Carly began gathering her long silky hair in an oversized bun and checking her reflection, forcing a smile in the mirror. Her eyes never lied… a pasted-on smile couldn’t hide all the hurt and pain in her soul. The light within them had dimmed and the tremendous strain was clear on her face. She looked pale and gaunt, with dark circles under her eyes from the lack of sleep. It was hard to keep herself motivated when she had such little incentive? She sighed, looking at the tiny pimples that were working their way across her nose and forehead.
‘Anything else you want to throw at me universe?’ sarcasm and melancholy had become tools for coping, repulsed by her own reflection as she caught a glimpse of the thick purple scars on her arms. Once she’d rolled her shirt sleeves down, and pulled the damp cardigan over her sleeve to cover up. She knew she had to stop it, the cutting solved nothing, but a strange compulsion took over her where she needed release, but as the blood started running down her wrist, she realised what she’d done. That sense of shame replaced any temporary sense of relief. It was an agonizing battle going on inside her mind.
‘You’re such a loser Carly... Has anyone ever told you, you’re so annoying, a proper little freak!’ No matter how nice she was, nothing stopped them from being cruel. School and home were a warzone for her. She banged her head against the wall to stop them, jamming her hands over her ears, putting on her headphones, playing her music so loud to drown them out.
She looked at the clock, realising she had only ten minutes before her father got up… then she’d have to confront his usual morning ritual, finding him with his head down the toilet… She’d grown weary of seeing the blood splatters in the toilet, no amount of begging and pleading for him to change would do any good. It was like trying to get through to a brick wall. He had no intention of changing, remaining firmly in denial that he had a drink problem. They'd always end up back at square one again, she’d had her fill with it. Carly always ended up hurt, and her Dad just drowned his sorrows. Keeping her distance was all that she could do to stay sane.
She needed to scrub a stubborn food stain off her cardigan, but now she’d made it freezing cold and soaked wet through… Using the hair drier was out of the question, her Dad would flip if she woke him up. He’d polished off several bottles of vodka with his mates again last night. She’d heard the empties being tossed across the room, smashing into the corner, waking her up, but he couldn’t care less about her sleeping. She was so used to him being drunk, high, or both…
Her plan was to leave the house without him noticing. He’d been in a foul mood again last night, screaming at her dog… and she’d spent the night beside herself with worry. It reached a crescendo when he’d started battering her bedroom door aggressively. She’d taken Scruffy and hidden him, barricading the door. He soon got bored as the lure of drink distracted him back downstairs, he might have forgotten all about it… but Carly laid awake and frightened. It was intense not knowing, gripped with fear cowering in her room. The bedsheets had been soaked with tears so often and she had no one to comfort her.
She expertly crept past his door, knowing that it was only a matter of hours since he’d gone to bed. Her odds of coming out of this one alive were slim to none, there were better prospects of faring well if she had a chance encounter with a wild bear than meeting her Dad with a stinking hangover. Once bitten twice shy. Taking her chance, she tiptoed past her father’s room, gripping hold of the bannister, as she reached the staircase. She tried to take some pressure off the floorboards, but her frustration grew as the top step creaked as soon as she set foot on it, giving the game away. She waited with bated breath for the inevitable unfolding.
‘Carly’, his gravelly voice barked, sounding rough. He must be nursing the mother of all hangovers.
‘Yep?’ she called back, her voice sounded deflated and lacked any interest in anything he had to say.
‘Get your backside in here now’ her confidence waned immediately, the physical impact was evident on her being as he shoulders slumped. She looked up to the ceiling, bracing herself for another torrent of abuse. She had to psyche herself up and remove herself from the picture, by hiding away in her own mind, a secret door she passed through into, and somewhere he could never get access to. He had that incredible ability and knack, making her feel like everything was her fault. Whatever she did was wrong so there was no use trying to argue with him, it was a mental impossibility where she always came out questioning herself. It was all too much... like walking on eggshells. Just hearing his voice was a trigger, making her hands start to tremble, feeling the anxiety rise, as her heart started beating heavily in her chest. It took courage just to summon enough strength to twist the doorknob as he entered the room.
