Have you ever done something for love that ended up scarring you for life? I have.
My romance with a clown began several months ago. I am a clown too, but I don’t take my work as seriously as Bart did. Bartholomew McKenzie was what the kids nowadays call “hard core”. He was always on, whether he was working the carnival or not. Even when our troupe had downtime and could visit restaurants or bars in whatever city we were working in, Bart never took off his makeup. He played the part perfectly everywhere he went- entertaining children with little magic tricks, making everyone laugh with his physical slapstick comedy and he never, ever compromised that drawn-on massive smile of his.
I fell in love with Bart easily, completely, wholly. I knew it was happening and did nothing to stop it. I am only twenty-one, new on the scene of clownery, and Bart was my idol. He knew how to work an audience; he could have them eating out of his giant gloved hand within a few minutes. Rumor had it that Ringling Brothers had been trying to steal him away for years, but Bart was loyal and didn’t want to leave our troupe owner, Crandall, whom he’d known since he was a child.
Bart never gave me reason to hope we’d be anything more than friends. He was thirty-five and had years of experience under his belt- I was sure he saw nothing more in me other than a young protégé. Bart had told me multiple times that I had raw talent and he would help mold me and hone my skills. We shared a lot of time together- time I cherished and held close to my heart- and when I wasn’t with Bart I thought about him constantly. I wondered what he looked like without his makeup and orange wig. Sometimes, late at night, when I was alone in my bunk bed listening to my fellow troupe members snoring, I would imagine Bart’s big, muscular body bereft of its clown suit.
Then one day the troupe spent an extra twelve hours in Tempe, Arizona- a dusty, desert town- and Crandall said we were all free to spend the time as we wanted. I summoned up all of my courage and went up to Bart, my little hands shaking, my long brown hair blowing in the balmy breeze, and I asked him if he would take me to a western bar I’d heard about from the trapeze guys.
Bart was thrown off. “You mean… just the two of us?”
I nodded, my long eyelashes sweeping my blushing cheeks as I looked at the ground and squirmed.
There was a long pause and then Bart cleared his throat. “I would like to, but… I will have to go like this.”
“In full clown gear?” I was surprised but didn’t really care. I just wanted to be with him- away from the carnival, away from the other troupe members. I wanted Bart’s full attention on me. Just me. I shrugged, smiling, and Bart put his big gloved hand on the small of my back and led me away from the tents.
We spent the next several hours at The Chuckbox drinking moonshine and dancing. At one point a slow song came on and Bart and I swayed together like we’d been a couple all of our lives. I stood on tip toe and gently kissed his neck. He moaned slightly and I nibbled at his earlobe. I was afraid his white makeup would come off on my lips but it didn’t, it stayed put. I would have to ask him what brand he used, but not at that moment. I only wanted to think about one thing- how much I longed for Bartholomew McKenzie to kiss me.
But Bart was honorable in every way and the night never progressed into anything that could be considered inappropriate. His eyes, his hands, his words never hinted at impropriety. A part of me was disappointed, but a bigger part of me fell for him even harder. I was in love with a man who took his career seriously, who was loyal to his employer, who was a gentleman to a doe-eyed naïve ingénue. I became obsessed with Bart over the next several weeks and couldn’t bear to be apart from him. If we weren’t working together I’d find little ways to be close to him. And if that wasn’t possible I would hide behind something that shielded me while I stared at him, my mind a roiling wasteland of love and desire and lust.
I’d never seen Bart date anyone in the troupe and he didn’t cavort with ladies in any of the towns we stopped in. Neither did he seem interested in men. I couldn’t believe he was asexual- he had way too much passion for that- passion for his job, passion for living, passion for making people smile and laugh.
And then it happened one day. The moment I’d been waiting for, for what had seemed like forever. We found ourselves alone in the back supply tent one evening. It was very late and all of the troupe were tucked in their bunk beds asleep. Bart was showing me a complicated magic trick and we lost track of the time. It was just him and me and the quietness of the night. Even though we were both fully dressed as clowns, the sexual tension crackled between us and I could feel the pulsing of my soul. I wanted him to notice me so badly that in a moment of desperation I ducked behind a pile of boxes and peeled off all of my clothes. I still had my wig and make up on, but I didn’t even care.
