Saturday, June 4, 2016

Clown For A Day

For more than 10 years I have been dressing up as a clown for the 4th of July.  I’ve skipped, hopped and cartwheeled my way up and down Broadway more times than I can count, handing out event fliers and flags during the biggest little parade you could ever see: so short, in fact, that after it goes by it turns around at the end of the street to return for a second pass.  And I’ve worn the same costume every year: a pretty, girly, brightly colored polka-dotted and alternately striped, big hoop-bottomed dress, with a bright orange wig, big fuzzy bunny slippers and a Barbie umbrella.  

Kids from 0-2, often afraid of clowns, like me because, aside from my bright red nose, I’m not scary at all.  The 3-6 year olds shyly ask about my bunny slippers or Barbie umbrella while posing for pictures next to me.  Those 6 and up think I’m silly and smile at my antics.  And the adults, well, let me just saythat I’ve had my photo taken with way more adults than children while clowning around Skagway. 

Dressing up as a clown has given me something nothing else in my life ever has: unfettered joy.  When I put that costume on I am immediately transformed.  I’m no longer afraid or self-conscious or judgmental.  I’m not worried about work or what other people think.  I can be silly and goofy.  And, for those of you who don’t know me, I am not, without this super suit, a silly or goofy person.

However, this past week, I ordered a new clown costume.  Here’s why.

Just prior to the parade is the annual Skagway News Run Around, a 5k race covering the distance from one end of town to the other.  They give out awards for the fastest runners in several categories, which I’ve yet to win.  They also give out one award for best costume, so it’s the only race I’ve ever won an award in!  Before the race I stand at the starting line over-exaggerating my pre-race routine. Long slow stretches with my hooped-skirt exposing my white ruffled bottom and high loping strides while warming up next to the “real runners.” Just before the start I nose my bunny-slippered foot as close to the starting line as possible while crouching in anticipation for the starting gun.  My efforts elicit laughter and smiles from spectators and participants alike.

In 2013 it was during this pre-race performance that Tom approached, face stormy and stride purposeful.  He gently but firmly grabbed my arm and said “Let’s go.”  He said he had something to tell me, just not right there.  So I started walking with him, back towards the house, a mere two blocks away, thinking something bad must have happened at work.  His stride was brisk, his countenance stoic, and I’m thinking it’s got to be really bad.  As we walk just around the corner I see my friend and colleague walking briskly towards me too.  In a panic I turn to look at my husband who, realizing he can’t wait any longer, says “Michael passed.”

And as I crumble to the ground, unable to breathe, I float away.  And what I see as I hover above is a sad, horrible picture of a woman who has just lost her child, again, dressed in a pretty, girly, brightly colored polka-dotted and alternately striped, big hoop-bottom clown costume, with a bright orange wig, big fuzzy bunny slippers and a Barbie umbrella.  And this image is burned in my brain, and no matter what I do I can’t seem to shake it. 

I’ve tried. 

The past two years during the months leading up to the 4th, I have cringed at the thought of having to don that costume.  In the end I convinced myself to put it on and parade down Broadway.  I cartwheeled and skipped and took photos with kids and adults alike, but behind those enormous sunglasses with the big red nose, I’ve hidden tears and sadness.  I smiled at times too, but I still couldn’t get that image out of my head.

So, I’m retiring the clown costume.  I finally decided it’s just easier to put it away, if that’s the image that keeps coming back.  I’m doing it to ease the pain but I’m also doing it because I know he would have loved that I’m a clown.  He would have loved the joy and smiles brought to so many people, not the least of all myself.  I even like to think that one day, had he lived, he would have joined me in skipping, hopping and cartwheeling down the street.  And that’s what I want to come to mind when I become a clown for the day… and I want to find my way back to that fearlessness and silliness and unfettered joy.