The light was hazy, a blur of shapes and shadows from the poor light in the room, making it hard to fathom the outline of the furniture. Carly started tentatively edging towards the bed, trying to avoid tripping over clothes or bumping into anything. She paused, hearing his heavy, rasping breath growing louder. His chain-smoking habit was getting worse. She could see one burning amber cherry of a cigarette in the ashtray and one in his hand. He must have already been awake anyway. The silhouette of his faint outline was just about visible against the headboard. Her eyes adjusted enough to see the screwed up bedding crumpled around his dishevelled silhouette. It looked like dark energy surrounding him, the presence heavy in the room and hostile. He looked like he’d been wrestling throughout the night with his demons. She regularly heard him crying out, battling the terrors of the night and ghosts from his past.
‘What is it?’ she tried to sound strong, ‘I have to go, I’m late,’ but he banged his fist down on the headboard sharply, making her jump.
‘Don’t take that tone with me, you jumped up little madam…’ her father growled. ‘Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing, you manipulative little…’ his voice trailed off and he started coughing again, it was clear he was still intoxicated and slurring his words. She didn’t know where he was coming from, his paranoia was at large.
‘I’ve done nothing wrong?’ she protested apprehensively chewing on her fingernail, fearful of his last temper outburst when he flew into a blind fit of rage.
‘You’re trying to make me look bad, I’ve got your card marked’ he venomously spat. His twisted thinking was even more repugnant when he projected his own behaviour onto his daughter.
‘You don’t need help any from me on that front’ Carly whispered, but instantly regretted it…
‘What did you say?’ He roared, jumping up as she stumbled back, tripping on a pile of crumpled clothes ‘I have to go, I’m late…’ she stuttered, cutting her hand on the catch on the door as she desperately clawed for the handle. She was finally able to pull herself up, sandwiching herself between the door forcefully as she made a swift exit back out into the crack of light. Her chest was heaving as she pulled the door shut, he hands shaking around the door handle as she thundered down the wooden staircase, as fast as her legs would carry her. She narrowly missed an exposed nail, navigating the stairs but still managed to stumble onto an exposed carpet gripper, ripping her skin as she yelped in pain. She held on to her foot, hopping around in agony, trying to stop the bleeding with the pressure. She heard her Dad’s loud footsteps, clumsily thundering across his room, so she bit down on her lip, doing her best to suppress the pain and bolted out the door.
‘Get your backside back up here, now!’ he commanded, hearing furniture being launched and clattering against the door, as he continued to smash things in a temper. But she ignored him, the tears streaming down her cheeks. She launched herself through the door, not even stopping to collect her things.
The fresh air outside was welcomed, taking in some deep, soothing breathes to clear the oppressive, heavy atmosphere from inside. She heard Scruffy barking from the house and her Father screaming after her. Inside she was torn to shreds, conflicted about leaving Scruff with him, but what else could she do? She couldn’t take him to school. It was always the walking away from Scruff that was the hardest thing to do. She didn’t have a choice, all she could do was pray that he’d leave the dog alone.
It was grey and miserable outside, it was perfect to reflect her mood after that start to the day with her Dad, and she was hardly in the right frame of mind to tackle school as well. This pitiful existence was a hard and lonely path, and today made her painfully aware of just how lonely today, with no one to confide in. There was not a soul in the world who understood. She kicked some stones angrily along the pathway, watching some black-headed gulls gliding and dipping in and out of the waters, skimming for insects… she envied their freedom. She wished she could just fly away too. It took enormous courage to keep getting up and facing another day.
* * *
The school was awash with excitement; every corridor and classroom was ringing with a new vibrancy that had not been felt for years by both the teachers and the students, it was a new lease of life that was so desperately needed. Carly's eyes were burning with a small glimmer of hope again. It had been so hard to find anything to smile about in recent years. Just the buzz of excitement in the air about the circus had lit her fire again, giving her something to look forward to, she just knew it was her calling - she felt it deep inside. But, now there was a pesky little voice of anxiety buzzing around her mind. She'd only ever performed in the safe comforts of her bedroom before, never before a crowd. To stand in her own space and own the dance floor in front of her peers was quite a different story. Swirling doubts kept fluttering through her mind of not being good enough. But regardless of all these crippling doubts, this was her one shot, her only chance to show people that she could dance and she couldn't let this chance pass her by. She'd hardly slept a wink, with all the nervous energy running through her.
She climbed out of bed early at 6.00 am sharp and started the day with some mindfulness exercises. She began breathing deeply and focusing her mind and body, trying to align all her thoughts with following her dreams. Then she tried visualising how she’d like it all to go and sure enough, started to see the performance coming together. She checked in with every part of her body, feeling for any tension, shifting her awareness to every part, focusing on the big muscles and imaging all the tension and anxieties being lifted out.
