My legs were shaking. My palms were sweating. There were thousands of little drummers in my ears. I couldn’t believe he talked me into this. Everyone was staring. I felt like a complete idiot.
“Hi, everybody! I’m Michael!”
Please don’t say my name. I don’t want to do this anymore. I muttered to myself.
“And this is Lois!” Crap. I ran next to him on stage and tried to smile.
“And together we are The Juggling Hoffmans!” Our arms extended into the air like we practiced a hundred times at home. I was okay performing in front of Jiminy and Amelia, our sweetly fat and lazy cats, who just stared at us with utter indifference. Now, in Atlanta, with 100 or more discerning eyes fixated on us, I realized the complete lack of judgment that got me there.
It’s not that I couldn’t juggle. I just couldn’t juggle well. With the honeymoon still lingering in my memory, my new groom, Michael got an invitation to perform at the Dogwood Festival in Atlanta.
“Let’s do it! It’ll be fun!” Michael pleaded.
“No way!” I replied.
“You’ve been juggling for a year. You’re ready.”
“Ready for what? A complete surrender of my dignity?”
After several days of similar conversations and Michael’s unrelenting charm, I gave in. The flights were booked and there was no turning back.
Piedmont Park both welcomed and taunted me. Every sensory receptor was in overdrive. The juggling clubs in my hands appeared to be laden with lead. The wind seemed to whip at hurricane force speeds. And the sun’s rays were magnified as if ants were enacting revenge for a childhood indiscretion. I knew it was going to be bad.
Soothing mantras alternated with paralyzing panic as I prepared for my first public performance since starring in Snow White in first grade. I raised my hands to start. Michael nodded. Go. Catch, catch, catch, drop. Catch, catch, drop. I was mortified. Drop. Would this day ever end? As crying was not an option, I forced a smile on my face and kept going, throwing and catching, kind of.
Time stood still. Surely, returning from Mars or waiting in line at the DMV couldn’t possibly take this long. With each club I picked up from the ground, I wished to be swept away to a happier place. Getting my teeth drilled while defending an IRS audit came to mind.
As the show came to an end, I was only slightly relieved. The time for begging had begun. It’s technically called busking or street performing. Somehow, the fact that it was a centuries old tradition was not a real consolation. Like a seal clapping for a fish, I was begging for spare change. When the crowd dispersed, I looked in the hat. $3.25.
We had several more shows that day; some only slightly better than the first. The terrifying feeling never went away. The embarrassment of dropping in front of all those people never got easier. My certainty that performing was a horrible mistake never waned. When the last show was over at the end of the day, we packed up our things and headed for home.
I boarded the plane that day with $31.53 in my pocket. It surely wasn’t worth the four hours of torture at the park and the three months of anxiety leading up to the event. It wasn’t worth all of the hours I spent practicing before that call ever came.
I looked over at my husband. He smiled at me with sincere pride, knowing well what it took to get me there. With nothing left to hold back the tears, I cried. I didn’t know then that I would spend more than 20 years of my life juggling as a career; that every child’s smile would fill my heart with joy; that all the subsequent drops would just turn into another chance to make kids laugh.
On that sunny, windy Atlanta day, everything changed. Nothing would ever be impossible. Nothing would ever be too hard to overcome. That day, I became a juggler. That day, we became The Juggling Hoffmans.