Victory Laugh

Half-massacred burgers scraped into stinky trashcan. Strangled juice boxes left for dead across a dining table. Some spicy pumpkin brand of smelly candle mixed with the smallest hint of freshly opened beer. Beer gripped in the hands of husbands drooling over a football game. A grandmother scrubbing dishes over a too-full sink. Her grandkids out front, swirling juice-drunk loops on bicycles, dropping handlebars to the ground for an impromptu game of Climb Trees, Scream, Then Throw Things. And the daughters, these grandkids’ mothers, plopped post-dinner on the back patio.

I sat with my oldest and youngest sisters, quietly questioning whether a burp or a poot would most effectively make the ten pounds of cookout grub digest a little quicker. Looking around I notice the tentative way one of them sits, legs crossed but squeezing something in. I recognize the close-lipped, puffy-cheek expression on the other’s face and realize all too late that they are both feigning politeness and waiting for privacy. Oh well. I’ve already disguised a burp with a cough. Cough was  a little too enthusiastic and produced a poot. I know they both hear and smell my indiscretions, but we are all from the same cloth. One purposely avoids eye contact while the other raises her voice as if to drown out all future bodily functions. I am suddenly so happy we’re related.

She mentions various thoughts she has about cleaning house. I think to chime in, add something about my genius method of spraying a little Windex into every room so it smells like I’ve always just finished cleaning. And then we move on to very thrilling things: Halloween costumes, minivans, loose teeth, and then back to cleaning house again. Then we are quiet for a minute. I’m not going to lie. I poot again. I wonder if I’ve pushed my sister’s willingness to cover for me when she begins giggling.

I’m about to explain myself, defend my grossness, when her little laugh grows to a chuckle then more of a belly booming guffaw. I am thinking this is just like a sister to defend you and your poots one second and then turn on you the next. But then she gets this amazed look on her face and I know my dinky gas isn’t enough to warrant such awe. “Oh. Oh my God. We are… so normal. We are sitting here talking about cleaning and kids and school and… We’re normal? We’re normal!,” she clasps her hands to her mouth like she has just spoken tongues, translating  the mysteries of Lost and probably also Christ. She is astonished with herself. But then I pause. I feel us all holding our breath a little. The full magnitude of this tiny observation stuns us to silence.

I’ve often tried to trace the branch of my family’s black-sheep-ness back to its roots. When did we become so unacceptable, so socially inappropriate, so strange? Some days I think it must be something small: whipped with a hot spatula, my year without eyebrows, a sister’s boyfriend living in our basement, Dad’s regrettable mustache phase. Other times I cite the origin of madness as 1997 when my  7-year-old sister overdosed on Vitamin C. Tasked with babysitting, my older sister didn’t notice the empty jug of chewable supplements in the kitchen. I didn’t notice that little sister had been  napping for 12 hours, and little sister didn’t notice that those weren’t delicious orange-flavored candies. There is the whole deal with watching television alongside  my mother. She flipped between the butt-stapling guy on Jackass and Joyce  Meyer’s evangelical ministry show with such  swiftness that I’d spend the hour praying to Jesus for forgiveness because I couldn’t stop myself from finding the whole Lock A Guy In A Port-O-Potty & Shoot The Poop Tank Into Space stunt hilarious. Most typically I get lost somewhere between birth and age four.  The best I can come up with is the time my brother conned me into playing a friendly game of toss. He hurled the massive basketball at my face but assured me that the very, very most important rule of the game was that I could not use my hands. It took a couple of bloody rounds until I realized he was the only winner and this family, this glue that would forever bind us, might just be flawed.

It seems that to the outside world, we have always been bad/ losers/ weirdos / sinners/ villains. We’ve had affairs and divorces. We’ve been to prison and abortion clinics. We’ve been teen mothers, drunks, and druggies. We’ve dropped out of high school. We’ve dropped out of college. We’ve been sluts. We’ve turned into  pious prudes, condemning our hooker-esque kin. We’ve lied and stolen, cursed in church parking lots, and tossed chairs towards heads. We’ve been gay and straight and sometimes the gray space in the middle. We’ve screamed in defense of the gossip we spread with a hush. And while we’re being honest, I am almost certain Mom used the minivan to “accidentally” murder Bob, the neighbor’s dog. Essentially, someone call the police on all of us… for everything… forever.

So here we are on this night missing a sister and a brother to complete our ragtag brood of 5. Here we are laughing, three horrible girls, until we cry. And we cannot stop. We are wild with happiness because on this one night, we are rejoicing a sudden stop of the catastrophe that has always tailed us like a last name. The baby of the family, now a well-adjusted mother of two babies herself, is laughing and puzzled, “Huh. Seriously? We are all okay. We’re all fine now.”

“This feels like winning,” I am beaming,wondering if we could throw together a decent victory chant. My older sister claps like a baby who’s been handed a chocolate-coated pacifier.  We settle for more frantic laughter like celebration.

And it is a celebration!

It is a victory!

