Laughing Ace

"I am laughing in the rain" Photo by Alon CC BY 2.0

My name is Galaxy Fiona Adonis and I was born with the superpower of laughter. Don’t get me wrong, I still screamed my head off when I popped into the world. And like any other baby I cried when I was hungry, tired, pooping, scared, cold, or sick. But once the initial shock of being ejected from my mother’s birth canal wore off, I spent most of my time giggling and smiling.

“You were an unusually good-natured baby,” Mom recounts.

One of Dad’s favorite stories is how Uncle Pieter drove down for a visit when I was six weeks old. Uncle Pieter isn’t a supervillain, but if he was he’d be named Captain Crabcakes. He notoriously told Aunt Melinda that their children were “hideous” when they were born.

So Dad didn’t take it personally when Uncle Pieter peered into my crib and sort of grunted. They went into the living room for a chat while Mom fed me the good stuff. Then she left for an errand, plopping me in Uncle Pieter’s lap while Dad was grabbing smoking-hot ginger beers from the refrigerator. When Dad went back to the living room, he stopped dead in the doorway, mouth wide open. There sat Uncle Pieter grinning from ear to ear while I babbled and smiled and waved my arms in his face.

On his way out the door, Uncle Pieter told Mom I was “delightful.”

My cousins hate me a bit because of that story. But I can still get a smile out of Uncle Pieter when no one else can. I call it the first manifestation of my superpower destiny.

I was four months old when I laughed for the first time. It was a Saturday. Dad and Mom and I were eating a late breakfast. Infant cereal for me, avocado jalapeño frittatas for them. Dad reached across the table for a pomelo slice and bumped the coffee creamer with his elbow. It gushed everywhere. Mom rocketed out of her chair with a surprised yell. Dad lunged for the napkins. And that’s where they both froze mid-motion: Mom on her feet with her hands thrown up, Dad a picture of comic shock.

What stopped them in their tracks? My first laugh. It was a musical, merry peal that went on and on and on. My face scrunched up, my fists waved up and down, and dribbles of coffee creamer patted onto the floor.

Mom and Dad un-froze. But instead of madly cleaning up, they looked at me and laughed and laughed and laughed.

Ever since that day I’ve been infecting people with the chuckles. Little ones, big ones, snorts, guffaws, and rib-cracking gasps. But it wasn’t until kindergarten that I learned laughter could be used as a weapon. A kid named Polo bopped me on the nose at recess and tried to steal my Easter candy. Guess what I did? I laughed at him – high, uncontrolled shrieks that Dad would have known meant I was butt-scared. But Polo didn’t know. His face went white, his fists uncurled. He screamed “crazy freak” at me, then ran for his life.

My superpower got out of control for a while after that. I laughed when I got answers right, I laughed when I got them wrong. I laughed when I was sick with a cold, when I skinned my knee, when I burned my finger on a hot pan. I laughed at the neighbor’s cat, at cartoons, at Mom dancing with spatulas. I laughed when Ina put a fake snake in Kaya’s locker, and when Polo fell off his skateboard and got a black eye.

And I laughed for four hours on the February afternoon in fourth grade when my buddy Shem was diagnosed with leukemia.

Dad held me while tears streamed down my face and the laughter turned to pain in my chest.

When I stopped, I stopped out of pure exhaustion. I felt empty and weak. My voice had turned to a rasp. Mom put cream on my chafed cheeks and a cucumber slice on each eye. She and Dad held me between them, rocking me back and forth, back and forth, until I fell asleep.

The next day I felt a hollow place behind my ribs. I looked in the mirror and lifted the corners of my lips, but it took massive effort. I couldn’t smile. And the face in the mirror looked like something cut out of paper, wan and translucent. I slipped down the stairs to the kitchen and stood in the doorframe. Mom and Dad sat at the table, sipping coffee. Mom was reading a book. She lifted her mug to her lips between pages. Dad nibbled on a pencil while he worked on a crossword puzzle. They looked up and saw me at the same moment. Just looked. But I knew they saw what I’d seen in the mirror.

My superpower? Vanished.

For five and a half weeks I didn’t smile, giggle, snort, chuckle, or laugh. I answered my teacher politely. I came down with a cold and lay on the couch eating cough drops and blowing my nose. Cartoons lost their charm. I didn’t even grin when Ina put a fake ice cube with a bug in it in Kaya’s juice.

At the end of March Mom and Dad took me to visit Shem. He gave me a sharpie and made me write a joke on his bald head. We played four-in-a-row and snacked on pretzels. He smiled nonstop. He flicked pretzels at my head and made me blow up balloons. When I made them fart, he laughed so hard he snorted.

When Mom and Dad went to buy something from the café, Shem lay back on his pillows. He grinned at me. I didn’t grin back.

“You worried?” he asked.

I shrugged.

Shem grinned wider. “Don’t be.”

“How do you know?”

“Because,” said Shem. Then he burst out laughing. He laughed until tears streamed down his face. He laughed and laughed and laughed. Seeing him chuckling like a maniac in that hospital bed did something to me.

It tugged the corners of my lips straight up, made my eyes crinkle, filled the cavity in my chest with a balloon fart of warmth. And then I burst out laughing. And somehow, even though Shem was still sick and I was still sad, I knew things would be alright. I had hope. I could grin. I could face the hard things with my shoulders back, snacking on pretzels, writing jokes on his bald skin. And that, I think, is the true power of laughter.

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