Tears of humiliation threatened to push through the slitted angry eyes looking back at her with surprise and horror from the mirror.
Something inside her instructed *deep breaths jo* as she stared down the apparition before her, struggling to get a grip on this new tragic reality. With each deep breath, the darkness worked its way into her heart and filled her ribcage with unwelcomed rage and resentment. She never imagined this would be her.
Jo haaaaaated Bongo. Jo had always hated Bongo.
Yet, here she was.
I am literally terrified of myself, she ennunciated in an almost-silent voice through the horrid red nightmare of a mouth. That dopey smiling twin image seemed to mock her own annoyance and gloom. Standing now, with clenched fist in white gloves, she leaned in on the marble to get a closer face-to-face look at this new farcical reflection. Dark complicated emotions filled her stomach.
'You going to be ok kid?' Nelson called gingerly over his shoulder as he briskly gathered his things.
NOo. she mumbled grumpily, still fixating on the distorted reality the reflection was making clear.
As the longtime family friend passed behind her, they caught each others eye in the mirror. The quick knowing glance they exchanged and the small compassionate smile he offered helped them both know that her answer wasn't permanent. With sad dog eyes, she threw out one last "Please save me from doing this Nelson. I'll be your best friend". He made that horse sneeze laugh they all chided him for and cheerily called "You're already my best friend. I'll see you after" and he closed the door behind him.
As soon as she was alone, she continued the study of her reflection. 'DON'T you DARE cry you hussy' she demanded out loud to her own eyes as she pointed to the phantom in the mirror. Calling 'it' hussy out loud made her giggle the tiniest bit inside, despite herself. She straightened to her full height and tried on a smile. It was ludicrous.
FIVE brothers and somehow this stupid task fell onto her. FIVE brothers and not a single one would even think of putting themselves in the place she now found herself. FIVE brothers and somehow she, the youngest child was being forced to carry out their dad's degrading dying wish. Just lovely.
Per usual, none of your pathetic brothers can even begin to comprehend you she began to mumble and gripe half out loud to herself .... even her IrishTwin brother Ian had thrown her under the clown car on this one, though generally he was the one who had her back through thick and thin. Now, ever since the 'Big Announcement', any time one of the brothers came around, they'd taken to calling this most-horrible-series-of-events "hashtagcosmickarma" ---literally making the stupid hashtag with their fingers in her face as they said the word. Ian's super original idea apparently.
really funny guys. I'm dying laughing
Everyone's a clown.
....oh wait. no they're not. just me.
With this inner-dialoguing about her siblings going on in the background of her conscious, she studied the comedic gittup in the full length mirror, turning this way and that. Unbelievable. Pointing her backside towards the mirror, she said out loud to no one, Do these pants make my butt look silly? ...a Bongodad original. yes, they do. A grin.
As a kid she'd been a major drama queen, claiming to have coulrophobia from the age of 9 on, successfully minimizing the amount of time she had to spend with her dad when he was 'clowning'. Despite this, her dad had never once treated her unfairly or said an unkind word regarding her behavior. Though her brothers were fully on to her and gave her grief, her dad respected her wishes and never tried to steer her Bongo Love one way or the other. Though she'd act all crazy afraid when a clown came around, prompting one or another of her brothers to push her closer or tell her stories to make her more afraid, her dad altogether skirted the issue of clowns whenever possible, which was almost always.
Instead of being the type to focus on differences, he'd been the type to find common ground. It was her dad who, as a most healthy response to her tantrums, introduced her at the age of 10 to climbing. From then on, it had been their thing. They had ascended many peaks together as a team. She now could not imagine what her life would have been like without climbing alongside him for all of those years. He taught her so much when they were out there together. She learned so easily from him and never minded working hard for the beaming "You're a natural Jo!" he would shout out to her when she overcame obstacles on the course. She'd thrived under his guidance.
