The Boy from Virginia Listens to Clown Music

Two days ago, on a very blissful and relaxed Sunday, I found myself thinking the following (which I typed into my IPod 4 just so I could remember): “You ever wake up one morning, look around atthe people you pass on the way to whatever location, and dread the idea ofgetting older?” It is a topic that precedes the body of my mental paragraph every day. I watch people who insist on making their lives more difficult by not using common sense, or by taking the longer route instead of the shortest route, or by allowing themselves to easily get worked into frenzies over nothing. I notice how these things play into people’s adult lives. Often, I find myself inquiring as to these people’s origins. How were they as children? Did they always have such bad teeth? How did they get so fat/so thin? Was there a pivotal moment in their lives that caused them to pick up a bad habit? How did they end up here/now/in this moment as the person they are?

On the same day that I pondered this, and was headed to visit a friend who lives in Harrow-on-the-Hill, I came across a very odd, yet “normal-for-London” sight: a clown. This wasn’t just any old clown, but instead a melancholy clown who was playing the guitar in the underground corridor of the Charing Cross station. There was something about his absurd presence that spoke volumes to me and I still can’t figure out why his placement in my line of vision was so powerful. Was it simply because my ordinary, rainy London Day would’ve been boring without him? Or was his existence symbolic of something? To be honest, the sight (though a bit jarring and odd) was still beautiful in a surreal way. Yet, it was actually real.

If only I could be younger and not have to deal with reality…maybe my life would be full of those absurd, guitar playing clowns.

I turned twenty-six this year. I didn’t expect any trumpets or anything special to come my way as, with age, you simply become grateful for getting older. You don’t need gifts. You only need the rent paid and/or food on your table (and the occasional money for transportation to and from work so that you can continue to pay the rent and put food on the table). My sister is ten years my junior and her birthday is roughly, one month before mine. So when she turned sixteen this year, I knew that her walk into womanhood would go one of two ways. She would either “straighten up and fly right” or she’d give me a reason to want to break her neck.

It seems she has chosen the latter.

There have been three moments in my life where I’ve been in bliss, or fortunately busy with loads of artistic things on my mind, and I’ve received disturbing phone calls from my mother, concerning the younger sister. Call number one happened when I was early on at Temple University.

Tom, your sister has run away from home.” That’s the call I received when my family was still living in Virginia Beach. This situation arose because my sister, who was causing trouble in school, accused a teacher of something inappropriate, almost causing him to lose his job. Her guilt was so much that, at 9 or 10 years old, she bailed. The hullabaloo ended with the police (and other homegrown search parties) having to find my sister and bring her back home. (Lives affected: about 5 or 6.)

Call number two happened as I was about to audition for a new play at the Walnut Theatre. It was 2008. I was still in Philadelphia and nearing my final year as a student. I had literally wished the person ahead of me “good luck” on their audition when my cell phone rang suddenly.

Tom, there are tornadoes touching down all over Suffolk (my family had moved), and your sister is home. She could be in great danger and I’m no where nearby.That situation ended with my sister being found in one piece (Thank God!), but our newly built house having been left in ruins along with other houses in the neighborhood. My family was left homeless for a month, and received no government help to repair their home. (Lives affected: hundreds-due to the tornado). My Theatre department at Temple University, however, clandestinely raised money to give to my family who basically lost their home about a week before my graduation. To this day, I am still grateful for the arts community!

The third call (that has jarred/riled me to the point of finally taking the time out to write this entry here in the dressing room of my latest show, “Six Rounds”) I received yesterday. I was nearing the end of a long day of tech rehearsal, which involved me basically sitting/sleeping in my dressing room from 1:30pm until 7:00pm (when my feet actually touched the stage). I was feeling very hungry and contemplating how much money I would need to catch the Tube home when I noticed I’d missed a call and had a voicemail message. I listened to the message and it was my mother’s frantic, yet oddly controlled voice.

Tom, I’m calling because your sister is pregnant. I been asking her for months if she was, but something made me sit her down today…” The message went on in a bit more detail than was necessary, but I stopped listening after the opening statement anyway. The news was a tornado that I wouldn’t feel the effects of until much later. I couldn’t have heard her correctly. Pregnant? Pregnant?!?!?!?! The meek little chick who I used to sing to, and give hugs to when she was crying? The little girl who was so mousy that I wanted her to break out of her shell? The little girl I took to see Shrek 2 and Dreamgirls? You mean to tell me that this little girl is going to have a little one? She’s pregnant. (Lives affected: we’ll soon see.) I can’t deal. But it seems I will have to. Of course, this isn’t about me, though. I’m not the one carrying the baby.

