It’s the last day of the Flic Flac Festival in Kassel, Germany–the last show. I can’t push it out of my head that this might actually be my last show–ever–as a flying trapeze artist. All the moving around and stress of the past few months has me burned out, and on top of it, I’m going home to get a long-anticipated wrist surgery that will allow me to again enjoy many of the activities close to my heart, like gymnastics, rock climbing, and double trapeze. I still love flying trapeze and will continue to fly, of course. I just don’t know what the future holds for me right now in terms of a career.
When I used to snowboard, at the end of the day, my friends and I would always agree, “Let’s take two more runs and skip the last,” rather than ever conceding verbally that we were taking one final run; the last run is always when people got hurt. This, too, I struggle to put out of my mind as I prepare to take to the sky one more time, so I decide to think of this last show as my “retirement” show rather than my “final” show. While “final” has too ambiguous a meaning for my comfort zone, “retirement” makes me feel like after this I’m moving on to greener pastures. Call it semantics, but to me, at this moment, it makes a difference and helps me calm down.
As the chimes signaling intermission bellow through the tent, I apply my stick-on bra by leaning back in a half-back bend while pulling my new gold-and-white costume all the way up over it. The stickiness has long since worn off, so now this is how I have to do it. My fishnets have been repaired so many times that up close it looks like I’m building tracks for a model train set to roll down my legs, and my red wig looks like I was wearing it when my fork missed my dinner plate and ended up in a light socket. The end to this, as it is happening right now, is clearly overdue.
I reflect on the past month as I go through the bungee warm-ups that have kept my shoulders from seizing like a broken machine. Germany has been… I struggle to come up with the right set of adjectives. I decide to trisect it by “a learning experience,” “a nightmare,” and “a frickin’ blast.” I put the bitter bits out of my mind and promise to reflect on them later. Right now, I need uplifting thoughts to help me land in the hands of my catcher one last time, as flying for me is nothing if not emotional. I instead try to make myself laugh.
I recall the time the Ukrainian risley (foot juggling) performers narrowly escaped a shower of falling soda as we passed under the bleachers to file into the ring for opening. What a disaster that would have been! I wondered if they would have gone on stage with their purple shirts and orange pants soaked in soda, or if they would have bailed on the act. I imagined our artistic director, Ira, admonishing them for not going on stage if they begged off because it would have caused the two concentric circles we form to have large gaps between people–her pet peeve.
I also think about Alida, who walks in front of me and is tasked to grab a gramophone horn as we walk off stage (it’s the clown’s prop; my job is to grab his suitcase). We had laugh after laugh about the horn because it was never in the same place, and the circles were never moving at the same speed, so we could never predict whether she would be able to get back in line in front of me, or if I would have to speed up a bit so she could go behind. By the end, we were masters of improv.
And then there was Alida’s husband, Robinson, who wanted to film the final opening via his cell phone, which he slipped slipped into the fly of his pants. We donned it the “crotch cam.” In the end, I think he tried to instead position it sticking out of his pocket, but it slipped down about halfway through the act, so the video wasn’t very good.
Robinson always made me laugh during opening. He walked in the opposite circle, so I passed by him three times. He didn’t even have to do anything; he could just look at me and make me laugh maniacally. Note to self: find more people who make me laugh like this.
At several points during finale, I have to walk backward, which would be fine except that the rubber has worn off the heels of my shoes. I caught the heel on the carpet and lost a shoe not once, not twice, but three times during the month. I also almost lost my dress once during the partner dance we do at the end. When my partner went to grab my hand behind my back, he also snagged the tie to my dress and unraveled it! Luckily, it’s a halter, so it didn’t actually go anywhere.
That dress hates me. During the first show today, I wore that same dress to the bathroom and didn’t realize until I was back in the dressing room that one of the ties tucked itself around the bottom of the dress and into my pantyhose. I walked through the entire circus with my dress hiked up on one side!
Several times I poured granola into my “bowl” (a cleaned-out sauerkraut jar) only to find that my milk had fallen off my “refrigerator” (the windowsill), and I had nothing to moisten the granola with. It happened this morning, in fact, and there was nothing I could do because it’s Sunday, and everything is closed.
We all live in the same hotel that doesn’t have adequate wi-fi access to accommodate everyone. This, in and of itself, is not funny. At all. But seeing people strewn about in the hallways and lobby at all hours of the day, setting up camp anywhere they can to reach for just one more signal bar, is pretty comical.
