Your Freedom, an Attempt

There was one issue, and it was that you were completely normal.  So Levi Hampton had to improvise.

Your Freedom, an Attempt
Photo by Cyrus Crossan / Unsplash

By Raisa Norberg

YOU are the daughter of two freaks. Which is a fine thing, it’s fine, you were born within a metal cage, and you live among other metal cages, so not to burden society. In fact, you’re  quite a gift, being born into a Freak Show — called a SIDESHOW,  to soften the blow of knowing you’re a freak. But you know. You  were born knowing.  

Your MOTHER had a beard and your FATHER was seven-foot-eight.  You were the first birth within the Sideshow. Manager LEVI HAMPTON didn’t believe the pregnancy would carry through, but  when you landed head-first onto the hay of the cage floor, wailing the sound of life, dollar signs glimmered in his eyes.  

There was one issue, and it was that you were completely normal.  So Levi Hampton had to improvise.  


A hot July day, Clayton, New York, 1847. There’s a crude sign  staked into the grass before the classic red-white striped tent  which reads: A REAL SIGHT FOR THE EYES JUST BEHIND THE TENT!  

CUT TO: behind the tent. YOU are in a wooden crate as an infant,  lying on a thick pile of hay with a cloth blanket over it so not  to irritate you. LEVI HAMPTON is joyously counting money off to  the side while ONLOOKERS stare at you. They’re confused.  

There’s nothing wrong with it. 
It appears to be a normal baby.  

Levi Hampton quickly approaches the increasingly dissatisfied  customers, scrambling for an explanation.  

Well, the thing may look normal, but it’s a product of two freaks. 


The sky is clear and full of stars. Infinite. Your MOTHER and  FATHER are in two different cages, locked shut. LEVI HAMPTON  approaches your mother’s cage, with YOU in his arms. He unlocks  the door and hands you to your mother. You’ll remain with her  only until you’re able to crawl.  


Typical of a mistake; you can’t even birth a  

freak correctly! 

Levi Hampton prayed to his god that you’d develop some appalling  deformity, maybe one enlarged limb, or that your knees would  bend the opposite way like a deer — you could be DEER GIRL, he  thought — or that you wouldn’t grow past three feet tall.  

Nothing of the sort ever happened.  

You were so remarkably average.  

Naturally, this resulted in a biannual inspection; every six  months, you would stand atop a pedestal, and Levi Hampton would  check for any changes in your normality. Perhaps, one day, he  hoped, you would become abnormal.  

But soon you became a healthy, coherent four-year-old, who grew  at a normal pace, and whose joints bent correctly.  


A June evening, Upper West Side, New York, 1854. There have got  to be at least five hundred PEOPLE under the tent — more than  you’ve seen in your life. It’s New York City, after all.  

This is different, though. None of your walking around the  grounds, looking into the cages. These people are seated,  looking towards one sole object: Your MOTHER.  

YOU peek through the slit where two curtains meet, at your  mother who stands on a platform. LEVI HAMPTON is pointing at her  with a wooden cane. 

And here she is… winning by a landslide by you, the voters… keeping with the gift of Democracy… your very own Freak of the Year! 

Nobody applauds for this notable achievement. They point, laugh,  whistle, and shout insults at your mother. And yet, your mother  stands there, this proud grin on her face. You, a seven-year old, conscious, cannot understand why she’d be so happy.  


YOU lay in your cage and stare at the cold metal roof. Your  MOTHER’s cage is beside yours.  

Why were you so happy to be laughed at? 
They’re not laughing at me, they’re laughing with me. I’m a freak. They love me. I bring them joy.  That’s what freaks are for. 

But you know that those laughs were not shared. They were not  from a place of love. You want to shout at her for thinking that  those people liked her. So you keep staring at the metal roof,  and for a moment, you feel a twinge of unbearable heaviness  within your soul. Maybe it was just a stomachache. Granted, you  were malnourished.  

You never viewed your parents or other SIDESHOW EXHIBITS as  freaks. Maybe because this was all you knew. This was normal.  You failed to see a difference between yourself and the family  forced upon you — the TATTOOED LADY, the SHORTEST MAN IN THE  WORLD, the WEREWOLF, the CONJOINED TWINS, SKELETON MAN, and on  and on. As far as you were concerned, these freaks were your  equals.  

Then you turned sixteen, and you noticed that you looked just  like the other GIRLS that would stare at you through the bars of  your cage. 

And you began to wonder why you were in a cage. And you sulked  as the VIEWERS stood before you, their heads tilted in  perplexity, trying to figure out what exactly made you a freak. 


A sunny day in May, Bennington, Vermont, 1864. YOU have upgraded  from a floor of hay to a floor of hay with a wooden stool for  you to sit on. You sit there on that wooden stool, sullen,  staring at the floor so not to look in the eyes of the GIRLS who  look like you.  

You feel them staring. 

I don’t understand.  

The girls come closer to you, wrapping their hands around the  cage bars. As if about to pry them open and let you out.  

Why, she looks like any ol’ regular girl! 
What’s the big idea? Are they insisting that teen girls are freaks? 

Quickly, LEVI HAMPTON hurries to your cage after overhearing  their outbursts.  

No, teen girls aren’t freaks! She’s just a special case. She’s… she’s a lunatic.  

Suddenly frightened, the girls release their grasps on the bars  and flee from your cage.  


A wide open field. The cages are parked along the tree line that  begins the deep, dark woods. The sky is clear. So many stars  that it’s impossible to count them all. It’s endless, infinite,  beckoning. 