Or so goes the thought process. But it’s like when a person goes to jail; not only is he/she serving time, but so is everyone else who he/she affected. With this baby, my sister will not be raising it alone. We (as in, my family) all will and for some reason that makes me very mad. Why? Because I didn’t plan on being anyone’s Uncle! (And before anyone says anything on the issue of how I feel…I have a RIGHT to feel the way I feel)

It hit me today that whenever I see an under aged girl with a baby, I immediately shake my head in judgment. I’m sure many people do. The first thing we think is “This fast ass girl was laying up with some man, didn’t even use a condom, *sucks teeth* and this is the consequence.” It almost seems like we think “oh well, she deserves a baby. If she’s going to be careless with her body, let her deal with the aftermath.” In other words, I just figured my sister’s gradually growing belly would be her scarlet letter and that she should bear it, since she brought it upon herself!

My main gripe with this underage baby situation is that I feel that anyone underage couldn’t have possibly planned to have a child. Right? It made me think to myself…wow, having a baby should be planned, because a child (though a blessing) is a very huge financial, emotional, and physical commitment. Sheeeit. I know for a fact that I can’t be making any of those commitments when I don’t even feel all that successful in raising my damn self. (A good friend of mine once said, “When you become a parent, your aim is to keep that child alive.” THAT statement alone was enough to make me hold off having children until I felt like I was ready)

What also gets me is that I now feel obligated to try and provide for my future niece or nephew and I don’t have the money to buy clothes or food for myself
even. (Where’s my pacifier, dammit?) But I know, already, that I will be expected to help out or provide in some kinda way because something tells me that the father of the child will pull the denial card and I might have to fly back to America and use my deep voice for what it’s actually worth! And if my sister isn’t able to identify the father…then my family will have a whole ‘nother set of issues on our hands.

I’m also livid because neither of the youthful parties were thinking about the effect their 5-minute actions would have on their future. This boy did not think of the damage he could’ve caused my sister’s future, nor did he think about how he would be contributing to the world’s almost endless number of young, aloof, unprepared fathers. My sister didn’t think about how having unprotected sex would affect our already stressed out mother nor her own body. Not to mention, her education, her dreams of being model; her overall potential.

Because she was so eager to grow up, she won’t have the luxury of growing up. She will be forced into motherhood and forced into a life where she is no longer the center of her world. She will be revolving around a different planet called “baby.”

Her innocence is gone. And that’s why I’m mad.

I’m not one of those oblivious big brothers who thinks young people aren’t having sex. Puh-leeze. Girls were getting pregnant at twelve and fourteen when I was growing up. Why I’m mad, however, is that the sex was unprotected, and I wonder as to why that is. Was the ‘family life’ portion of health education not up to par? Has there been no emphasis on how the body works when there are lessons at school? Is my sister one of those people who was duped into thinking that sex would be better without the use of a condom? What the fuck!

Also…I tend to wonder why there is just no fear today among youth. I grew up with fear of doing anything that would bring shame to the family name (even
though some part of me always felt/still feels that I am shameful in some kinda way…that’s a different blog topic, however
). I was afraid to bring attention to myself unless it was academic or artistic.

Why was I so afraid? Because when I used to do wrong, my mother would tell everyone about what I did. I hated the “tut-tut-tut” looks and the “I can’t believe he did/said that” type of statements that spouted from the mouths of others. Basically, I was a 7-13 year old who hated being judged. So I tried to remain good. I’d still like to think I’m good but I’m getting a bit tired of staying on that pedestal alone.

I got tired of it when I was a kid as well, which is why I had many mini-rebellions. Still, my little rebellions were nothing compared to the amount of warfare caused by other members of my family. I used to count talking back to my mother as the ultimate form of rebellion.  Here’s a better example: when I was at Milton Academy, I used to pride myself in finding ways to beat the curfew system. So I found ways to come back late to my dorm…or stay up late to do some work when I couldn’t get it done during study hall. Others at my prestigious academy found ways to sneak in marijuana into their dorms, get shit-faced drunk on school nights, and even run businesses out of their rooms (a true story). When I used to tell people…”Oh…I got to come in at 11pm or 12pm”, most people were like “Oh…but you know, you’re actually allowed to do that. So you’re not really breaking any rules.”

Time to bring up another topic: my cousin. I have a cousin who’s been to jail twice. (In there as I type, to be quite honest) He and I grew up so close that he was
like my big brother. I hated him and loved him simultaneously, as only family members who are that close know how to do. I looked up to him, and at the same time was so concerned for his well being that if he fucked up, I blamed myself for not being the good influence on him that he needed. For some reason, I always felt that when I was in proximity to him, that he’d do his best to stay on the right path. Once he started hanging with the wrong crowds and making
poor decisions that would eventually land him behind bars and away from his family and friends, I was disappointed in myself. I figured that if I hadn’t gone to  school away from home at the age of 14, or if I hadn’t stayed away to get a good education that maybe I could’ve saved him in some way.

