I am well-known as Amelia, the Aerial Acrobat. My husband, David Roberts, and I were married on August 16, 1971, two months after our daughter, Nicole, was born. We thought it was best I drop out of the circus while pregnant and we moved into David’s mother’s house. My parents had hoped we would stay, but it would have been too difficult. We really didn’t have anywhere else to go. David’s mother, Mrs. Roberts, and I never hit it off. David had just turned 21 and I would be 19 on my next birthday.
I grew up in the Hoxie Brothers Circus. My mother worked in the mess hall and as a candy butcher. My father worked as a carpenter. Somehow, I ended up with acrobatic talent. Ray, aka “Twink” took a liking to me when I was little. I was fascinated by his aerial act, and he taught me all I know about trapeze, contortion, balance, and many bits of wisdom.
He always spoke to me in a soft voice and even today I hear him as if he were whispering, “Amelia, my little love. Never hesitate. You train, you plan, you judge and when it’s time, never hesitate. This is true both on the trapeze and in life.” He was so right!
I suppose it was the circus life Mrs. Roberts didn’t approve of. David was part of a construction crew hired to help with set up last summer in Largo, Maryland. There he met my dad. Then he met me, and by September I was pregnant. My parents really liked him, and I think my dad was hoping David would stay on with Hoxie.
Mrs. Roberts blamed everything on the circus. She blamed the circus for our pregnancy, for David not returning to college, David working construction, that we were even in her house. We made the decision to stay because, eventually, I would not have been able to work the trapeze, much less get into contortion positions. Just getting dressed seemed like a contortion during those last few weeks before Nicole’s birth. The winter break and the spring travel circuit across the Northeast would not have made for regular doctor visits either.
In hindsight, it was probably one of the worst decisions we made. I am sure Mrs. Roberts wouldn’t have minded if I had left with my parents, pregnant and alone. That being the key word here – alone. But David and I were in love. At least I thought so at the time.
We were miserable living with David’s mother. Mrs. Roberts criticized me about everything. I didn’t know how to cook; the baby was never clean enough; I married David for his money; he should go back to school, etc. All that complaining drove a wedge between David and me, I think. She was just mean. From an outside view everything was perfect. She even had flowers delivered weekly for her perfect world.
I would hear her saying, “I don’t know what you see in that girl. She’s a gypsy! Unschooled! Undisciplined. How can she be a good influence on Nicole?”
Seriously? I was probably better-read than she was. Schooling was very important in the circus. We had traditional lessons: reading, writing, and arithmetic. But also, we learned to speak several languages and I read Dante’s Inferno in Italian at 16. Undisciplined? She had no idea how much discipline it takes to learn how to hang from a trapeze bar with your feet.
David and I finally saved enough money to leave the prestigious Oak Grove subdivision and move out. We moved to the Steeplechase apartments on the other side of town. David continued to work construction rather than return to school, and I took care of Nicole during the day. At night David watched Nicole while I worked part-time in the video store at the local strip mall. The resentment and arguments grew.
We fought over money, my working at night, his mother’s constant interference, his friends, and the fact that all my friends were still in the circus. I never saw them or my family. I felt so isolated. Suffocated. Like sailing away from the shore. My whole world vanishing slowly, but pervasively. Me, David, and Nicole in a small boat, rocking, and leaving everyone behind. Adrift.
Then the unthinkable happened. After my shift at the video store, I drove home. It was snowing, and a very cold November. I got to the apartment. No lights were on.
“Hey. Are you guys asleep?” The door creaked as I entered and jiggled my key out of the lock. No response in the dark. I turned on the light and realized that the baby bag was not in the living room. I switched on the light in the bedroom. The closet was open, and David’s clothes were gone. All of Nicole’s clothes were gone, too.
“Oh my god! NO!” I collapsed right there on the floor, sobbing, screaming. “That bitch!” I knew Mrs. Roberts had convinced him to return to her house. With Nicole. Not only was I horrified but my engorged breasts made me realize I wouldn’t be able to feed her. I checked the fridge. At least he took the prepared bottles of my milk.
After catching my breath, I headed out to the pay phone on the corner since we couldn’t afford to have a line in the apartment and called Mrs. Roberts only to have the maid answer.
“Mrs. Roberts’ residence.”
I choked back my tears and said, “Hi, this is Amelia Roberts and I wish to speak to my husband, David.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Roberts, but Mr. Roberts is not available at this time. But I can let him know that you called.”
“NO! I want to talk to someone now! Let me talk to Mrs. Roberts then.”
“I’m sorry, but Mrs. Roberts is also unavailable. Would you like me to give her a message?”