The moon is full and shining down upon the cages and the dark  green grass, adding a blueish hue to the earth. YOU stand behind  your cage, upon a pedestal, for your biannual inspection of  anticipated abnormality. You’re in only your cotton nightgown as  LEVI HAMPTON inspects you. He becomes aggravated as he realizes  that there will never be anything visibly wrong with you.  

Leave it to two freaks of nature to create a perfectly normal child.  

He gives up and paces around, and you look upwards, half  expecting the cold roof. Instead, your floored by the stars that  swallow you. One of them moves, flying away to a different  place.  

Something in you changes.  

You wonder where the star is going.  

That was your last inspection. Levi Hampton knew that you’d  never develop a freakish trait. Of course, that meant that you  were virtually ignored by him — you had nothing to offer for his  sideshow.  

But you could dance.  

You found out one summer night by the fire, when all of the  freaks gathered around to sing and play instruments,  congregating behind the cages for their few hours of false  freedom. It was after you saw that shooting star that you began  figuring out the capacity of your existence.  

Frankly, you were the greatest dancer within a fifty mile  radius, everywhere you went. You could move to any rhythm and  keep up with any tempo change, waving your limbs, twirling and  relinquishing your free will to the music. Perhaps your abandon  was freakish in itself.  

And your forced family would howl with joy, encouraging you to  keep moving, liberate yourself through movement, feel something  for those couple of hours. They might have been freaks, but they  loved you. 

It didn’t matter, though. You didn’t love them back. You couldn't.  

For nights, particularly during travel, when Levi Hampton was at  the front of the cage train, you practiced picking the lock of  your cage. At first, you figured you’d pick everyone’s locks,  and you’d all escape the captivity and forced spectacle that  Levi Hampton imposed. Becoming increasingly aware of how much of  a non-freak you were — of how disgustingly average, how  nauseatingly ordinary you were — you decided that you were the  only one who deserved to break free.  

The freaks were the idle stars in the sky, while you were the  one flying to an undetermined location.  

In the June of your seventeenth year, you decided you’d escape.  One time — this memory you had repressed — the WEREWOLF made an  escape in the middle of the night. Levi Hampton heard the ruckus  of it all, stepped out of his wagon, and shot him dead. Werewolf  was buried in an unnamed field in Rochester.  

You backed into the corner when Levi Hampton arrived. He gave  you a stern look as he turned the key.  

When he stepped into his wagon, you picked the lock. Carefully  you stepped out, the dewy grass coming in contact with your  warm skin.  


A warm — not humid — June night, Cranston, Rhode Island, 1865.  YOU are quietly about to step away from this misery for the rest  of your life.  

Oh! You, there! 

Annoyed, you go to your MOTHER. She’s holding onto the bars of  the cage. By the light of the moon can you see her pleading  eyes.  

Take your mother with you.
Keep quiet, I can’t get caught.  
(increasing volume) 
You cannot leave me here. I deserve to be free, too! 
(becoming distraught) 
Be quiet! Please, be quiet!  
You will really abandon your own mother

LEVI HAMPTON steps out of his wagon, gun in hands. You look him directly in the eyes. 

I knew you were up to something.  

He points and shoots. You duck and survive. You look at your mther, who does not feel remorse for being so loud that you almost get shot in front of her. Dormant resentment surfaces as  you narrow your eyes at her — all of this in a moment, but what  felt like a lifetime.  

I hate you, you freak.  

Levi Hampton has reloaded his gun just as you take off into the  woods.  

You’ll never see these people again for as long as you live.  You are free. 

Despite your newfound freeness, something was wrong. PEOPLE were  looking at you strangely, and you began to look around  desperately for a reflective surface, fearing that some  deformity developed between the time you escaped and the time  you arrived in Downtown Providence, Rhode Island.

You were probably receiving odd looks because you had strictly a  cotton nightgown on, no shoes, and severely knotted hair. You  never assumed this. You always assumed that there actually was something wrong with you. 

You landed in a VAUDEVILLIAN THEATER. The stage was vacant, and  the HOUSE MANAGER was allowing people to go up and present their  talent. Naturally, for the desire to be accepted by normal  society — and to prove something to yourself — you timidly  stepped up, requested music, and began to dance.  

At first, the THEATERGOERS didn’t pay much attention to you. You  gestured to the band to speed up the tempo. The faster it got,  the more you flailed, the better you felt. The thought of  becoming accepted left your mind. All that mattered was the  music. You had no idea that EVERYONE was watching you, worried  that you’d become possessed, until they realized you were  keeping time with the music. You stopped, swiped your hair from  your face, and looked out into the CROWD.  

Silence. Painful, prolonged silence.  

Then, applause. A wave of cheers, howls of delight, whistling,  all for you. Your face began to ache; you’d never smiled so  hard.  

These were not jabs at you; this was a shared moment. You were  not a spectacle, but instead, a work of art.  

In a moment of bashfulness, you looked down. At your feet lied a  single rose.  

You got picked up by BRIGHAM JOHNSON and his traveling TROUPE of  VAUDEVILLIANS. They were ordinary, but overwhelmingly talented people, like yourself. Perhaps you were not so sickeningly ordinary after all.  

That night, you took off with the the troupe in two shared  wagons, with no locks, and no cold metal. Though under a canvas, you stuck your head out of the wagon and stared up at the night  sky. Infinite. You really were free. 

But you were still a freak. You would always be a freak. 

Raisa Norberg is a comedy writer and history major. She lives in Rhode Island.