Gallows Humor

Years ago I joked with my husband that if he was ever really nice to me I’d know I was dying.  He said “No, honey, I would say, hey your tumor is growing an eye!”

This is absolutely true, he probably would.  In fairness, so would I.

Some people might be offend/upset/emotionally crushed by that, but this sort of gallows humor is how he and I communicate, and how I have survived so many years longer than I ever expected.  I am looking down the barrel of 50 and that is simply mind boggling.

Everyone sees the world differently.  My world is just a little more…askew.

I’m going to give an example that begins with 9/11.  There’s no way to put a bow on that, so I’ll get it out of the way now.

When the attacks happened, my then boyfriend, now husband and I were not living together.  I woke up and turned on the TV to see what was happening.  He called me and we sat on the phone together crying.

Then we both saw on the crawl these words, and this is verbatim:

“San Francisco Police Say they are Art!”

We both paused, trying to wrap our heads around that, and then we both burst into hysterical laughter.  I can only imagine what our respective neighbors must have thought had they heard us.  We laughed so hard our sides ached, and I couldn’t see through my tears.

Then we started to riff on it.  “It’s OK, it’s OK!  We’re kind of a kinetic piece!”  “Everyone calm down!  You are seeing me in four dimensions!”

This typo could not have been more perfect.  I’m certain what they meant was “…on alert” but the fact that it was San Francisco, my weird little home, made it sublime.

What’s important to understand is that we were not laughing at the tragedy, we were laughing at this absurdity, this typo which was simply hilarious.

Embracing the dark does not mean forgoing the light, nor does it necessarily mean grim, callous or humorless.  It simply means seeing the humor in the darkness; not at the tragedy but something adjacent to it.  Something absurd or so horrible it just becomes funny.

For some of us with a mental illness, addiction, or both, this is the tape that holds our tattered seams together.  It’s not always shared by everyone in a group, and while I do suggest that people like me be sensitive to that, at the same time, please understand that we mean no disrespect when we refer to our time in the “coo-coo’s nest” or being “bat shit crazy.”  This is how we cope, and how we see the world, just a little askew.   If I couldn’t do that I would, without question, be dead.

Just like the 9/11 story, we’re not laughing at you or your pain.  We’re laughing because we’ve been there, we understand, we can see the absurdity of not being able to pee without a person checking in every few minutes.

We’re laughing because we’re alive to do so, and it’s funny as hell.

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