“Yes! You can tell that son-of-a-bitch husband of mine that he has gone too far, and you can tell Mrs. Roberts that she has not seen the last of me. This is not over!” and I slammed the phone down. I walked out of the phone booth. The wind was cold, and I felt the strong bite of it only to realize I left in such a hurry I didn’t even grab a jacket. I shivered as I hustled back to the apartment, not sure what to do next. But I had to get Nicole back. It was time to go home and take Nicole with me. In the meantime, I got out my breast pump and filled as many bottles as I could.
I knew the circus family and the animals would be wintering in South Florida after they had finished their last October show in Freeport, Grand Bahama. They all should be in Florida by now. I didn’t know how to reach them exactly. If I grabbed Nicole, how would I make my way there? I climbed into bed just hoping for a little shut eye so I could think clearly in the morning.
Dawn came. The snow glistened like glitter as I stared out into the quiet street through the upper window. I kept thinking, how am I going to get into that house? Unseen. Maybe I can sneak in during a delivery? I’m sure the gates will be locked. What day does the florist arrive each week? Let me think. Flowers come on … Why can’t I remember? Think!
I finally made some coffee and voila. Wednesdays! That’s the day the florist comes to refresh the displays. It was already Tuesday. I concocted the idea to hide in a duffle bag in the flower truck and come in through the gates. Once I get Nicole, I could escape through the gate from inside. The push button was on the wall just to the right.
I knew I would have to park the car on the street, get in the van somehow, grab Nicole, escape through the gate, run to my car, and drive to the bus station. I would have to leave the car there too so they couldn’t trace the license plates.
I spent the afternoon packing my clothes into a bag and withdrew as much cash as I could out of our account. I grabbed Nicole’s birth certificate, too. I am glad I kept my Baby Pak so I could carry Nicole and both of our bags. I went to the bus station and purchased the ticket to Tampa which is a short distance from Gibsonton, Florida. I didn’t have to pay for an infant traveling, even though I would totally take up two seats. I stuck the duffle bag into the car to throw it into the back of the truck to hide in. I was going to have to stalk the van Wednesday morning.
I got up early, had my coffee, pumped my breast milk into the remaining bottles, packed everything tightly into my bag, and drove to the florist’s shop. The van hadn’t left yet. I watched as various floral arrangements were loaded into the back. I couldn’t tell which one was for the Roberts’ house though. I would just have to hope that at least one other stop was in the neighborhood before getting to Mrs. Roberts. The driver came out and started up the van.
I tailed the van through several stops and then he turned a corner, and we were in the Oak Grove subdivision.
“Please dear God. Make him stop somewhere else before going to the house.” And he did. The driver got out the van, walked to the back doors, and swung them wide open. Here was my chance.
I got out of the car, grabbed the duffle bag and the Baby Pak, locked the car, put the key in my pocket, and did my most stealth walk ever. I snuck, crawled, crept, darted, and made it to the van. I threw the duffle bag in the back corner and followed in after it. I folded myself up like a pretzel to fit in it with the Baby Pak. The bag itself didn’t look big enough for a person to fit in it. But I made it. Zipped it up. And waited. I was so nervous I didn’t feel the winter chill.
The driver returned, slammed the doors shut and got in. I felt the engine rumble. Each time he made a delivery I worried the driver would see the duffle bag but even as I felt the large arrangement next to me get moved, the driver never noticed it. Then I heard the brakes squeak and the driver announce his arrival.
“Delivery for Mrs. Roberts from Forever Flowers.”
The static, scratchy sound came back, “ok, drive through.”
The gates rattled as they opened. The van drove up to the house. He parked and came around to the back. He swung open the back doors and grabbed one of the displays. As I heard him walk away, I unzipped the duffle bag and scampered out of the van into the bushes. The driver came and went a few times, closed the doors, and drove away.
I didn’t see any groundskeepers. There was still snow on the ground and no one was working on the landscape. I then skulked around to check the garage. David’s pickup was gone. He must have gone to work. Mrs. Robert’s BMW was there though. She was home. But I’m sure she had the nanny, Sylvia, taking care of Nicole. She, of course, wouldn’t be bothered.
The nanny was always nice to me, but I certainly didn’t know where her true loyalties lay. I hoped she wouldn’t be there as I didn’t feel confident that she would help me.