An ache for his companionship had frequently consumed her in the past 6 months since the C word killed him. She missed his cheer and she missed his soft curious ways. Whenever he'd wanted to offer some dad advice, he wouldn't begin with Now do this, or Do that. ...he'd say "I wonder if" or "Why do you suppose" or something similar. The thought of never hearing his voice again seemed too much to handle some days.
It was freaky now to be standing there in the same clothes she'd been so vehemently and theatrically opposed to. Standing now in the same clothes that her father had worn and that his father, Grampa Benji had worn before him. All the laughs and stories of two generations of clowning gathered in its seams and folds. And now, here she was, the third generation in these clothes...filling them, but just barely.
She had no memory of her grandfather as Bongo as far as she could tell, only the faintest memory of him as 'Grampa Benji' with his bushy eyebrows, permanent smile and endless tricks up his sleeve. Whenever her brothers shared stories of him and his pranks, it was with laughs and smiling eyes. Granpa Benji was a favorite topic of conversation among them when they all got together. Their lively stories had forged a familiarity and love for him that she cherished as though all her brothers' stories were her own; though Jo's only personal recollections of him involved the weekly rides when he pulled her in his wagon with his little dog Jack, rolling down the sidewalk in their small town as he delivered meals to the 'old folks' ...who always seemed to Jo to be no older than him.
Her granpa Benji died from complications after being hit by a drunk driver in the Save-Mor parking lot as he was picking up the cake for her 7th birthday. She'd stopped celebrating birthdays after that and felt his absence sorely on that day every year. For a little more than 11 years now he'd not been a presence in her life but her dad, despite obstacles, had seen to it that Bongo lived on. Now her dad was gone too. But here was Bongo still.
She felt so much like babyJo still, but unmistakably in the mirror before her, there was Bongo. It was confusing. It provoked something that felt an awful lot like homesickness, though she wasn't away from home... at least not by any distance that was measurable. She was right there in the same small town where she'd always been, but she was lightyears away from her childhood days, for better and for worse. Jo squinted her eyes towards the mirror until somewhere in a place beween babyJo and Bongo, her dad materialized. As if by magic, there stood her dad. Finally allowed to be in full clown in front of her. Finally allowed to be Bongo.
Envisioning him now in costume through her squinted eyes, she was filled with love and felt such regret for those lost years she'd childishly refused to support him carrying on his dad's legacy. However, she knew from experience that her dad wouldn't have wanted her adult self to yearn for something she'd thrown away on accident as a child. He would have reminded her that the whole reason they'd started climbing was because of her 'peculiarities to clowns', as he called it. He would have reminded her that she had the answers in her heart to the questions in her head. He would have known what to ask to help her get to those answers.
As if on cue, the eidolon before her smiled and asked patiently, "What do you suppose you're afraid of babyJo?"
They grinned at each other and the gears started turning.
Though she couldn't pinpoint exactly what she was afraid of, she felt fairly certain that she wasn't afraid of being Bongo, at least not per se.
The looking different part didn't bother her; she'd proudly sported a mohawk her entire sophomore year for crying out loud. Looking different was actually something she took a great deal of pride in. THIS look however was not 'different'...this look was nightmare material. It was a look that horror movie makers replicated. THIS look had an entire phobia named after it. This look had no statement to make. ...or did it? She began to wonder. She felt her dad's patience as a palpable presence as she worked through his question in her mind.
She reasoned that she was certainly not afraid she COULDN'T do it either. She'd learned to play bass in 2 months flat in order to join Kryogenic Punks last year. She adored being on stage. She'd also mastered being on the sharp end of the rope just 3 years after she and her dad began climbing together. She was "capable of great things", as the final note from her dad intimated. These clown tricks she'd seen since birth, give or take a few hysterical years. She knew the tricks and she knew the trade. She had flashback after flashback of her dad working crowds as a clown and of her dad climbing alone with her. He brought strength and beauty to both tasks in equal portion. Perhaps, she told the mirage, she wasn't afraid of being Bongo. Perhaps she was actually afraid to lose him and Granpa Benji all over again. By becoming Bongo, perhaps she was afraid that somehow HER Bongo would end up leaving their Bongos behind, forgotten.
