Life Sentences: Laughing with Friends

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It takes the edge off stressful moments and makes the good ones just hilarious.

First, a confession: I cannot watch a pratfall, even when it’s mine, and not laugh. Riotously. But even if the faller gets hurt and I should show alarm and sympathy, I can barely stifle the giggles. I know it’s a horrible character flaw, but I laugh at my own falls, too.

I once slipped on the ice at college at 6 a.m. with an armload of books, ended up horizontal on the street, staring at the sky, thinking my first thought of the day: “Man, I hope nobody saw that.”

Another time, at the gym, I took a spectacular dive off of a bench during a step class, ending up face down surrounded by well-muscled and balanced exercisers looking down at me. I tried to get up and say, “I’m fine, carry on!” but I was laughing too hard.

I don’t have the evil funny bone when an elderly person falls. That’s not funny.

But sometimes it’s a good story, and that’s something to share. So here’s a knee-slapper for you.

After spending the weekend in Virginia for our daughter’s college family weekend, we met up with a couple of friends who live close by. I met Chas and Sally on their wedding day in 1986. They were friends of my husband from their college days.

I have always been intrigued by these two. They’re as different as chalk and cheese. Sally met Chas at the College of William & Mary. She is a belle from a small town in western Virginia, a sorority sister, very genteel, and possessed of a charming southern accent. Chas was raised in northern Virginia, which is a mega-suburb of Washington, DC. His accent is less pronounced, but still great for storytelling.

Chas began his tale:

“I fell out of bed the other night, but before I fell I was dreaming about collecting my scattered teeth off the floor. It wasn’t the first time I fell out of bed, because I sleep right on the edge of the mattress.”

Well, I tried not to, but I started laughing so hard I feared a Depends moment.

Read: Life Sentences: She Wants Her Mom

Chas went on:

“The fall woke me up, but I didn’t know why I was on the floor with a sore mouth. I looked up at the nightstand, and there was a big chunk of wood taken out of the corner. I kept checking for loose teeth, but my mouth was fine.”

I was laughing like a braying mule. People were starting to stare.

Chaz: “So I went to find Sally, who was still up, and I said, “The good news is that I’m not hurt. The bad news is, I fell out of bed and bit off a corner of the night table.”

Sally wasn’t worried so much about her husband’s accident, or the preternatural dream that preceded it. “Which table was it?” she asked.

From then on, they were like a comedy team, taking turns weaving in asides and details of past injuries come to call, and the miraculous strength of Chas’ teeth. Such talent!

In the four decades of knowing them, I have never ceased to be amazed that such opposites still attract. Although they have had many health problems and scares, they support each other at each and every showdown. I love to watch them together.

There was a time when I was whapped with two serious diagnoses—metastatic melanoma, for which I needed brain radiation, and then, in a follow-up PET scan looking for cancer, they found an atrial myxoma. That’s a common benign heart tumor, but it was right above my atrial valve and if it grew, it would block the valve and restrict blood flow. Recommendation? Open-heart surgery.

I did not take this with grace. I decided to treat the whole mess like a lost weekend back in my youth. Blackout the whole memory, and move on.

The only good memory from that time was waking up in the recovery room to find our good friends, Chas and Sally, had taken the train from Virginia to Philadelphia to help in whatever way they could.

Chas lifted my spirits with goofy jokes and promises of ice cream, and Sally by listening and taking pages of notes when the doctor gave me post-op instructions. She said most people don’t remember what the doctor says when they’ve been traumatized, and she was right. I didn’t listen because I was wallowing in self-pity.

But I kept her notes. They remind me how to be a great friend.

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