Life is a village randomly discovered upon. At first, there’s nothing there; nothing but dirt roads, the strange loneliness of the wind, and the light of the stars above. There was sacrifice on these lands; a sacrifice that allows us to take our first steps, evaluate what our eyes see, and build. There’s no such thing as money, no such things as restrictions, opinions, or a cookie jar that’s filled with greedy hands willing to take - not give. This life is your playground - and you’re given the choice to do with it what you will through your will.
Boy, I wish that’s how it all started for me.
[A beam of sunlight penetrates the cracks against a dirty window that’s attached to a dilapidated mobile home. It’s barely visible from the dirt road; shrouded by overgrown vegetation, time-devastated vehicles on concrete blocks and machinery from a different time - rusted over and far beyond a point of uselessness. Like a skin overcome with the lines of age, this was a treasurable plot of land long ago - but something happened. And in that happening’s cataclysmic dawn, an undebatable catatonic state arose. Death - permeating like the steam rising from 5th Avenue’s sewers. Except, there was an exception.]
[There was life here.]
This was the randomly discovered-upon village; resting underneath a sky of unknown stars, unidentifiable by the light pollution of the inner city. Where was the strange loneliness of the wind? Where was the nothingness breeding along the edges of the dirt roads?
Oh, it was me.
[The sun that beamed through the cracked window illuminated the shabby interior of the mobile home - a floor that was cluttered with cigarette butts, dirty clothes, and random garbage. The walls were plain, besides the holes and yellow smoke stains, and the old furniture - two chestnuts brown armchairs and a faded-maroon couch - slumped with shame, as if to say that it had given up just as dramatically as the rest of the home did. Surely, nobody lived here. And if someone did, they weren’t approved to be within the threshold of the ambitious. There, however, kneeling between the coffee table that was covered from end to end with paraphernalia - bongs, random pills, empty soda cans, styrofoam containers of half-eaten Chinese food likely from two decades ago - and a glowing television, was---]
Me. Eleven years old. Full of wild dreams and a sad hope that there was something else beyond the mess that I found myself in. There had to be, right? In and out of the realm of confidence, I questioned this throughout the day, because it was the only concept that distracted me from the chaos I was surrounded by. This wasn’t my fault, was it? Then again, I was chosen - I was selected to live life, to embrace the Earth. When you find yourself inside this whirlwind of collapse, you typically find yourself asking one thing - Why? All I wanted was someone to give me that answer - one that was filled with empty promises, or bullshit excuses that ended the conversation so that I wasn’t getting in the way - but that was the scariest thing; nobody liked that seemed to exist within earshot of my pleas.
[Although everything around the boy was beaten down, in that moment, he was not. His eyes were wide open, a half-smile painted across his face, and something was making his heart knock faster than it ever had.]
[It was the television.]
[Barnum and Bailey’s. The circus was broadcasting its annual special, and the boy was watching intently. He watched while the elephants marched elegantly, the trapeze soared like eagles at death-defying speeds and heights, and the man in the middle - what the boy considered the conductor, maintained control of the theatrics - guiding the awed crowd from one epic moment to the next. And the music.]
My God, the music.
[The trumpets, the strong, positive sounds that flew out of that television. It spoke of happiness, peace, freedom - the notes of each tune spelled out what it meant to have friendship, desire and motivation, and the elevating emotion of executing on the things that you want to do. Trapped beneath a bedrock of drugs, hopelessness, and angst - this was the powerful illumination of the stars above, the village brought to life; this was the grand event.]
Until reality knocks on your door to remind you that there’s thick line that separates itself from fantasy. And even though the viewpoint of fantasy is the one that your eyes would prefer to transfix upon, it’s the one place that always seems just inches out of reach from your fingertips. Warren Rock was the force that pulled me away from that fantasy - time and time and time again - my mother’s scumbag boyfriend that kept her numb enough with drugs to where he wore the crown and took control of this “castle”. As he stumbled over the trash and eventually plopped like dead weight onto the couch behind me, I tried to pretend that he wasn’t there at all. Yeah, not there at all - Fitzgerald - that bastard doesn’t own you. I tried so hard to tell myself, to fight through the tears, the abuse, the hatred - because somewhere? Somewhere there was something better for me beyond this environment. And you know what I learned? I learned that in order to find that something, you have to somehow figure out a way to overcome the monsters that confront your aspirations.
Warren was the biggest of them all.
“Whatchu’ doing boy?”
[Fitzgerald didn’t turn around. He simple let out a sigh, closed his eyes for a second to center himself, and then responded.]
“Just watching the circus, Warren.”