Also not funny but very funny is the idiot for whom I briefly fell, who I came to find was texting the girl who sits next to me in the dressing room while kissing me, and going out with me while going home with her. She didn’t know about me, and I didn’t know about her, until the three of us went to the gym together one day, and Mr. Player got called back to work. When he told me he had to leave, I thought the panicked look in his eyes was work-related, but less than 20 minutes later, I came to find that his eyes were wild for a very different reason. The other girl and I plotted and schemed about how to get back at him. In the end, I played along for less than a day, continuing to private message him things like, “I miss you! If you’re lonely tonight, come over to my room,” and knowing that his heart would race while reading this in my neighbor’s embrace. When she finally confronted him, at one point, he said, “You should see the things Kyla is texting me!”
She said, “I know exactly what she texted you. She’s messing with you!”
Though shattered in some way, this guy still doesn’t know when to call it quits. He continues to lie to her about me to this moment, for example, telling her I’ve never been in his room (I later described to her in detail the look of the room, down to the two advent calendars on the windowsill). She knows he’s a liar but for her own reasons has chosen to continue to see him. I, on the other hand, ejected him from my life with an unceremonious, “It’s been fun, but I don’t have room in my life for liars.”
Back to the Act
The bells chime again, signaling the end of intermission. We wait for a few stragglers to take their seats, and then the lights dim. Like always, we bolt from behind the curtain in the dark and scurry up our ladders. An video plays on the giant screen introducing us as The Flying Cortes, the lights come up, and I take to the air.
I start the act with a splits catch and return. It’s not my best return, but it’s far from my worst. I’ve had problems with my returns for a while. Just when I think I’ve got it sorted out, I feel like I’m being pulled forward on the release, and my legs go wild as I thrash through the air hoping to get my fingertips around the bar. It’s embarrassing and, at times, physically painful, and it’s something that I need to work out in practice, not in the show. But we don’t practice at all here, so I’m left to trying to figure it out in front of the audience.
Nevertheless, I’m on the pedestal, and the worst of it, as far as returns are concerned, is over. Now I’ve just gotta catch and return my tuck double one last time (because we don’t have as much swing on that trick, I don’t struggle as much with the return). Watch Alex fly. Hand Bella the bar, and scoop her when she returns. Suddenly, it’s my turn again.
Like always, I look directly into the spotlight as I step into the center of the pedestal. I smile as I wait for Bella to insert the rise into the third rung. In my head, I tell myself, “Sweep late and long, drive with straight legs, steady hands.” This is my tuck double mantra, and it usually works.
I take off, and I feel great! My hangover from the all-nighter I just pulled is finally gone, my swing feels smooth, and my set is high. I break, and I feel like I drive forever before pulling myself into a tight tuck. I explode open, and I realized immediately that I miscalculated on the drive. I held on to the bar for too long and drove the trick too far back, putting me a little short of Robinson’s wrists. But I feel him–he’s got me! Sort of. On the left, we’ve only got a hand, and on the right, we’ve got a low wrist. It’s tenuous at best, but I ball up to take as much pressure off our grip as possible, and I pray not to slip out into the apron.
Before I know it, we’ve re-gripped, we’re on the way back, and Robinson is musing, “Go! Go! Gadget Arms!” As I turn to grab the return bar, we’re both laughing. And then, I’m back on the pedestal, a shit-eaten grin spreading across my face as I breathe a sigh of relief. I’m done. I made it.
I’m lost in exuberance for the rest of the act. I toss a high double pike dismount and then, for once in my life, style in the net without looking like I’m about to fall over. I roll off the net and tip-toe to the spot where I bow, with that large, genuine smile still spread across my face. And in fact, I don’t stop smiling for the rest of the night. I’m even uncharacteristically happy about taking down the rigging until 1:30 a.m.
A few choice photos from the trip
In the words of Monty Python, “And now for something completely different…”
There is no plan, but if nothing more, 30 months of flying trapeze has taught me how to wing it. I’ve got my health, my truck, my fifth wheel, my best friend, our two dogs, and a world of possibility. After my surgery, Kelly and I will hit the road. We’ll visit national parks, circus schools, beaches…wherever the wind blows us while we discover new purpose and new meaning in our lives.
We’ll be starting in Colorado and heading for warmer weather in February. Where should go first?