It was amazing how good she felt as a result of doing these simple exercises before she got up, she just needed the discipline to keep them going because her days turned out much better when she remembered to check in with her highest self-first. Carly checked her phone and was amazed that nearly an hour has passed, it felt like only five minutes. She jumped out of bed, dashed to the bathroom to get washed, feeling the nip in the air. She then before digging around in her messy drawers, tossing socks and tee-shirts everywhere, looking for her best sweatpants and tee shirt to take with her for the audition.
Something was bugging her, niggling at the back of her mind, worrying about the way her Dad had been acting last night which was right out of character. She couldn't help but wonder if he knew more than he was letting on. She'd seen the same kind of peculiar behaviour in him just before her Mother was made to leave their family home. It instantly brought back uncomfortable and challenging memories that she would rather forget, she kept trying to push them aside, telling herself not to worry, but it was playing on her mind.
She thought the best thing to do would be to calm her nerves and anxieties by starting to rehearse one last time, just make sure she looked polished enough before leaving for school, it was hard to push away the butterflies in her stomach, but she needed to do something proactive. Glancing at her reflection in the stand-alone mirror she had placed to one side, Carly thought she looked ready, as good as any of the dancers and their videos online, but would it be a different story on that stage? She shuddered, feeling the sensation of Goosebumps as the cold morning air cut through the adrenaline and started to bite. But she was disturbed by her father’s bellowing voice interrupting from down below.
"Carly….what the hell do you think you are playing at? Turn that music off, or I will come up there and throttle you" he started to cough violently nearly being sick from the exertion.
She decided to ignore him, as risky as that was, she felt the risk was bigger for her to fail in accomplishing her dream of joining the circus. She had to get this right. She carried on and persisted in finishing her audition moves as quietly as she could manage. None of her clothes had been ironed, and everything felt a little bit damp as she finished packing them into her bag, doing her best to stretch everything out.
"You're not going to spoil this for me" she fumed quietly as she packed them, trying to keep a lid on all those volatile emotions, doing her best just to keep a level head. She tiptoed down the staircase and past her Dad's bedroom door. She could hear her father retching in the toilet, which bought her time to get away without him noticing.
* * *
"Get ready, you're on in one minute" the backstage guy whispered in her ear, lifting his headphones away from one ear. Butterflies fluttered around her tummy from all the nerves. She knew this would be hard, but she didn't quite know how challenging she would find it. Row upon row of kids came to watch. She hadn't been expecting that at all. Seeing the silhouettes of the judges, all sat there made it all the more official. The stage fright made her wobble a little at first. That minute quickly evaporated, and before she knew it, the other act was making his way back towards her, and her name was being called.
A lump was forming in her throat and she forced herself to take a deep breath before pushing herself forwards to step out onto the stage. The spotlight dazzled her at first, and she tried to shield her eyes until she adjusted. She felt her heart beating slowly and laboriously in her chest, and the vibrations and the booming music started to blast out into the hall from the giant amplifiers either side of the stage. Carly noticed the faces of everyone in the crowd change from whispering and laughing, to suddenly paying attention. She composed herself before embracing the dramatic start with those few crucial bars of the opening music. Then, it was like nothing else existed…
Electrified by the music, with pins and needles running up her spine, she magically lost all inhibitions and the passion and beauty of her moves were carried off effortlessly. Every single person in the room was transfixed with her captivating dance. The mix of the two styles looked like a professional execution of a complex ensemble, but she was self-taught, from intuition. Classically poised with a modern and contemporary twist, it worked perfectly with the music, her body graceful and fluid, whilst maintaining perfect muscle tension and poise.
Flipping athletically, defying physics and all expectations, it was clear she was born to dance, then, as quickly as it had all begun, the music came to an end as she breathtakingly finished on a high. Her back arched and her body held in a beautiful expressive pose as the lights went down. She lay there momentarily breathing, feeling as though her rib cage was going to burst. Nervously awaiting a reaction in what sounded like stunned silence. She waited with bated breath, awaiting the judge's decision...
Carly raced through the door, thundering up the exposed wooden staircase and burst into her bedroom. Her head was a complete mess, swimming with thoughts of the performance. She couldn't help laughing and smiling to herself. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, and she looked happy, so alive and vibrant for the first time in a long time. She looked around thinking of everything she needed to pack. She couldn't believe how much kudos the judges had given her. It all felt very surreal, wonderful. She was loving every minute of it. "See-ya later Dad, take care" the words tumbled out of her mouth quickly as she made a dart for the door.