Above all, I love to laugh. Well, who doesn’t?
I once embarrassed a whole theater section of students at Stratford. We were watching one of Shakespeare’s comedies. I was rollicking with laughter, tears streaming down my cheeks. They turned as one at my unseemly outburst to reprimand me, their teacher. It’s true, they just didn’t get the joke or understand how hilariously the sight gag echoed the lines. It was probably something about cross-gartering and yellow stockings. But even if they had found it funny, they would never have given in to such gut-wrenching, wholehearted, life-affirming guffaws.
As a young woman I could set a table a-roar. The staff cafeteria at lunch time was all the stage I needed. Hapless administrations feared my satiric tongue. Once for two weeks, I had people weeping with glee – over my ongoing, mishandled root canal.
As a lover of laughter, I was an amateur compared to my younger brother. Now there was a funny man. A funny boy originally, of course, and very annoyingly so. He grew up to travel the world and bring back comic stories of – for example – being jailed in Turkey where feeding prisoners was optional. Doesn’t sound funny. You had to be there.
I fell on tough times.
He and I ended up on a road trip in a restaurant in the Big Sur. I was having some vegetarian meal of rice and soy. He was eating steak. He put down his knife and fork and looked at me.
“What happened to you, Joyce?” he said. “You used to laugh.”
We didn’t find a motel room until after midnight. He came out of the office waving the key.
“I told her you were my sister,” he called. “I think she believed me.” He was so overcome with his own wit, he could barely get the words out.
I gave up vegetarianism. I gave up meditating. I gave up spiritualism.
Last Thursday, I listened to Dr. Ford describing a sexual assault she endured. A senator on the Supreme Court Confirmation Committee asked her what the most compelling memory of the incident was. She replied, “The laughter”.
I fell into a quiet study. I declined hourly into a deeper and deeper depression. I began to lose track of myself. I spent Saturday in such dissociation that I couldn’t even binge watch Netflix. I wasn’t sure who I was.
And all the while, I heard the laughter. Not her assailants’ laughter but my own. A lone assailant doesn’t laugh.
Sunday, it occurred to me to cry. That was a breakthrough. It perked me up.
Just as I got myself functioning enough to go to Whole Foods, my brother Face-timed me from Brussels. He was sitting on the bench on the sidewalk in front of his house, smoking a joint. He was wearing a red t-shirt that said, “Beast”. He told me a story about weevils and moths and smoke grenades to get rid of them and could they actually be in his Oreos – he had just eaten three and forgot to check. But Yagoda, his Polish cleaner, whose name means Blueberry, would come and fix it. And as he talked, I remembered to chuckle just a little.
Here was a man who could fall off a ladder, break both feet and laugh that the plaster casts gave his toes claustrophobia. But then I was the girl who could laugh about a root canal.
I would just like to say – and you know who you are – my laughter is bigger than yours. Love is like that.
See the link for an older, fuller account of the Big Sur incident.