I’ve always laughed at the wrong times. When I didn’t get the joke, or when I thought there was a joke but there really wasn’t, or when I was nervous and didn’t know what to say. Not just a petite giggle, but a big, snorty, I-lost-my-chess-board-and-pocket-protector, kick-me-I’m-a-dweeb guffaw. Aside from being an anxious tic, I guess much of the time, humor, inappropriate as it may seem to anyone else, is the saliva that lets me continue masticating what would otherwise be either inscrutable or intolerable– and maybe those boundaries encircle a lot more mental territory for me than for most.
So still, when I’m regurgitating some of my more troubled past and trying to find ways to process and excrete it in language, I often reflexively search for humor to guide me, and when I can find it, I feel reassured that some important part of me is still whole.
This relief happened yesterday when I actually began to laugh aloud about a conversation I remembered from my first boyfriend.
Him: You can’t see [x] outside of class anymore. You spent the whole evening ogling over him.
Me: You don’t ogle “over” someone. You just ogle them. No preposition.
Him: Shut up, you know what I mean. You fucking fought me to sit by him.
It hasn’t been very often, because they’ve both left me so much anger in my life, that either of my long-term relationships has offered me any levity. But, suddenly occurring to me ten years after it happened, the circumferential absurdity of this exchange, and the degree to which it comprised a ten-second abridgment of our subsequent seven-year entanglement, left me in stitches. But it didn’t get my writing, perhaps because I have trouble believing it could be as funny to anyone else as it is to me.
What it did accomplish, though, was encouraging me to notice and follow a friend’s link to HuffPost’s [cue patronizing stressed-mommy voice] “reporting” [yes it was worth it to do that voice just for that word, thanks] on a dump list that they coolly, professionally dub “the Ultimate Burn,” and which, they tell us, in case we didn’t notice, is “Funny.” [BREAKing news, everyone. Haha, I should send that one to George Takei.]
Despite looking as authentic as a moustachioed Mona Lisa, this list got a few snickers from me, not really because of the absurdity of the charges but the opposite, because every single person both commits and is irritated by those same sorts of trivialities, and yet they really are not trivial, because over such specks, multiplied by time and love-klutziness, do so many couples actually go splits. That was the kernel of tragic irony required to transform this banal hack into something worth being amused with.
I concluded that it would be funnier to have a list in a similar style, but with the more bizarrely, arbitrarily personal textures that only come bona fide. And why not? Dear gods, it became clear to me long before we broke up that my abusive partner M. was patently the most absurd entity in the cosmos, and you know it can be delicious when something you conned yourself into desiring– like a kiss from someone who doesn’t smell bad, or a Pier One gift card– turns out to be really cringeworthy, and you get to make fun of Old Dumb You of 9 days ago for being such an obvious tard, when New Hip/Savvy You can see instantly all the reasons why it was such stupid idea. Especially when you are having coffee with someone and you lower your voice to whisper, “You know how s/he used to [do some ridiculous thing]? I was always so mortified about that, but I didn’t want to tell anyone. But isn’t that just the dumbest thing you ever saw anyone do?!”
So I set out to make a list of accurate but sardonic reasons why I left. My goal was twenty, but I didn’t number them. The first few were easy:
You think having known someone from a foreign country makes you an expert on their language.
You roasted your ex’s fashion sense, but you always look like a bloated schizophrenic hobo clown.
You use so much hair product that your shoulders are snow-capped all year round.
You loved to play Mr. Fancy Chef, but you thought that dill pickles are made of pickled dill.
You think you’re such a fabulous stage actor, but you can’t even play the part of yourself from one day to the next.
As you can see in the last example, before I even realized it was happening, the snarky little salty morsels started growing larger and tougher, and when I read back over each one, the sensation I felt in my gut was not about laughter, but about bracing– to stay standing, maybe, or against a blow– both reasonable assumptions. But now I felt driven. There had to be a way to continue finding the hilarity as a nice strong sidecar for the pain. So I kept on, but my pulse was beating my temples, and even my handwriting smoothly shifted from tidy and leisurely to slanted slop. They begin to read, not as punchlines, but as premises for manifestos.
You told me I “couldn’t” drink cola with our afternoon cheese and biscuits, because Experts say those flavors just can’t go together. You made us fight about this and put the blame on me… yet you hate avocados and drink bottled coffee creamer as a “milkshake.”
You didn’t want to kiss me with my morning breath, but since you were fat and always filthy, you constantly reeked of ass and cheap room deodorizer.
You thought you were such a splendiferous chef and wanted to make your “secret scone recipe” (which had you lapsing into nigh on Georgian poesy about exploding butter and molecular gastronomy) almost every day, but they were always burned or were raw or didn’t rise or were hard as rocks. You tried to “teach” me how to make them but of course I could never get it right. What I didn’t tell you while you were fishing for compliments was that even when you were happier with them, your “secret” scones tasted like raw flour seasoned with baking soda, scavenged from a hospital waste incinerator.
