I wake early on a Saturday morning and the house feels wrong. Dad is home and the phone keeps ringing and the neighbors are here and no one is talking when I enter the kitchen. Before I get a chance to explore the cereal cabinet my father takes me by the arm and leads me into the basement. Anxiety radiates though his hand. Frothy bubbles start growing in my stomach.
He tells me someone close to us has died. The bubbles expand and surge up into my throat. I try to hold them down as my father, only in his mid-forties and still relatively inexperienced with death, tries to explain tragedy to his teen-aged daughter. My jaw tightens. I can’t hold it in, my mouth forms a smile and the bubbles escape as giggles. My father, enraged at my inappropriate response, steps away from me. Giggles become laughter. He is not a hitter, but I can see the twitch in his right shoulder. It doesn’t upset me; I want to slap myself. But I can’t stop laughing.
My boyfriend walks into my office, laughing so hard he can hardly breathe. He collapses into a chair and recovers long enough to tell me the hysterical thing he has just seen. A video of someone in the middle of a speech, falling over backwards into a buffet table.
I don’t laugh. I don’t even smile. He is disappointed. I am thinking of the effort that went into making all the food, and about how embarrassed the man must feel. My boyfriend points out that the man is laughing along with everyone else. I still don’t find it funny.
My sister and I are on the floor with her kids, playing with legos. I put a headless mini-figure onto a horse and have it ride up to the front door of the inn we’ve built.
“Knock, Knock” I call out.
“Yes, who is it?” my sister responds.
“The headless horseman. Can you direct me to your handicap parking?”
My sister and I spend the next twenty minutes laughing uncontrollably, rolling on the floor, clutching our stomachs. Her kids look on, bemused smiles on their faces, not at all getting the joke. For days and weeks and even years later, if either of us mention “Headless Horseman” the other will say, “Where’s your handicap parking?” And the laughter will begin again.
I’m laughing now as I type this.