“Hey.” [Warren snapped back.] “What did I tell you about that? You call me DAD. Whether you like it or not, I’m going to - I’m going to---”
“Marry my mother? I know - but I don’t have to call you Dad.”
“Oh, is that so?”
He let out this hissing laugh. I can still close my eyes and hear that terrible noise. I wish it would go away - but the distaste lingered. It was like his warning call - a way of saying watch your ass, that you were smarting off when you really shouldn’t. I took notice of that and typically would lay off. I was strong boy. I could take his bullshit - but let’s not kid ourselves. He was a big, bulbous piece of shit with anvils for arms. When he laid into me, it didn’t feel very good. Today, however, the circus was on - and that circus made me feel good. I wasn’t going to let him take that away from me - not even with knowing that he sat down to do what he always does with his morose life - watch the daily news.
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. I’ll give ya’ a mulligan, boy. Now, give me the God damn remote. The news is one.”
“Warren - Dad” [Fitzgerald turned around this time, pleading - no matter how disgraceful he felt.] “This is the Barnum and Bailey’s annual show; can I just watch a little bit more of it.”
“Jesus Christ, Gerald. It’s the circus. A bunch of sideshow losers, and you want to watch this shit? I’m not in the mood for the fuckery - just give me the remote.”
I never would wish death on someone. In fact, even now, that’s a code I live by. Unfortunately, you have to respect the fact that exceptions to the rule may somehow find their way in. He was without question the easiest exception to accept. He worked at a steel mill and I prayed every night that it would somehow catch fire and he’d be trapped in there. I didn’t pray that he died from smoke inhalation though. Oh no. I prayed that he burned - and that death didn’t come until he reached an unimaginable tier of pain.
[Fitzgerald shrugged his shoulders.] “I like it. You don’t have to like everything that I like, and I don’t have to like everything that you like, Warren. You can watch the news every day. This only comes on--”
He didn’t like that very much.
[Warren slid everything off of the coffee table in anger, and then got to his feet. He stared down Fitzgerald, with his usual cracked-out crazy-eyes, and pointed at him.]
“What’d I say? I’m not in the fucking mood, Gerald. Hand me that remote, or you’re going to get the brick. Do you want the brick again, boy?”
The brick. A belt that Warren always wore - one that had an aluminium sculpture of Texas as a belt buckle - where this piece of shit derived from. No, I didn’t want the brick. It hurt. I had experienced every bit of what Texas had to offer on that buckle on more occasions than I could count on both fingers and toes. I started to lift up the remote to him, but then that music hit my ears again. It was so beautiful, so resonating to the heart - to the mind - and it lit a fire underneath me the likes of which I never thought was possible. It was either that, or I had finally went crazy.
[Fitzgerald lowered the remote back down to his side, and then shook his head. This infuriated Warren, but also baffled him. He snarled, flaring his nostrils, and began to undo his belt.]
“Oh, you little shit. You just made a big mistake.”
And then it came out of my mouth. What was wrong with me?
Oh wait. Nothing. Nothing at all.
“At least I know how my mother feels, Warren.”
[Then, a brilliant white light - followed by screams.]
The brick waged war against my backside. Tears fell carelessly down my cheeks, but I remember smiling at the same time. Warren only hit me harder, but it didn’t matter anymore. I didn’t feel the pain anymore. I didn’t feel anything - but the music. And then I heard my mother. She screamed at him, barely conscious from her drunken stupor - but awake enough to know that her son was in some sort of terrible danger. I remember her running up towards Warren and being shoved backwards into the couch before he left me alone and stormed out of the house. She cried, held me in her arms, and apologized - an apology I heard enough to know that it carried no weight whatsoever anymore. No, the drugs were all the weight left on her. And Warren - her confidant, her miracle, her man, her sad reason and pathetic little rhyme.
[Night fell, and Fitzgerald was now sitting his bed. He hadn’t said a word since the beating, regardless of his mother’s pleas to get him to say something back to her at least. In the end, though, Fitzgerald had no angels on his side. There were nothing but devils - a militia of terrible human beings so far gone. She tried to reassure Fitzgerald that night.]
“He means well, Gerald. I hope you know that. He just wants you to respect him. He’s done so much for us, you know? I mean, look at what your father did to us. He left us with nothing, Gerald. Warren? He took us in. He gave us a second chance. Doesn’t that mean something to you?”
[His mother waited for a response but, of course, nothing came. She pouted, putting her head down, likely in shame, and grabbed Fitzgerald’s hands.]
“I know - Look, this isn’t the life that I had planned for you, baby. We’re getting there though. You have - you have to believe me. Your big day is on its way, Gerald. It’s - I mean, life - Gerald, it’s tough. You have to go through it sometimes to, you know, see the greater good.”
