The Circus Act

The sheer number of things that I keep in my mind at any given time is the stuff of legends, or at least to me it is. If anyone were to crack open my skull and peer in they would find a large circus tent.

“Step right up, folks! Prepare to be dazzled and amazed by the most infamous juggler of all time!”

Crowds fill the seats awaiting the next act. A woman walks out alone to the center of the arena, all spot lights aimed right at her. The entire audience is quiet in anticipation. Word has apparently gotten out about this woman’s great skill.

From the shadows around her a bowling pin is tossed. She catches it. Then another is tossed. She catches it as well. A third is tossed and with it, her act begins. She starts to juggle the bowling pins, catching and tossing in a constant rotating circle above her.

She is the only person in this act, there is no one else to help her catch the pins. Catch, toss, catch, toss. The bowling pins have writing on them. Things the juggler must not forget. Tiny details of her life and the lives of those around her that have accumulated over time. Feed the dog. The pick-up routine at the school has changed, get there early. Buy ingredients for dinner. Catch, toss, catch, toss.

Another three pins are tossed into rotation. Pick up prescription refill on Friday. Field trip on the 5th. Time to clean bathroom again. On cue, more pins fly in and now she is tossing and catching with both hands. Appointments to keep, things to get, schedules to maintain. Catch, toss, catch, toss.

A steady stream of bowling pins is coming at her now, one after another after another. All are caught by her and the rotation around her head is adjusted and readjusted. People’s needs, wants, expectations, desires, personality traits. Each a thing to remember, each written on another pin.

The performance is going well, she reminds herself. She hasn’t dropped any pins today. When she drops one, she has to bend down to pick it up, all while never breaking from the juggling act, even if more are coming in at the same time. Catch, toss, pick up, catch, toss. She thinks the crowd should be applauding at this point. Juggling this many bowling pins is no small feat, but they remain silent.

As the bowling pins fly past her eyes on the upward rotation, she catches sight of the words written on some. Check pants pockets for gum or Chapstick before putting into washer. Buy more milk. Children’s friend’s names. Account passwords for everything. Trash day. Prune flowers and pull weeds. Check and sort the mail. Touch base with adult children no longer living with you. Catch, toss, catch, toss.

Birthdays, anniversaries, clothing sizes of everyone. Replace lightbulb, buy more lightbulbs. Make everyone feel special. Sign permission slips. Laundry, warm water, cold water, who’s is what. No metal utensils on the nonstick pans. Expiration dates. Names of companies used. Catch, toss, catch, toss.

Still more are thrown in to be added to rotation. All the I’s: I want, I need, Can I? The We’s: We should, We are, We can. All of the “I don’t feel good’s”. The “I forgot to tell you’s” and the “It’s time for bed’s.” Catch, toss, catch, toss.

The next pins to be added are all of the favorites, the dislikes, the loves and the repulsions. The “correct” peanut butter to jelly ratio on a sandwich, laundry detergent smell verses cleaning power verses cost. Which jeans need to be hung up to dry so they don’t shrink, which brand of coconut milk shampoo is the organic one. DVR recordings reconfigured so that two shows aren’t recorded at the same time, certain candles that cause headaches. Favorite meals, least favorite meals. Catch, toss, catch, toss.

The crowd remains silent and the juggler remembers she has additional bowling pins in her pockets, red ones that are easily identifiable among the others. She needs them to be red so that, in case of emergency, she can drop these for any reason and not feel pressured to pick them back up. One by one she ads them to the ever-growing rotation. Get your hair cut. Get some sleep. Write your thoughts. Breathe. Stretch your back. Go to the library. Take care of you. Catch, toss, catch, toss.

There is a rare moment when she is able to throw a pin and never has to pick it back up again, or at least not for a while. These are reminders that are no longer needed. Finish 2016-2017 Federal Student Aid application for your son in college. Remodel bathroom. Jury duty. Catch. Drop. Catch. Drop.

She can’t look up at the enormity swarming over her. It makes her anxious when she takes a visual inventory of all the things she needs to remember. What would happen if she had to drop them all? What would happen with all of the details kept only in her brain, the details of her and her loved one’s lives? Would they be okay? Could she be replaced? She doesn’t want to drop them. She feels blessed to juggle all of these details. But, occasionally, her arms get tired. Catch, toss, catch, toss.

So, instead of looking up, she looks straight ahead, focusing on the pins in her hands and the ones coming next. Sometimes, though, she doesn’t focus on the circus act at hand. Sometimes she simply lets her body do what it has been trained to do and she closes her eyes and hears her child’s laughter or she receives a hug from her husband or she thinks of something good to write or she gets a funny email from her best friend. Sometimes she dreams of a quiet country house with a sun-filled room for her read in, her “happy place”. Sometimes she sways back and forth to a really great song. These are the things that ground her, the things that keep her from becoming overwhelmed. Catch, toss, catch, toss.

She stands smiling her biggest “ta-da” smile, her arms exhausted from a long day’s work, the giant monstrosity of pins flying high up in the circus tent, engulfing her entirely. The crowd, though is still silent.

They do not see the bowling pins. They only see the juggler waving her arms in rhythmic motions. The pins, of course, are all in her mind.

Yes, folks, it is the greatest show on earth…that no one will ever see but her.

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