Confession: I have never seen the end of the circus, though I have been to the circus many times. Every year of my childhood, when the billboards came up and the radio ads started announcing that the circus was coming to town, I would beg my parents to take me and
most years, they did. We’d pile in the car, my brothers and I, and head to the temporary circus grounds and watch in rapt amazement as daring and dazzling feats were performed before our very eyes. But every year, as the show would draw to a close, my dad would signal to us it was time to go. After all, we needed to beat the crowds, and traffic might be mad and well, why not leave now? I would dutifully follow along, turning my head back every so often to try and witness just a moment of what I was missing. Then we would get back in the car and exit with ease; after all, everyone else was still at the show but us? We left the circus early.
It is only recently that I realized that I’ve spent my life leaving the circus early. I have always been the one to do the Irish exit at parties– simply grabbing the person I am closest to, wrapping them in a goodbye and asking them to “tell everyone else I said ‘bye, okay?” I left my own high school graduation party before it was over. I didn’t even make it all the way through my college ceremony, instead opting to leave once I’d walked the stage though the pomp and circumstance carried on. I had my boxes packed and ready to go at the end of every year in college, always citing a reason that I had to rush out the door and avoid the tearful goodbyes. Endings seemed strange to me. On the one hand, it was closure, but on the other, it was chaos. Better to sneak out before that happens, because, as I’d learned, endings are not worth the trouble.
I am currently facing one of my biggest endings to date, as I will be moving from Los Angeles, my home of a decade, the only place I’ve ever lived as an adult, and setting up roots in London. I’m not exactly going around the corner and can write it off with a simple “see you later.” I’m leaving the country, which is more than a change of circumstances or scenery—it is a change of nearly everything. And as I’ve contemplated the goodbyes I am facing, I have been overcome by the overwhelming urge to bolt. I think about packing up in the middle of the night, saying goodbye to my best friend and no one else, and then hitting the open road. I want to exit stage right, and do it immediately, without a care if the scene is over, if I’ve said all my lines; I am ready to leave and I am ready to leave now.
But as an adult, who (mostly) knows better than to run, I decided to do something more sensible: talk about what I was feeling. As I did, I found myself relaying that story of the little girl at the circus—the girl who left early, who absorbed the message that endings are messy and chaotic and not nearly worth the trouble. Speaking to the people I loved about this, I knew that was not true—these people are worth the trouble. They are worth the mess. They are worth the pain.
I have 6 days left in this city, and it would be a lie to tell you that I don’t have flashes where I want to just go, go, go!…. but I don’t do that. Instead, I sit. I wait. I let myself be here, in this moment. I think about that little girl and let her be there, in her moment. Crowds be damned, after all; the circus is her experience too and she deserves to see it in its entirety. Only she couldn’t make that choice, so I choose that for myself now; for both of us really.
As my days in LA draw to a close, I won’t ‘leave the circus early.’ I will (metaphorically) kick back my feet, snack on my peanuts and enjoy the show. I choose to stay, to honor this show all the way through to its bitter and amazing end. I want to see how it finishes, even if it means I find myself alone, with the lights dimmed and the crowd long gone home and it is just me and the remnants of peanut shells littered across the sticky floor. I choose that. I choose to learn, at long last, what it is like to have a proper ending.