The other night, a series of things happened that made me laugh until I cried. I don’t mean a chuckle, I mean tears streaming down my face to the point that my eyes got all puffy afterwards and it looked like I was having an allergic reaction of sorts. These things that made me laugh so hard weren’t even all that funny — a message I sent to Scott in our usual lazy habit of texting each other when I am upstairs already in bed and his night owl self is still downstairs watching television. It was merely an unfortunate autocorrect, but had me laughing so hard that Scott texted back to me “Is that you upstairs…laughing?”
He wasn’t sure if it was laughter he was hearing through the ceiling or if I was sobbing.
I’m not sure if that says more about what my laugh sounds like — though maybe all hysterics sound alike at a certain pitch and intensity — or if that kind of laughter just sounds, well, somewhat foreign in our home.
Don’t get me wrong — we laugh around here. It is over something silly the kids do, or one of Scott’s deadpan comments, dripping with sarcasm. There are smiles that deepen those well-earned lines around my mouth along with the creases next to my eyes. They are the signs of aging that do not frighten me because their provenance has been so difficult to come by the past five years.
Much like the oft-referred to “good cry”, I think I needed this uncontrollably laughing fit. I needed to let this out, and I was surprised at how it got away from me, how I had absolutely no control over stopping. Once I got started, I barely had control over not peeing (thanks, kids).
But after a while, after I was exhausted and had finally lay down in bed, thoughts began swirling in my head and I realized something that I hadn’t consciously acknowledged before — that kind of silliness, the maniacal laughter, it felt foreign to me. It was like an old friend who you run into, whose face is familiar, but who you still utterly can’t place.
This actually happens to me constantly, the most memorable being “Famous Tom”, in an incident about ten years ago that Scott still teases me about to this day. I was in the drugstore downstairs from our apartment building when we lived in Manhattan, and I saw someone down one of the aisles whose face I knew I had seen before, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out where. He was tall and at least two decades older than me, in his late forties or early fifties with graying hair at his temples and good looking in that distinguished sort of way. I was on the phone with Scott at the time, who was on his way home from work, asking him what else we needed from the store aside from the batteries and shampoo I had in my basket. I told him about the man.
“I think he’s famous or something, because I definitely know him, but he’s much older than me, so I know we didn’t go to school or camp together or anything. Maybe he’s on Law & Order.”
Every actor that’s ever even visited New York has been on Law & Order. I believe it’s some sort of Screen Actor’s Guild Law.
I finished up at the drugstore and ran across the street to grab a few last minute groceries, still trying to place where I had seen that man before, and walked the block home to our apartment building. As I stepped through the doors, Scott had also just entered the lobby, and greeted the doorman that was on duty as he always did.
I looked up to see the very same face I had been ruminating about for the past half hour. I hadn’t been able to place him because he wasn’t wearing his uniform, the only outfit I had ever seen him in for the four years I had known him. I sheepishly squeaked this out to Scott in the elevator, and “Famous Tom” was born, along with yet another comedy bit for Scott to add to his arsenal of ridiculous things I had said and done over the years.
And we laughed. We laughed so, so hard about this. About the silliness of it all. About how foreign someone can look to us — even someone you see on a daily basis — when they are out of the element that you are used to seeing them in.
And this is how the sort of laughter I experienced the other night seems to me now. Foreign. Like someone I used to know, but is now unfamiliar — somewhere on the periphery of my memory.
And I shared this incident with a few friends who I knew would get the hilarity of this simple autocorrect silliness. We texted and laughed and took the joke further, then too far to the point way past appropriate, and laughed some more. And I knew I had told the right friends about it because they took it too far. And it felt good. So, so good.
Because it has been so long since I allowed myself to really connect with my friends about the good. Since I felt something less than guilty for enjoying my life, for smiling and laughing without the weight of all that we have gone through in the past half-decade strapped to my back like some piece of luggage stuffed full of emotional rocks.
For so long now, I have felt as though I could only hold on to people with the negative things — emotions like fear, and sadness, and grief. I was frightened to let the light in. I thought that I wasn’t allowed, that I needed to remain cloaked in the darkness, that it was the right thing to do. It felt wrong — inappropriate somehow — to enjoy life while my children were struggling, while so much of the future remained bleak, and then even after it improved to merely “unclear”.
I was scared that I would be judged for laughing, that perhaps I would have cosmic points deducted for smiling. I was guilty of much of that judging myself, thinking that I was a horrible person, worrying that I was the kind of mother that I had been raised by — quite literally my greatest fear. And yet I cracked jokes because gallows humor is the way that I cope — deflecting from the fear and the pain on the surface so no one can see what is stewing beneath.
But those friends were there laughing and joking with me, and it felt the opposite of wrong. And I smiled when I saw my puffy eyes reflected in the mirror — because it had been a long time since I had cried that hard with a smile on my face.
I realized the other night that crying feels like holding on and laughter feels like letting go.
And I am ready to let go.