When I was growing up, my mom was sick. I don’t mean physically. She was sick as in funny in the head. Sometimes cruel, sometimes just plain weird. As sick as my mom was, my father was just as stable. He worked long hours so my mom could stay at home with my brothers and me. As children, the rhythm of our day to day activities was dictated by the whims of her psyche. It all seemed normal in that I knew nothing different, but it was tinged with a suspicion that other kids’ mommies didn’t act like this.
Life was funny strange, but also funny ha ha. Because back then, in a world often scary and unpredictable, I was a chronic giggler. It wasn’t hard to get me started, and when Dad was home he would clown for me just to hear those squeals. But mostly my laughter came at tense moments.
At Thanksgiving one year, my mother took the occasion of a lack of cranberry sauce to ask God, out loud, why our family was on the verge of collapse. One of my brothers braved the ensuing silence to request butter for a crescent roll. I responded by crying out “Butter!” while milk shot through my nose.
Butter itself is not very funny. In fact, one thing that chronic gigglers everywhere know is that after a while, humor is beside the point. Laughter creates its own inertia. That inertia carried me through a troubled childhood. When mundane crises cropped up it was my mother’s cue to breakdown. It was my cue to just start laughing. Those ringing peals tumbling forth from me were the perfect insulation. I couldn’t feel anything. I was incapacitated by giggles.
In my late teens, my parents split up and I became prone to dark moods. My dad, in an attempt to end my perpetual frowning would ask, “remember what you used to say? Just laugh about it!” I would roll my eyes and stalk off- another teenager convinced she was misunderstood.
It wasn’t until graduate school that I rediscovered my belief in uncontrolled laughter. Near tears after a difficult week, I called a friend. As the stories of rejected applications and harsh professors poured out, I felt that wild tickle rising in me. I started laughing. And giggling. And then I couldn’t stop. Soon we were trading volleys of guffaws and hiccups over the phone line. After a long absence I was back in that familiar place, where things are neither dire nor doomed, but everything is just, well, funny. When we finally wound down I reentered reality red faced, but in a place far away from defeat. From this place, after laughter, I could start to build my world back up again.
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