The Renaissance Festival is where I found myself and where I lost myself.
There. That’s the dorkiest sentence I’ve ever written.
The foundation of my heart and identity is wrapped up in the turkey leg scented, sun scorched, dusty and gravelly hills of a place out of time. Most of my happiest and saddest stories begin and end at the RenFest.
Usually, my personal stories of pain, twisted up in a self-deprecating, performative fashion that I hope will make you laugh, are my main form of social currency. If I can get the ridiculous and horrible things about me out in front, then no one else has the opportunity to discover them and form an opinion about me worse than the one I already have about myself.
This is all to say that I went to the Renaissance Festival today as a patron. I had a wonderful time, watching and cheering on great friends, eating delicious scones, and even petting bunnies. But at the end of the day, I’m still sunburnt and sad.
There have been countless times over the past decade that I’ve felt the desire to sit down and bleed all over my keyboard, spilling out my ye olde guts. But I don’t think that would solve my sadness over this beautiful place. I’m starting to think that some of the genesis of those early wounds is due to my inability to safe guard my own heart.
As a damsel, I felt that I had to be in distress for anyone to notice me. So, I tumbled and yelled all the way down every chance I had. And then I spent years and years ripping off the bandages and bleeding all over again, so that no one had a chance to forget about me.
I don’t know. I feel sad and I feel quiet. I have a lot of stories to tell about the Renaissance Festival, but I’m not ready to tell most of them. So, here’s a little one. One that has a cute little button on it, which is all I have in me today. Here goes.
I was 20 years old, and I was sobbing. The day had barely even started. We’d made it through all the shenanigans of the Front Gate, and now the Festival was open to the public. The sun was shining, and I was wearing tights and a muffin hat, and I was crying my eyes out.
Saturdays, am I right?
It wasn’t really in character for me to be seen bawling in front of patrons, so I ducked behind the fences that separated the staff and actors of the Festival from the guests. This is where you’d see someone decked out in full Elizabethan regalia, but still desperately trying to get signal on their iPhone. This is where the cast members bonded; sharing stories of their day, and making plans to go get Mexican food together at the end of the day. This is where we became friends.
Sometimes this is where we fell in love.
I didn’t especially want to be seen by anyone backstage that morning, but luck wasn’t on my side. One of the stage show performers happened upon my sweaty, damp, doublet-ed self, and took pity on me.
“Hey,” he said. “There’s a tortoise in the back of my girlfriend’s truck. Do you want to see it?”
The random, out of nowhere specificity of this offer almost made me forget all my troubles. And yes. Yes, I really wanted to see that tortoise.
Looking back, I think it was probably a gopher tortoise or something similar, given its size. I don’t know why it was in the back of a pick-up truck that hot morning, just out of sight of vendors selling broadswords and deep fried mushrooms. But there he was. Just sort of shuffling along.
At that point, I didn’t really know why I was there either. The current purpose of my Renaissance existence was so far removed from why I had come to the Festival in the first place that I barely recognized myself. Just sort of shuffling along in the gravel, kicking up dust and tears.
I looked for a while at that tortoise. I thanked my Fairy Travelling RenFest Performer Godfather. I refilled my tankard with Gatorade. I walked backwards in time, and plastered a smile on my ruined face.
Sometimes you still have a job to do even when all you want is to curl up and die. Sometimes there’s a tortoise around who can boost your spirits a little, and sometimes there isn’t.
These days at the Renaissance Festival, there’s a little booth devoted to rescued reptiles. Today, amid the cacophony of already familiar scents, sights, tastes, touches, and heart trembles, there was once again a tortoise. This time a perfect, little pancake tortoise, shuffling around in the water.
Life is weird, and life is random, and sometimes the only thing that can get you through a very specific Renaissance Festival-related version of post-traumatic stress disorder is the sight of a little shelled reptile just trying to make its own way in this bizarre world.
Just like I was on that day almost eight years ago, I’m still sad, even though looking at the tortoise made me pretty happy. Honestly, I don’t know what my point is here. I think it’s that, eight years after that first tortoise sighting, I’m still willing to tread what feels like very treacherous ground for me. The allure of a tortoise pulls stronger on me than the fear of my phantoms does, and I think I’m proud of myself for that.
I got all those initial wounds off of which I couldn’t stop ripping bandages by falling down. But I still have blood to spill because I keep getting back up.
When you can’t run, walk. When you can’t walk, crawl. And when you can’t even crawl, shuffle.
The reptile pictured for this post is an iguana named Phil. I was very taken by his hat.