I am 14 when the seniors begin calling.
I pull the spiral phone cord all the way down the hall into my bedroom. I sit on the thick blue carpet and lean against the wall. I giggle. These are men and I am a girl.
I am both fascinated and horrified. I am an itch they need to scratch before heading off to parts unknown after baseball season, after graduation. It is not unwanted attention, but it is confusing attention. I like it, but I am nervous. I laugh a lot, lilting notes that float out my window into spring. I tilt my head back, revealing my smooth neck to no one and that helps.
There is a teacher at school who makes comments about my breasts. It is in passing, barely audible, under his breath and quick, but I hear it. I learn to take a different route, the longer one, through the math wing just to get to Earth Science.
I laugh them off, the remarks, because perverts are common and it is the 80s. I laugh and whisper about it with my Sweet 16 Girlfriends, because it is just a weird thing, a thing that happens. Men are men, you see. And it is, apparently, proof I am attractive.
I have no ammunition to combat his piercing, suspended words, his exhaled, passive assault, not even my own pubescent voice, so I don’t. I don’t make waves, I don’t blow the words back at him.
I laugh instead. I laugh even though it’s not funny.
There are many who know what happened to me when I was six. No need to discuss it more except to say it forever changed me and I am indeed quite different now. Having “done the work” to burn my flame-retardant crutches and dissolve those decades of detrimental coping mechanisms, the residue still lingers, like dust on a shelf, like un-scrubbable, permanent rings around a drain. It’s as present as disrupted landscape forever altered by some seismic, catastrophic shift. I’ve moved on though, and I lug the debris with me as I move, pieces falling off here and there. It is lighter these days, but there is no laughter resting inside that bag.
No laughter there at all.
I am 10, and a neighbor is obsessed. He’s a weirdo. He openly flirts as the back of my neck gets hot. I have no idea what to say or do so I keep making my Snoopy latch hook rug while he stares, while he bores holes into my back. It is something I will joke about later with the neighborhood girls. “That weirdo.” I will mock and scoff, but in the moment, I am afraid because I know.
But then here I am, just 26 years old with a tiny baby boy nestled squarely in my arms. And my face is red from the rush of it, the excavation, and I am damp from the work, I am exhausted and torn apart, and I am disappointed because the birth didn’t happen the natural way, and though I wrestle with my feelings a bit, and though I feel “less than” a real woman who can birth a baby the natural way, I am happy it’s a wrap. Mostly, I am relieved.
And I am crying and laughing at the same time and unbeknownst to me this will become commonplace, the crying and laughing; it will just be who I am and how I am as I embark upon that rocky, tripping trail to the base of Motherhood Mountain.
Because laughing through tears is part of being a mother.
“She’s a little too fat for my taste,” the dirt bag says to his buddy as I pour out their coffee in the diner where I work when I am 15. He smirks, and breathes through his nose, avoiding eye contact because he’s being cruel. The buddy laughs and hits his arm. They are gross and this much I know, but the word “fat” reverberates and echoes inside my brain for days and days. It buzzes for years and years. In fact, I can still hear it. But, truth be told, I do laugh now.
I laugh because I know he saw something shiny, he saw me blooming, ever-out, ever forward, strong in my dewy youth, unfurling like magic, and he couldn’t touch it, he couldn’t even get close to it, to me, so bright I was, so bright he simply had to act like he didn’t really want it, like he was in charge, like his opinion actually mattered.
Ah, f*ck you, I finally say out loud to him 40 years later. F*ck you, f*ck you, f*ck you, dude.
Rolling around, I am 13. Designer jeans and feathered hair. My body is busting out and I like the changes I see when I examine myself naked. I feel curvy and rounded in lots of different places though my legs are scissors, they are stilts, and I am as wobbly as a new born foal. Wet behind the ears but head-banging to REO Speedwagon and Loverboy in my cool skates. I am fun and bubbly. I am smiling for my friend’s flashy Minolta. We laugh raucously at each other, silly vibes ricocheting around the rink. We collapse into a booth.
We laugh inside our innocence.
I am 21, and I am drinking champagne, and I am getting too drunk, even for me. I am lit and brilliant and cracking memorable, off-the-cuff jokes, just straight up killer material left and right. It’s a night to remember, and damn it, I wish I could remember more, but that’s showbiz baby.
We laugh as we tumble back to our off-campus house, our house on the quiet lake in a tiny town, the place where we became as close as sisters. And together we laugh like this, to this very day.
I am a woman, you see, and laughter is part of the gig. To snuff it out is to cage a bird.
I am a still-standing woman…still laughing, too.
And yes, it’s a goddamn miracle I do.