I stepped out from my hiding place and tapped Bart on the shoulder. He had his back to me and was rummaging through a box of magic supplies. When he turned around and saw me standing before him completely nude he sucked in his breath and put his arms out as though to ward me off.
“No,” Bart breathed, his voice catching.
I grabbed for his gloved fingers and put them on my body. “I love you, Bartholomew McKenzie. I have for so long. I admire you, I adore you and I want you more than anything I’ve ever wanted in my life.”
He tried to pull back but I held firm. “Love me, please. Even if it’s only for this one night.”
His green eyes softened and his body relaxed. “Oh, little Evelyn, I would like nothing more, but it’s not possible.”
“But…” A tear ran down my cheek.
“I know you are attracted to me,” I persisted. I’d caught his eyes roving over my curves more than once the past several weeks.
A mischievous grin lit up his face. “You have no idea.”
I pressed myself against him. “Then what’s stopping you?”
“Common sense.” He put me from him and turned to leave. “Go to bed, sweetheart, and forget about what isn’t possible.”
I clenched my fists into balls and ground my teeth. Maybe he would respond to anger. “You’re a coward!”
He spun around. “What did you say?”
I marched up to him and shoved at his shoulder. “Are you scared of commitment? Because I’m not asking for it!”
“You don’t understand…”
“Then explain it to me! I just want one night!”
“No,” he started to walk away again and I was frightened if he left nothing would ever be the same between us. I’d ruined our friendship by declaring my feelings- from here on out we wouldn’t be able to see one another without it being awkward. This had to be resolved right now.
I grabbed at his clown suit and it ripped when he tried to sidestep my grasp. A long tear ran the length of the top of his uniform and I could see the nakedness of his back. His skin was chalk white. The same white as his face full of makeup.
He wouldn’t meet my eyes as he slowly turned around.
“You wear body concealer?” I asked incredulously.
Ok, it was weird, but it didn’t change my feelings for him. So what? So he takes his job REALLY seriously and gets fully into character. If that helps make him the most amazing clown anyone, anywhere, has ever been entertained by, then bully for him!
“Did you mean it when you said you loved me?” he asked, his voice gravelly, his eyes still not meeting mine.
“With all my heart.” Which was hammering chaotically in my chest.
“I love you too, Evelyn. From the moment I saw you. So beautiful, so young and full of hope…”
“Then why…” I didn’t understand.
“I have a secret. It’s something I must live with, something I’ve accepted. But it does not allow me to be with another. I cannot… be with a woman.”
“Why not?” I reached out and put my hands on either side of his face. I couldn’t feel the makeup on his cheeks. “Tell me, Bart. You can trust me.”
“Because…” His shoulders slumped, his chest stiffening in defeat. “Because I was born a clown, Evelyn.”
“I know! I know your talent is innate. It’s one of the things I love about you…”
He slowly removed his gigantic gloves and I stared in fascinated horror as the hands that emerged were just as humongous as the gloves that had covered them. Then he took my fingers and rubbed them all over the colors of his face- the cornflower blue over his eyes, the brilliant cardinal red around his lips, the broad ebony Pierrot eyebrows that looked so carefully drawn… then Bart pushed my hands in front of my face to show me my flesh had been untainted by makeup.
I still didn’t understand. “But…”
Bart ran his hands through his orange curly hair and yanked at it viciously. The wig didn’t move. In fact, Bart’s forehead skin stretched tight with his movements. “It’s all real, Evelyn. I was born a clown. I don’t know why… my parents don’t know why… the doctors didn’t know why. My dad left me with Crandall when the carnival passed through my home town. I was five. Dad told me that in order to have a normal life I’d have to act the part of my appearance. I never saw my parents again; I think they were embarrassed of me. No one knows my secret because I’d be ostracized, maybe even committed. Perhaps experimented on. I can’t lead a regular life. I can’t ever be in a relationship because what woman would be attracted to… this.” He gestured at himself and my heart broke at his despair and resolution. “I refuse to have children because the thought of cursing a baby with my problem… I don’t know if this is genetic, or… I just don’t know. And I don’t want to know. I just want to live my life in peace; quietly.”