You got pissy at me for having computer trouble, but because you thought you had to build a showy grandiose Power User rig, while constantly drunk or drugged, you didn’t manage to even have a functioning computer the majority of the time, and you couldn’t even keep your telephone working because you always tripped over it like the graceless, intoxicated sloth you are and either broke the cord or pulled it off the hook. Smooth, lover, reaaaal smooth.
By this point I was in full gear. I wasn’t even trying to laugh. I wasn’t even thinking about anyone ever reading what I said. Frankly, I was picturing Lisbeth Salander tattooing “Sadist Pig” on her rapist’s torso, and thinking that I’d tattoo it on his fucking face instead. On his eyelids. Under his fingernails. And I’d find a way to make the words– not mirthful, not even sneering, because that would be too kind, but hateful, wanting so badly to be hurtful– into charges that I could cram down your hideous throat until you choked, until you broke and confessed without inhibition, with total self-loathing, to every way you ever hurt me. And then I’d detonate the charges. Short of that opportunity, all I wanted was to find words violent enough to validate those overpowering sentiments: “See? It was really that bad. He really is that bad.” Like trying on a pair of jeans for someone just to demonstrate conclusively that they can not be zipped.
You always have to be the best at everything. You don’t know how to have a relationship with anyone because you’re too busy trying to make them fear you. The only way you know to be valued by others is to make yourself indispensable to vulnerable younger women and gay men, under a tasteful veil of platonic affection, by playing messiah so that you can soon use your unflagging “help” and “support” (even when it wasn’t wanted and was frankly ignorant) as leverage when you are manipulating their lives. Even when someone is explaining something TO YOU, you have to find your sociopathic ways of remaining in rigid control of the exchange, staying aloof enough that people can’t forget that they are be granted the privilege of surrendering their mere mortal insights, which you would have arrived at instantaneously anyhow if you cared enough to devote a brain cell to the topic, to your superior intellect for rejection or development. Because if people didn’t feel like they had to have you there, none of them would keep choosing you, because they’d realize what a miserable, wretched, black-hearted, pathetic little cunt you are. That’s why you always have to have the upper hand. Because if you stop being saint and possessor for one instant, you become human, and in the mimetic you become comical, and intimate respect can only withstand this inevitable comedy when its core is an emotional partnership so mortally serious, intense and obdurate that the bustle of daily use can not deface it. And since you contain no such substance beneath your all-consuming Cleverness and Erudition, you have the capacity for no such substantive connection, so that minute you stop appearing to be a suave, misunderstood English scholar and reveal yourself as a lumpy, waddling little prat, the gig is up. You have all the relationship skills and emotional maturity of Rousseau, topped off with even more douchiness, which I never thought possible. All of your life is, and always will be, a lie, the saddest and stupidest lie in the world– the pretense of being a person, when all you have inside is an abyss that you cram with booze and codependency. You got your pdocs to dx you with DID, a.k.a. dissociative identity/multiple personalities/ the most specious diagnosis known to modern medicine– but in reality you don’t even have one personality. You just have a hunger and an aggression, no more or less than a desperate exiled wolf. I wish I could tell the world, stay the fuck away from [name], because whatever he paints for you is a fraud, and he will leave you emptied and depleted, physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, monetarily, only to move on to fresh pickings. I wish I could video you like The Silence, advising their occupied subjects to kill them on sight. Because I have no question in my mind that that is what I would do to you, if the consequences were feasible. I would cull you from this world where you have no purpose but to sew distress and propagate your parasitic cruelty.
Wow. I’m still feeling uncomfortable about the length of that passage– both the idea of posting it here, unabridged, and in the simple fact that I had THAT MUCH to say with virtually no time or effort. I thought, though, that it would be worth sharing in its entirety because I don’t know any way to condense the number of thoughts that gnaw my brain about that subject. And I’m not laughing.
I’m not crying, either– I so nearly never do nowadays. I am just not here right now. I haven’t found a way to integrate my experience and interpretation of this personal crisis into an ironic awareness, even a tragic one. It still stands alone, looming even among a lifetime of invisible frustration, as a brief time of some of the most intense suffering and loss I have ever endured. It’s not a scar to display yet, and I don’t know when or if it will be. It still opens straight into my assorted cavities and sweetmeats, and when I go there, I don’t know how to come back.
I am very willing to laugh at things that make most people uncomfortable– and even, sometimes, when they make me uncomfortable. To me, humour means letting go a little bit and willing to say, or hear, things with which we wouldn’t normally know how to connect, because they’re fed to us in a context where laughter is, by default, an appropriate response. That said, not all offensive jokes are funny. People forget that funny sometimes hangs out with offensive but isn’t its whore, and that sometimes, things that are shocking are also just dumb. And sometimes, when I start out joking but forget to laugh, it’s because no matter its pithiness, the payoff wasn’t really amusing at all.