The nursery was on the third floor and the trellis went up the side wall right by the window. I summoned all my parkour skills and, like Spiderman, sped up the trellis to the window. It was closed of course, but not locked. Perched on the trellis, terrified someone would see me, I leaned in to have a look. Nicole was there in the crib. Sylvia was not in the room. Ice had formed around the edges of the window making it difficult to open. I broke off a branch of the dead vine to scrape the ice, my legs wrapped around one side of the trellis hoping upon hope the wood was strong enough to support my weight. I jiggled and scraped and worked at getting the window loose. The sun was warming the glass a little. I kept at it. Finally, I could feel it move. It was loose. I carefully pressed on it and opened it just a crack at first and then slowly was able to open it just enough for me to fit through. I came in like a spider, oh a black widow spider. Maybe that could be my new acrobatic act: The Black Widow. My mind was already racing about going home.
Nicole was fast asleep. I put her clothes and the baby bag into the duffle bag and tossed it to the bushes below. I found a warm, fleece onesie but before I could put it on her, I realized the baby monitor was on and worried I had made noise. Then I heard footsteps. I quickly hid behind the door, onesie in hand, and held my breath. The door opened and Sylvia noticed the opened window. She muttered something in Spanish. She checked on Nicole, then closed and locked the window. She left the bedroom door open as she left the room.
Quietly, I pushed the door closed and then dressed Nicole in the onesie and placed her in the Baby Pak, and strapped her to me. Luckily, she stayed asleep. Now to get out of the window and down the trellis. What was I thinking?
I listened for footsteps and peeked outside for the landscape guys. The coast looked clear. It was now or never. I quietly re-opened the window, climbed out onto the trellis, and slowly climbed down. With each step I worried the weight and cold, frigid temperature would snap the wooden cross pieces in two sending us both hurling toward the ground. I took my time with each step holding on with Nicole pressed up against my chest. In what seemed like an eternity, I finally stood on the ground. I looked around. Still, no one was in sight. I grabbed the duffle bag and headed to the gate. So far, so good. I arrived at the gate and pressed that open button. The gates rattled as they opened. I was out!
The air was crisp. The snow squeaked as I walked quickly. I made it to the car, dug the key out of my pocket, and opened the door. I put Nicole in the car carrier seat, buckled her in, and got behind the wheel. My heart was racing. I had just kidnapped my own child. There was no looking back now.
I drove slower than the speed limit all the way to the bus station about 15 minutes away. I didn’t want to take any chances of being stopped for anything nor did I want to spin out on the slick roads. At the stop sign, I saw David’s truck right in front of me as he turned left onto the street. I hope he doesn’t see me. I turned my head as if looking for something on the passenger seat. He didn’t stop. Whew.
I got to the bus depot parking lot. I drove through the gate, took the ticket, and placed it on the dashboard.
I chuckled. I wondered how much the ticket would be by the time they found the car. I hope it’s expensive. I found a parking space and turned off the engine. I put the keys up under the visor. I took Nicole and the baby seat out of the car along with the stuffed duffle bag. “This should be a challenge to carry everything, Nicole.”
I put Nicole back into the Baby Pak only this time she woke up and started crying. “That’s ok baby. Almost inside.” I put the duffle bag in her baby seat which was, thankfully, one of those multi-purpose carriers that turns into a carriage as well as a car seat. Off we went.
Once inside, I had about 30 minutes before departure. I sat down. Nicole was screaming at this point. I pulled out my cloth drape I used for breastfeeding. Even that was cold to the touch. I got us all settled; Nicole was now suckling and quiet and I took what was probably my first real breath in the last hour.
Both of us must have dozed off when I heard the speaker overhead, “Now boarding for Tampa.”
“Holy cow! This is it! Come on Nicole.” I put both the duffle bag and baby bag in the carrier, put Nicole in the Baby Pak, and we headed outside. The driver took the duffle bag and stowed it underneath.
“Can I take the carrier on the bus inside?”
“Yes Ma’am, unless we get too crowded. But for now, it is fine.”
“Thank you so much.” We boarded.
It took another 22 minutes for everyone to get on board and for the doors to close. The engine hummed as the driver put the bus in reverse to back out of the stall. My heart was racing. We were almost on the road and outside of the station. The bus slowly and deliberately pulled out of the driveway. I breathed a sigh of relief. I stared out of the window looking at all the snow-covered streets, cars, tree branches, and icicles hanging on house gutters. Florida sun would be a welcome change. I looked at the road behind us for just a minute more. At last, I was headed home leaving Mrs. Roberts behind, hopefully forever.
Cheryl Ann Farrell is a retired business professor and serial entrepreneur. She is a member of two writing groups: Live Poet Society and the Hawaii Writers Guild (HWG). HWG sponsors an annual writers’ competition in which she has won for both poetry and short stories.