It was too much to take in. I was so confused… so heartbroken for him. But one thing remained sure and certain- none of it changed my feelings for Bart. If anything, his secret made him more lovably vulnerable in my eyes. He was so tortured- so alone. He had dropped his metaphorical mask by telling me of his physical one. And I was still standing before him completely nude, my love for him raw and real and growing like a flower in bloom. Lightning forked between us and we reached for one another at the same time. I undressed him as quickly as I could, his hands in my hair, our lips crushed together. What was underneath his clown suit was even more glorious than I had imagined. Although his whole body was starkly white, it was thick and manly and corded with muscle. He picked me up in his arms and we fell in a tangle of passion on a cot in the corner of the storage tent. It was there that I gave myself to him completely- physically, emotionally, spiritually- as we launched each other to the stars and back over and over.
The troupe moved on from city to city for the next several months and Bart and I were inseparable. We hid our relationship from everyone, but I knew that some suspected our secret romance. It was the most titillating time of my life. Sneaking into a private tent one night, making love in the woods the next, stealing away to a local bar and exploring one another quickly, urgently in a back booth or sometimes even locking ourselves in a restroom.
And then one day Bart proposed to me. He said he wanted me by his side forever. He asked if I would be willing to never have children. He apologized for his appearance- that we couldn’t be seen in public as a “normal” couple. I told him I didn’t care about anything other than being his wife. I said yes and I was the happiest I’ve ever been.
I’d been saving my money for a special tattoo by an artist I’d heard about in Santa Fe. The troupe was scheduled to stop there for a week and I asked Crandall if I could use that time as my vacation leave. Then I told Bart I had to visit my family and he and I said a tearful good-bye knowing that seven days without each other would seem an eternity.
I checked myself into a local hotel and went to meet the tattoo artist. He began a three day project that involved much pain and a bit of swelling. At the end of the week I was mostly healed and when I looked in the mirror and saw my new face full of permanent clown makeup I knew I’d made the right decision. The ultimate way to show my love for Bart was to become like him. Now I could never be normal again. We would always both be clowns to the world and I had no escape from it, just as he did not. He would never need to feel alone in his isolation again. We would face the world together- as clowns.
When I came back to the troupe after a week, Bart swept me off to the storage tent where he’d set up a cot with flowers and champagne and fluffy blankets. He touched my face as I knew he would and terror flashed in his eyes.
“Yes!” I cried. “I did it for you, Bart. For you. I love you more than I love myself.”
He began to cry and when we made love that night it was the sweetest bond we’d ever shared.
The next day we went into town and got married at the Santa Fe City Hall. When the judge pronounced us man and wife we held hands as best friends and kissed as lovers.
The following days were absolute bliss. We told the troupe what we’d done and they threw us a surprise party, most of them saying they’d guessed all along. But no one knew our real secret- that we were forever clowns, slaves to our faces.
There were some mornings that I looked in the mirror and felt a slight tinge of regret at having marred my lovely features. But then I would see Bart and I knew I’d done the right thing. We were joined as man and wife forever and as long as I was by his side nothing else mattered.
A week later, after Bart and I had shared a lazy morning snuggling together, he went into town with the elephant trainer to buy a few supplies for the carnival. We said goodbye with a lingering kiss and that was the last time I ever saw him. Bart was killed in a car accident. The authorities said it had been sudden, swift. He hadn’t suffered.
But I was suffering. Bart’s secret had died with him, but now his secret was my own. It was no longer us against the world. It was me against the world.
I wanted to die too. My parents rejected me when I told them about my face. They said I was a freak for sacrificing my beauty, and they angrily informed me that I had thrown away any hope of a normal life; I would now have to act the part of my appearance forever.
Just like my beloved Bart, I’m a clown in private the same as I am in public. Every night before I go to bed, I look in the mirror and trace the camouflage of my face- the cornflower blue over my eyes, the brilliant cardinal red around my lips, the broad ebony Pierrot eyebrows so carefully drawn- and I think of my masked love who’d unmasked himself for me.
The scars I carry from my romance with a clown are obvious to the naked eye if one cares to truly see. I live my life in peace; quietly honoring the only man I’ll ever love with each performance I give. The carnival is my forever home now, just as it was his.