Because we are all fucked up as fingerprints, no two tragedies the same, and somehow, while others fail with a tucked tail and a whisper, we’ve managed to dance right through the darkest dysfunction, to justkeepfunctioning. Some folks hoist up impossible expectations. One must be a doctor or pay taxes, know who the Baby Daddy is and all those other burdensome tasks before feeling they’ve finally achieved something. I’ve watched whole TV shows about these alien clans. I’ve been accidentally uninvited to sleepovers with their prim, alien kids. All I can say is that normal doesn’t always come easy for the rest of us. But here we are on this back stoop. Here we are grateful and  triumphant for being finally barely normal,  wrong people who try to get more right every day. This is an imperfect group of lunatics I belong to, who conveniently believes in forgiving pasts and reconciling futures. And I’m thinking on this night on this porch with these sisters how it’s not nice to need such forgiveness right this minute, how I needed it so much and desperately not too long ago.

Maybe it all started with the matching Easter outfits?

“Wow. Wow. No crisis? You know this is totally where the plot twist comes in, right? Like Mom’s gonna walk out here and tell us she is really a man,” I prepare my sister’s for the inevitable crash, our descent back to indecency. I know too well we can’t behave forever. Just then our mother joins us. We are ignited in hilarity again. “What? What? Ugh. Dammit. Ugh. Guyyys. Are you guys talking about me? What?,” Vicki be not pleased.

“Oh, Victor,” I shake my head at her, and we all laugh again. Has “normal” already passed us by? This time the sisters are searching for Mom’s secret wiener. They don’t even notice as I poot.

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44 thoughts on “Victory Laugh

  1. Tori. I have been buried by horrible essays for the past two weeks, and I just got three new batches in the past 48 hours. You…you are refreshing. I seriously feel like I just took a deep breath of the freshest air I have ever breathed. Thank you for writing so beautifully. Thank you for masterfully wrapping fantastic analysis with subtle (and sometimes bald-faced) humor. I wish my job were to read your posts all the time. I wouldn’t groan so much when essays came in if they were all written by you!

    • I’m assuming these essays are academic in which case, sorry. I am pretty sure I am a scholar/ properly-trained writer’s worst nightmare! Thanks for taking a break from the bajillion essays to read my little blog :)

  2. Good God, I LOVE this, Tori. I have been in this place, gathered with my own sisters, having similarly insane and simultaneously normal conversations. We are all such fuck-ups–beautifully imperfect–forgiven and loved. This may be the amazing grace of family. I want more of this, dear Tori! Keep it coming!
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    • Forgiven and loved- You totally get it, Kathy. I think that is maybe why we aren’t horrified or embarrassed to be related to eachother. Each one of us has done awful things, been in horrible predicaments, and there is never any hiding. We own it. Some of us maybe go to the State Penn for a year or so. We still love eachother despite the mess :)

  3. My brother used to be able to perform what he called “a trick.” (I am sure he did not understand the alternate meaning, but whatever.) He could pass gas on demand, for as long as anyone wanted.

    To me, the normal we’re shown everywhere we look isn’t normal at all. What you write about here, this is life. It’s normal.

  4. This is just beautifully written! With its undercurrent of grossness and indecency, it somehow manages to capture what is so precious about family, “normal” or not. After all the childhood fighting and misunderstandings, beyone the grief of living with and through so many bad decisions and poor choices, comes the riotous laughter at old stupidities and present possibilites shared with those who know us best. Nice.

  5. One of your best, which I don’t say lightly because so many are acutely fabulous. Loved this insight into your family, which shows both your amazing spirit and huge humour. Your family strikes just the right cord of normal for me.

    • Wow. Thank you, Deanna! I appreciate the support. I don’t know that many people have ever associated my family with the word normal. We get a lot of “What is WRONG with you people?” and comments about genetic predisposition to weird, but rarely normal :)

  6. Tori, don’t you EVER accept being “normal”. The world is filled with dull, drab, grey, boring, “normal” people. You are far too creative, beautiful, and just plain colourful to EVER be “normal”. ;)
    Let you freak flag fly, girl! Just don’t let it get tangled with mine – mine’s been flying a LOT longer! :D

  7. What IS normal anyways? These days, some people’s normal is some other people’s weird and vice versa. This was such a great piece, love and humor tied in one. Thanks for linking me here, I think I’m going to like sticking around for a while. ;)

    • Sweet of you to read! I know this post was a bit of a doozy! The older I get I find a lot of comfort in learning that no one is nearly as “normal” as they seem. There is NO perfect family, no one person and certainly not a whole group of people capable of getting through life without messing up a bit. I used to think we were a rarity. Now I’m just thankful that for whatever reason, my family’s always just owned the weirdness, made huge mistakes, and tried to move past them.

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  10. “…fucked up as fingerprints, no two tragedies the same…” Damn! Wish I’d written that. Thanks for sharing this poignant family moment with us on the Internets ( where we can’t smell you). :-)

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  18. Tori, in an effort to get back into reading blogs this week, er, morning, I went straight yours (right after looking at Deb’s). I found this post after reading “Who you be?” It’s perfect. Me love this post long time.

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