She felt she was getting closer to the truth as the cat clock eyes and tail on the dressing room wall ticked in the background signifying the countdown to the end of her time as Jo and the start of her appearance as Bongo. With each moment, she felt less and less trepidation though she knew somewhere not too deep within her, she was at least a little weary of making children cry. She surprised herself a little with her own goofy voice outloud saying, "You cannnn dooooo eeeet" to which Jo, her dad, and Bongo all smiled in unison. She felt tears welling up and choked them back knowing that Nelson would kill her if she botched up his perfect makeup job. This same mask he'd painted on 3 different faces now, perfected after 25 years didn't look so scary to her now. She caught one tear with a tissue just as it threatened to streak down her white right cheek.
*Noooo more tears and I meeeeean it* she forced her dad's happy sing song voice into her head and pictured him with his 'hanky' dabbing at her face back when she was little and when life had 'squeezed a little sadness from her eyeballs' --as Bongo might say. She fingered this same ridiculous 10 foot 'hanky' in the voluminous pocket that held all the tricks of his trade...she felt it there, where it belonged. Right next to the flip book and the squirting flower... yes, a squirting flower. What a gag.
She removed the glove from her right hand and located the only new addition among the deep treasure trove of tomfoolery trinkets. She tenderly touched the solitary object in the pocket that was intended for her- the well-worn paper that held her dad's final sentiments. Closing her eyes she could see the words written in the unmistakable all-cap block lettering she'd seen on hundreds, maybe thousands, of notes and cards and to-do lists. She'd read these final words from him at least 200 times over the past 6 months and knew them by heart. Though all the brothers had shared their notes with her and each other, she'd kept these closing thoughts from her father to herself. She'd guarded them and cherished them and rolled them over and over in her head. For a bit of final courage, she fished this note from the depths and regarded its message with great warmth.
Though right now you may not understand my last requset, I know that someday you will. You are capable of great things babyJo. I've seen you overcome obstacles that inspired me to overcome my own. You are my precious baby girl and in you I've entrusted my life many times on climbs that neither of us could have done alone.
You have an ability that none of your brothers have because you've cried the tears that none of them have cried. My father used to say that the best clowns are humans who have conquered great pain and suffering in their own lives and are brave enough to continue by bringing joy to others. After your mother died I wondered sometimes if I had the strength to raise 6 children on my own. Then your grandfather was killed and I doubted I had it in me to continue. Becoming a clown helped me do just that. Continue. Every special moment shared with you and each of your brothers became a bit of strength that I'd use to entertain others and bring joy to situations that sometimes were lacking. Every bit of joy I brought to others came right from you all, filtered through the character of a clown. Being the clown my father had been saved me and now it's time for it to save you.
You've conquered great things in your short life, and by asking you to become Bongo, I'm certain you will defeat this final fear. You Jo are a conquerer. I know with all of my heart that something magical will happen inside of you as you slip into the outfit your grandfather and I both wore. I hope you will come to see my choosing you as a priviledge and not a punishment. You will continue on. You will survive and thrive and bring joy. I'm with you every moment, spotting you and watching you climb to great heights.
You Jo, are a natural. Know this and know that I love you with all my heart, forever and ever. ~Daddy
She looked in the mirror one last time and as the dad apparition vanished, his babyJo, of all people, became Bongo.
"For you Daddy, ONLY for you." she said out loud to the vanishing image in her head as she tucked the cherished note back into her pocket.
Bongo Jo took one last deep breath, rose up to an inch above her full height and exited the dressing room with the fah-lop fah-lop fah-lop of the clown shoes echoing the path ahead of her. She realized as she started hearing the crowd getting closer that for the first time in forever, she felt ridiculous joy inside that finally reflected the smile Nelson had painted on her miserable face just an hour before.
Fuckin Bongo, she whispered grinning and shaking her head as she stepped out on to the stage and let the magic take over.