Six years ago on this date, I had done something which was said to be impossible and left New Jersey, the state I had been born in and spent 24 years of my life in, to settle in Philadelphia – a city that had been visited when I was a child and became drawn to again as an adult. The main reason for such a move was the end of a relationship combined with an awkward living situation. There were no friends or relatives I could stay with, and I had just returned from traveling with the carnival, so trying to find a job with limited skills was rather difficult. Searching for a place to live was even worse, and having remembered my recent trip to Philadelphia [I spent my birthday there with Jon], I decided that it would not hurt to at least look. Then I discovered the wonderful world of renting rooms, which to say the least came with some good and quite a few really unpleasant experiences. Yet somehow now I find myself in a position where I am partial lease-owner of a house I share with one other person and I never have to deal with another annoying room-mate or hellish living situation ever again.
The other reason for living the Garden State was due to harassment, which is something I kept from pretty much everyone I knew because I did not think anyone would take me seriously if I explained the details. Instead I took all of the money I had earned working the previous Summer, packed my belongings into a car and made an attempt to separate myself from unwanted drama. A few months later I moved again because the first situation had been temporary, and then I found myself being kicked out in May, the day after attending my best friend’s funeral. One of the guys I rented from insisted that someone was threatening them online who said they knew me, so I had to leave. Spent three night’s sleeping on a couch and then settled into a room in West Philly where I pretty much became a hermit and had no contact with anyone for about a month. Aside from a communal television, I had a radio as my entertainment, and eventually I got a phone because I realized there were people I needed to talk to every once in a while. It was still a very hard time, as I spent many hours mourning the loss of someone who meant the world to me, which manifested in ways I have only discussed with a few people. While I have come to terms with those things, they are not something I wish to put on display, despite the content that may appear elsewhere among these archives.
The amount of things that have happened in those years make me feel as though I have been here for a long time. The good came with the bad, but I also found myself in situations that created life-long memories. My first birthday celebrated after moving to Philly was my 25th, at which time I had created Alive On the Inside, a magazine dedicated to preserving American circus and sideshow history through articles and photographs that covered a wide variety of topics. Two years later I had my neck tattooed the day before my 27th birthday because I knew that being a sideshow performer was something I planned on doing for as long as I could, and felt paying tribute to the act in a place where the tattoo would be constantly seen was rather appropriate. The day after my birthday, with the skin still feeling tight, I performed on New Year’s Even in a massive warehouse somewhere in Brooklyn, where there had to be at least one thousand people trying to watch. There is a list of things I made in reflection of hitting a milestone in age, which was celebrated with the one person who has made my life amazing on a daily basis, that covers a bunch of random facts and other assorted details I felt had relevance in this article.
During the six years that I constantly moved throughout Philadelphia, I moved out of the city twice for a period of less than six months. Which I considered a vacation, though the first time I found myself in Knoxville and was glad I managed to come back from that. The second time, ironically enough, I made a brief return to New Jersey and lived in Haddonfield, which is exactly where I was around this time last year. It was a nice separation from a city which had exhausted me on several levels, and frequent trips to a small town outside of Vineland to visit future in-laws were a nice way to find the relaxation I needed. Oh, and of course I can’t leave out the fact that I became engaged, which really is not as big as a deal as people usually make it to be. Putting labels on relationships has never been my style, and while I can admit faults, mistakes and being guilty of doing this in the past, I learned from those things and focused on myself for once.
Meeting someone you don’t exactly remember meeting is kind of awkward – I remembered his face but not his name and apparently not the fact that he had approached me and tried initiating conversation on a few occasions. It was Halloween weekend and we just kept running into each other, which made being among large rooms full of drunken strangers less intimidating. A few weeks later I had an invitation to lunch, which had to be one the most polite gestures I had experienced in a long time. There has always been something so satisfying about sitting and enjoying hours of conversation with someone who makes me feel good that is hard to explain – you just know when it’s there. Once a week we met to eat and talk, which lasted for several hours and always left me with a smile on my face.
Anyway, as mentioned earlier, I am now in a position where I have complete control over my own life and it is fantastic. There are always things I feel could be improved, because life is never perfect and I see challenges as ways of making myself stronger instead of impossible obstacles. Otherwise I am quite content and could not ask for anything more than what I have. It feels good to be appreciated, to know I can pursue what makes me happy and that there will always be support, which is something that comes at no cost. My partner [a term I feel is most appropriate being an adult in such an amazing relationship] is someone I am extremely proud of, who holds position of sous chef at a notable local restaurant that is currently undertaking an expansion. He recently brought home the menu that he created which was served as a special this past week. Without sounding pretentious, it just feels good to know that I have put my trust in someone who has their shit together and has a clear goal in mind for themselves. Not that our time together hasn’t been without spontaneous adventures, like getting caught in a blizzard because I wanted hair dye or being introduced to a part of Jersey I had not previously explored. The point is that there is a nice balance without being caught up in aesthetics or the wrong things and there is eagerness in pursuit of a future together.
To say that I still miss Jon would be a severe understatement, and while his absence in my life does not plague me as it once did, it still remains relevant as a reminder of many things. After I moved to Philly, we had the opportunity to hang out and not have any lingering paranoia on his part interrupt having good times. This is a man I had admired and loved for six long years, who admitted his passion and then disappeared to straighten out his life. The last image I have is of his smiling face, eyes tinged with tears while he held my hands and simply cherished the moment. Jon will always have a special place in my life, just as no matter where I go, I will always be from New Jersey. For the time being I am still finding my purpose in Philly and currently consider it my home.
Of course I have outlived the Death Defying Daredevil, which is not an amazing feat but something that had never been considered when Jon was still alive. He sure put effort into being self-destructive, both for entertainment and because he was always at war with himself. To say he was a proud man who did not have a habit of asking for help does not begin to describe how stubborn he could be when it came to reaching out. At this moment a piece of his wisdom comes to mind – when something doesn’t go your way, it’s easier to let it get you down than to fight, but the harder battle yields a greater reward. Accepting defeat takes less effort and that was something Jon never did – perhaps in doing so he put himself in danger more times than was necessary. That was just a part of who he was and something that has always stuck with me.
Proper celebration of my six years living in Philly will occur on Tuesday since that is when my partner is off from work and I enjoy sharing the little things in my life that I make a point of doing. We will toast to good fortune with Jersey Devil Port Wine and hope for the best for our future together. That is a whole other story, and since I have rambled here enough, it is best suited for another time.
Today I have a sense of empowerment that tends to come with self reflections, because I see all of the things that I have been through that I thought would crush me and render me useless. Life is not an easy journey, and I would not want to change any of the experiences I have had, even the worst ones, because they are all a part of what has made me stronger throughout the years. No matter what has come my way, I am still here and the intention of continuing my work is stronger than ever. It is something I owe not only to myself, but to the memory of Jon and everyone from Outlaw Cirkus who lost their lives because of who they were and what they believed in. There is nothing I have to lose, so I am fully investing myself in my career as a means of paving the way for my future, and I take comfort in knowing I have at least one person by my side who is willing to take that ride with me.
Cheers to the unknown, the unexpected and the unbelievable – may the rest of the years of my life be an adventure.