Circus Freak

by Chris Hlad…

I’ve never liked that term. ‘Circus Freak’ just sounds mean, wouldn’t you agree?

Well, that is what my friend Jack Le Deux’s job description is: Circus Freak. I don’t think it would look good on a resume, personally, but then again, I think this is the only line of work that Jack can find at this point.

He wasn’t always this way, even though the warning signs were clearly there. You know what they say about hindsight.

Jack and I met in the first grade. As his name indicates, he’s from France. At first his English wasn’t that good, but he tried. And when the kids picked on him for his strange (i.e. foreign) accent and his broken English, I was always there backing him up.

One of the great things about being so young and in a new country is that you do learn the new language pretty quickly, and by the end of first grade, he had it down pat. And he was now bi-lingual, something that I though was super cool.

Jack had some quirks, though – like we all do – but despite how hard he tried, he couldn’t hide his, which made him easy prey to the bullies that he was going to be stuck with until the eighth grade.

He used the restroom a lot. And I don’t mean to relieve himself, but to wash his hands. It got worse and worse as the years progressed, and by the time we reached Eighth Grade Graduation, his hands were constantly cracked, dry, and sometimes bleeding. I really felt for the guy. I didn’t understand why he did what he did, but I can tell you that I don’t think he had a choice in the matter. It was like some sinister thing inside of him told him to ‘keep on washing, son.’

We went to the same high school together as well, and during those four years, the depths of his ‘quirk’ reached levels that I couldn’t even imagine.

High School is supposed to be a good time, where you play sports, get to third base with chicks (a home run if you’re lucky) and learn shit in between it all.

I did all of the above (although I never scored that much sought after home run), and had a blast, and tried to be there for him the best I could.

I thought the bullying in grammar school was bad, but it was nothing compared to what he faced in High School. Nobody – at least to my knowledge – did anything physical to him (I think they were afraid to touch him), but the verbal abuse was just appalling. Eventually, our class -and when I talk about our class, I mean everybody aside from me – started calling him a leper.

Harsh word, I know, especially for a kid whose dealing with puberty and all that goes along with it. Hell, it’s hard enough on a person who isn’t being picked on on a regular basis.

I could understand why they called him that, but I never approved of it. Jack was my friend. See, what happened was he got in trouble for missing too much time being in the restroom, and was getting written up by teachers who had no idea what he was going through and dealing with. Sometimes, I wished the whole damn class – teachers included – could have lived just a minute in his shoes.

That same awful thing that was driving him to wash his hands was only getting worse. It was no longer his hands, but his arms. I imagine it was the rest of him too, but he never wore shorts and always wore long sleeved shirts. He spent plenty of time in detention for not participating in Physical Education, but apparently it was worth it.

I suppose the teachers thought they were doing him a favor by not letting him use the restroom, but they couldn’t have been further off base. Instead of using soap and water, he started carrying bottles and bottles of Clorox Wipes with him wherever he went. And not the soft and gentle kind, but the one’s that were meant for cleaning hard surfaces.

By High School Graduation, is hands looked like they weren’t even covered by skin, but something that resembled skin in it’s grossest form. I now knew that his whole body was that way; I didn’t need to see it to be sure. Sometimes, I stayed up at night and just cried; Jack was my friend and I couldn’t do a damn thing for him aside from backing him up when he was being picked on.

Once our college years were upon us, Jack and I went our separate ways. I kept in touch with him via emails and phone calls, but every time I talked to him, he just sounded worse and worse and worse. He told me the constant pain just made him want to end it all. I made him promise me that he wouldn’t do that, which he did. Jack never, ever went back on his word.

So my senior year came around, and I got a strange letter in the mail. Actually, it wasn’t so much a letter; it was a flyer on which Jack had written “Love to see you next Friday night if you can make it. You’ll know me when you see me and it would be nice to catch up.” The flyer was for a circus that was on the outskirts of town, and of course I couldn’t say no.

I went to the Circus (something I despise because of the way they treat humans and animals alike), and sat through the show, not once seeing my friend Jack.

And then the Clown who was running the show said: “Now, it’s time to bring out our greatest attraction ever! Ladies and Gentlemen, if you don’t have a strong stomach, now is the time to leave. And if you have kids, you may want to consider covering their eyes.” He paused. “So, since none of you are leaving, I present the living, walking man with no skin!”

I knew it was Jack right away from his mannerisms, but other than that, he was unrecognizable. It was at that point that I put my head between my hands and just wept.

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