’ arms, and then at my parents, their words still flying.

“Are you here for the wedding?”

I smile, and shake my head. “No.”

The woman glances once more at my parents and then backs away into the church. As the wooden door opens, I hear the faint sound of organ music, along with the gossip that accompanies every family gathering. My parents' splitting argument was is blasting in all directions around the modest church yard, our gift for the newlyweds. Although the stoic Jesus by my side remains silent, I know I have to speak in order to save my family from falling apart.

So I do.

“Please stop. Stop. Dad, listen to me. You’re not doing anything wrong. The problem here is you’re not doing anything. We love you Dad, we really do. I’ll forgive you because I don’t want to lose you and you don’t want to lose us. So, please, try harder to make this work for you. For us.”

As we drive back home, my mother wis at the wheel, desperately pretending like nothing has ever happened. My father sits, his body crunched up like the empty McDonalds’ wrappers that fill the backseat—wrapped in guilt, but still moving forward, propelled by my mother’s foot on the gas pedal.

This is the day my words learned to balance on a tight rope, my heart learned to swallow fire, and my mind learned that the show must go on because this circus never stops.

Gaia Klotz is a recent graduate of Midland High School. She will be spending next year in Ankara, Turkey through Rotary Youth Exchange. When she returns to America, Gaia plans on attending Wayne State University to peruse a BA in Theater with a minor in social psychology in order to become a drama therapist. In her little free time, Gaia enjoys reading, Glee, volunteering, Zumba, and attempting to cook.

© Gaia Klotz, 2011

Photo by Stephen Brace.