In many ways, I’ve always felt responsible for my cousin, and I see that those feelings of responsibility are trickling down into the way I feel about my sister’s pregnancy. What could I have possibly done, though? Been a psychic who knew she was about to go have sex and try to stop her in advance? Go back to America on a whim and be the Superman I sometimes claim to be? No. I live my own life and I’m learning every single day that the way others act is not a reflection of me. I can’t hold myself so responsible for others acting out of character. But I do…

The reason I do so is because I’ve been seen as this beacon of hope for my family. I’m the first to do so many things and I keep trying my best to not fuck up. I have mini-fuck ups, but nothing that would alter my life so much as to ruin my future. I try my hardest to stay on the beaten path. I work hard and I’m diligent. I try to stay positive even when being in this industry really makes that difficult. Still, I feel like no matter what I do, it isn’t enough to change the world. Maybe if I lost my mind for just a bit, then I’d feel better. But I feel like I don’t even have the luxury of being wreckless. It’s unfair. I can’t be wreckless with my mind, my body, or my decisions. Why not? Because I’m scared. And it’s that fear that keeps me good, I guess.  If only more people had that exact same fear, then they’d know why I dread getting older and why I wish there were more clowns around.

Maybe that’s what the melancholy clown is about; why he existed in my world. He is a walking contradiction. The sadness and the hilarity of him confirms his
absurdity. But it was his guitar playing that told his true story. I expected him to be juggling or getting a pie in the face, and yet here he was playing music; doing the unexpected and throwing me off.

We are all sad clowns playing guitars. We’re expected to live our lives a certain way, when in fact we all know how difficult it is to just follow one path with a clear sense of self. We play instruments when we should stick to our day jobs. If we began to listen pedantically to the melodies we play on our personal guitars, might we discover a new chord? Or might we hear the emotion behind the journey our notes make? Or would we recognize how a song is being heard by others. I think the song we play is ultimately our own. And though we may be afraid to play a different song, or do what is unexpected, a change of tune is what makes life the adventure it has always been. My sister is creating her own song to play in underground tunnels. Instead of passing her and jumping on my next Tube, I should listen to her play.

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3 comments on “The Boy from Virginia Listens to Clown Music

  1. d "picklestick" white says:

    That’s pretty deep tommy. It’s something I would have never expected to hear from you because ur the only person I know who always walks tall. It’s like ur on a runway n everything is perfect. I guess u never really know what someone is going through. I understand the whole carrying the burden of everyone because I feel the same way. The most comforting and disturbing words of wisdom I ever got regarding this is that I’m not my family’s savior. It may sound churchy but its really so true. We can be there for them and love them but in the end they have to live their own lives and make their own,mistakes. I’m so sorry about ur little sister and the things ur family has had to go through but u all will get through this too. Everything is easy when its easy but the hard times make us who we are. You will be fine so will your family and your gonna be a star so don’t worry about food n clothes. Just continue to be there for your sister and press on towards your goals.:)

  2. Marcy says:

    Thomas,
    My heart was dropping with every word, hoping so much that the traumatic event wouldn’t end with a pregnancy. You know, with me working in a high school, I have to hold my breath every time a girl tells me they have to talk to me about something important. You are so right about the burden being shared by everyone in the family. The new baby becomes the family’s baby, not just the girl’s and you are right again, and not just the boy’s, who usually doesn’t “step up to the plate”.

    I feel like all of us who have “made it”…lol. When you were young you thought making it was going to mean you had some money, right? I know I thought so too, but throw a mortgage and some kids in the mix and “making it” means you have to work two jobs plus have the income of a spouse. Anyhow, what I am talking about are those of us who have made it through college and beyond. Our families do look to us for lots of support and guidance. Sometimes I too, feel overwhelmed with the demands of making sure I can lend or in most cases, give financially when it is needed. Just remember that we are all in this together, thus you don’t have to let the weight of the world rest on your shoulders. Also, prayer never hurt anybody!

    Keep it going with the blogs and acting, your break is coming.
    Lots of Love,
    Marcy

  3. raxe says:

    I can totally relate to the “fear” feelings you have, being good because you actually care about others, especially family and want nothing more than to have their approval, but at the same time it is a huge huge burden to carry with you if the reasons why we’re good is just to please others, or to avoid judgement.

    I love reading your thoughts Tommy, yet again you managed to put into words so many of the things that cross my mind, but I tend to shove into the back of my mind,fearing that If I start facing it all I’ll realise that I cannot control everything, I cannot control people’s actions…and that ultimately people choose their own paths, and at some point we need to let go.
    All you can do is to be the person you know you are, as hard as it is not to be affected by the actions of other family members, you need to stay true to yourself, it’s a cliche but one that I still believe to be right.

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