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My earliest memory has always been the smell of elephant feces and rubber. The vision of bright stripes and colors. The touch of a coarse mane and the feeling of dirt in between my toes. I only remember those few things because they were the first things worth remembering. Nothing else and nothing more.
I clutch the wheels of my wheelchair, the slick rubber the reason for the calluses on my young palms. My eyes narrow at my nurse. Why can’t she just let me go out on my own? My amnesia is wearing off. I can do things for myself now. I want to do things for myself. But, sadly, they believe eight-year-olds have trouble with that. The wheelchair isn’t even needed.
Other kids from the Bateno Hospital are ahead of me, all chattering excitedly. It actually isn’t called Bateno, it’s just what my dyslexia interpreted it as and no one has told me the real name yet.
This is the first trip to the circus for most of the kids, but not mine. I’ve been at the children’s hospital so long that I’ve been to all of their routine trips. Out of everything that’s happened in the last years, the circus is the best thing that has ever come into town. I just wish-
I am unable to finish my thought because all of the lights under the Big Top wipe out, freighting a few of the people. The only light is from the stripes in the Big Top, where light has found a place to shred through.
This is my only chance.
I bite my lip as I struggle out of my oversized wheelchair. I used to fit inside of it a year ago, but that was thirty pounds ago. In the back of the rows of seats, no nurses can hear my light footsteps across the creaky, rotting wood.
Trying not to think about the consequences, I jump off of the seats onto the dirt below. I land on my knees, scrapping them into small cuts. I bite my tongue to stop myself from making a sound from the pain. It probably wasn’t the best idea to jump from the highest seat. But how else was I supposed to get down? Oh well, what’s done is done. And I can’t go back to that dreaded hospital, I remind myself.
The hospital is for orphans, so they don’t have parents to pay them for all that they do. Or attempt to do, anyway. I am glad I can’t recall all that they did to me because of the amnesia. I’d rather not remember.
I am about to crawl out of the Big Top when I hear the words in a deep booming voice, “Welcome ladies, gentlemen, and children of all ages to the most fantastic show on earth!” I mouth the words as the elderly ringleader shouts them as if he is introducing the most exciting thing in the world. Every child knows those words, even if they haven’t seen a circus.
The crowd bursts into applause. The type of quick, hard clapping that turns your hands as red as picked tomatoes.
Music begins to play a fanfare of adventure as the old ringleader describes the wonder of his circus acts. By then, I am out of the Big Top. The light stabs my eyes as I crawl out into the vacant lot. I blink wildly, my eyes stinging, until finally they clear into flashing purple dots.
I stand, my body still trembling from the unexpected fall. I ignore this and examine the lot. Other smaller tents surround the Big Top in a large circle and ending with the train that will soon carry all of these wonders away. There are signs telling about the mysteries behind each curtain, but I can’t read them.
I walk around the Big Top in what seems to be slow motion. My feet act as if they are trapped in mud. It stays like that, as I try to find a way out. I should’ve probably thought this out a little more. It’s a shock I’ve gotten this far, to tell the truth. What comes to my rescue is the sound of restless hooves against metal. Horses in cages, waiting for their performing act.
Now I see it. Ahead of me is the tent, one just as large as the Big Top, for the animals. It is the only tent still open, though the curtains are closing soon. I run towards it.
The curtains close behind me just as I reach it, closing me in the dim light. All I can see is the few feet in front me, which happens to be the cages that hold the hyenas and horses. This probably isn’t my best idea to come yet.
I stare at the horses as the world continues on around me. I don’t know how long I stand there. I just know that my fascination of horses is currently growing stronger as I am finally able to be close to one. And not just one, three. I gasp at their magnificent coats. Their blazing eyes. My bony arms reach out to them, hoping to reach their shiny, tangled manes.
My fingers are touching the ice cold cage that makes my fingers tremble, when a voice makes my heart stop for a moment. Maybe two.
“There he is, Gary,” an aged voice rumbles through the tent with a force that doesn’t fit the tone, “I told you he was still here. C’mon buddy. We thought you’d be late.”
I turn around just in time to feel rough callused hands wrap around my stomach and hoist my up through the air. My throat closes from fear and shock. I can’t breath, not even move. My eyes hang open, unblinking, as stale air escapes through chattering teeth. It is too dark now to see where they are taking me.
Whirling through the air, my stomach does flip flops.
They set me down after just a moment, though I am sure it was hours. When they do, I let out a breath I wasn’t sure I was holding. But it comes back in when I feel the coarse, dry skin I am sitting on. My heart jumps.
Then, I am going forward. I feel the skin below me go upwards then down again. My legs move above muscle and bone. The ground shakes with a strength I will never know. I stare forward, the shock forcing me not to move. I wish I was older, then I could do something. That’s the problem of being an eight-year-old.
I try to turn away. Jump down maybe. But it is too late. Applause makes the air shake and my ears ring. The bright light coming towards me makes my eyes squint. Then I am there, before I can take another breath or count another Mississippi.
The applause never falters when I enter, though spotlight blinds me. Now all I can see is the elephant’s sweet uncaring face below mine, the ringleader’s shocked but amused expression, and Old Nurse Monty’s bewildered face that does not do her wrinkles well. And all I can do, even where I am now, is laugh.