The greater good?
[Fitzgerald looked back into his mother’s eyes, swallowed hard, and could no longer hold back the tears from falling from his eyes. Not once did he cry though. After all, he was just wanted to--]
“I just wanted to… see the circus. It seemed so happy. It was an event of… happy.”
My mother realized something after that. I could see it in her eyes. It was like every bit of her sobered up for that moment, and there was some sort of clarity - a light bulb flashed somewhere in the depths of her brain.
[She lifted Fitzgerald’s closed hands against her lips and kissed his knuckles.]
“You’ll find your event of happiness.”
My event of happiness.
“It’ll happen when you least expect it to, baby.”
[She left her son’s bed, turned off the lamp without a shade, and headed for the door. She opened it and then turned back around.]
“Get some sleep. Dream big dreams, Gerald. You deserve them.”
[She started to walk through the doorway.]
[She didn’t hear him. And there Fitzgerald sat, in the depths of darkness, with one last statement left sitting against his lips.]
“I love you.”
[When his mother finally fell back asleep, she never woke up. The drugs, the barrage of chaos that colorized her life with, had gotten the best of her. Fitzgerald was now more alone than he ever was - and more than unwilling to stay with Warren Rock. In fact, Warren didn’t care what “the boy” did anymore. As soon as his mother died, he - without hesitation - handed Fitzgerald over to his grandparents. Of course, this only the beginning of the story. What became of Fitzgerald? When the light dissipated, where did one shine again?]
[Fitzgerald, much older now, sits inside of an open train car. He’s dressed uniquely - fully clad in a suit that only a flamboyant entertainer would wear. A bowtie. A red vest. A top hat. Black, winged-tip boots. The silence of the night, the stars smiling above him. Behind the train car, a massive, multicolored tent sits. He pulls out a vintage pocket watch, checks the time, and then lets in a deep, deep breath.]
Good evening, Lucas. My name is Fitzgerald Everett Bentley. So glad to be acquainted with you - under such interesting circumstances. Then again, circumstances are what bring us so close, aren’t they? Like the doppleganger that walks the Earth somewhere far beyond where you stand, every story has a partner that find equal understanding to his context - even if you aren’t aware of it. Drugs come at a price sometimes; in your case, you’ve found a gateway to luxury through it - they empowered you, did they not? You became the green thumb that set the world ablaze with a level of success the likes of which most burnouts could only dream of. And for that, I applaud you. You should be happy for what you’ve accomplished - and you know what? I relate, because I’m happy for my accomplishments through drugs as well. The only difference is that I had to suffer from never seeing my mother again to find that success.
And if you don’t mind me staking claim, but I believe I’m stronger than you because of that. I’m able to go back to the days of darkness - where life seemed to be frozen in an icecube of manic panic - and use that as a stone to cross in my journey to a better life. There’s so many people like you - who dug a hole, found gold, and managed to delicately marionette to the greater good. I had to fight for mine, Lucas, and you know what that means?
I’ll fight like hell to keep it. Because all of what is front of my eyes could be gone tomorrow - just like your empire, just like your success. You could wake up one day and find yourself back at the beginning - where everything felt confusing, where only the foundation of the structure was there. You could only find solace in that infantile stage by creating questions out of fear. Will this really work? Is this what I’m supposed to do? What if every step that I’ve taken on this journey turned out to be for naught?
A part of me wonders if you’ve prepared yourself for that, Lucas. And I don’t know you, of course, and neither do you know me. I’m nothing but another man, fighting to survive - tickled pink by how odd this world can be. The thing is, I believe you’re of the same opinion. We’ve balanced ourselves on the tightrope, in hopes of making it to the other end, and guess what? We made it, my boy! This life though, it come back to take you down. It’ll take its greasy hands and pull you back into the depths of everything you fear - everything that you had to go through to get to where you are now.
And it’s our job - as the showmen - to break away from the chains and be the kings of our domain. There’s thousands of people that are waiting for a show - similar to the one that’s behind me now - and I’ve grown to become a man that hosts that show. The smiles - the excitement - the electricity in the air - I cultivate it with every step that I take.
Because I didn’t have that when I was younger. Did you have it all when you were just a child, Lucas? Do you remember? Or have the strange clouds fogged away the path that brought you to this moment? I am who I am today because I never allowed the drugs to take ownership over me like they did to my kinfolk. And you are here today because through drugs, you found elevation. So silly how this circle works, is it? No matter the lives we’ve experienced, no matter how opposite they may be, it has led us to meet in the middle - at the center ring.
So now the question remains, Lucas.
Are you ready for the grand event?