It's What the Doctor Prescribed

April 3, 2011
By , Cherry Hill, NJ
Your cheeks puff up with warm air as you try to hold it in. Your cheeks turn beet red and your eyes shrink down to little, sapphire slits and start to water. A small smile wriggles around on your lips. Snorts escape out of your ski-slope nose that remind you of a baby pig, which reminds you of that time last summer when you went to your great-uncle’s farm with your best friend and she fell into the tub of pig slop face first. You now have to try even harder to stifle your laughter. It’s impossible. You just can’t hold it in anymore. The harder you try, the more your face resembles a giant plum. Don’t do it! You yell at yourself. Don’t. I won’t, I won’t, I can’t, I must, I will… You erupt like a thousand fireworks. It seems that when you’re not expected to laugh, you always do. It just can’t be helped, and I’ve had quite a few experiences with this.

“We’re going hiking up the stream. Anyone else want to go?” Uncle Pat asks. We are at the beach and the sky is a moody shade of gray. It has just rained, so everything is coated in a light mist. Erin and I turn to look at one another. We hold each other’s ocean blue gaze for a moment and shake our heads violently. We would prefer to stay at the beach. “Okay, then we’re off,” Uncle Pat shouts to no one in particular, sauntering off towards the car. Across town, a small utopia exists. Imagine yourself here. The sound of silence erases all your worries and gnarled roots poke out from under clumps of dirt, grass, and emerald green moss. Fallen dead, gray tree limbs caked in mud protrude at every angle from the Earth’s tie-dyed floor. The climb is getting steeper and steeper, and the sound of a small, burbling stream echoes faintly through the dense canopy of leaves and sunshine. As you approach the shallow stream, the dirt ground turns into something resembling partially mixed cake batter with only half of the vegetable oil. Chunks of near-petrified wood covered in moss the color of my grandfather’s Boy-Scouts uniform and as furry as a caterpillar sit glued to the ground. You go to step up and over a giant, rain slicked log that has fallen into the middle of the trail. You make the slippery step with ease and without injury, but Uncle Ted doesn’t. He bangs his knee and looks down to see that his toenail is popped up like the lid of a trunk.
“Let me get my camera!” yells Uncle Neil, his backpack dangling from his tall frame. After a few minutes of rummaging, the camera is in this hand and the flash goes off. Uncle Ted hobbles back to the car with assistance from Uncle Pat and Uncle Neil (I have a lot of uncles) and they peel out of the parking lot, speeding off towards the hospital. With tape on his toe and a warning that the nail will eventually fall off, Uncle Ted and the others drive back to Roger’s Rock Campground. After reading the newspaper at his campsite with a cup of gourmet coffee (or as gourmet as you can get from a Coleman camping coffee maker), Uncle Ted decides to dunk a tortilla chip in marinara sauce and walk over to Aunt Mary’s campsite like a peg-leg pirate. “Look Mary! The nail fell off!” he shouts proudly, holding up his soggy, tomato-stained chip. My poor, gullible aunt’s bloodcurdling screams ring out along with Uncle Ted’s hearty cackles, rising to the treetops and sending the crows scattering in all directions. He can lighten anyone’s mood with his rather twisted sense of humor.

It is just like any other Halloween. New costumes on and giant pillowcases bulging with candy, Zoe and I stomp up the driveway, heading towards the thirty-something year old woman sitting on the bench by the door with her two year old daughter, surrounded by a pile of couch cushions the color of pumpkin pie filling. With a flourish, she pulls out a small, strawberry tinted bullhorn and puts it to her lips. “Congratulations!” she yells. “You’re our 100th trick-or-treaters, and you’ve just won…” The door opens and three men about her age trudge out with a sagging, ancient, rust colored couch (missing the cushions), whooping and shrieking like teenage girls because, apparently, we have just won this “fine” piece of furniture. Zoe and I stare at each other, wondering if they’re actually going to attempt to fit the couch in our pillowcases and if we should run back to my house to look up phone numbers for the nearest mental hospital. Luckily, they do not try to stuff it in and we don’t have to go find a phonebook. They carry the couch out to the curb, as the woman with the bullhorn follows behind, carrying the moth eaten cushions and dissolving into peals of laughter. After all, a day without laughter is a day wasted, and this was a very interesting (and amusing) way of getting your daily dose.

She sits on my garnet leather couch, holding her sister in a tight embrace. That is the only time tonight that I see tears streaming down her face, except for when we are snuggled into our toffee colored sleeping bags. Then, her muffled sobs break the silence, and in the darkness, I reach for her hand and tell her I’ll be right next to her the entire night. As I ask myself how a seven year old can keep her composure in such a discontenting situation, I see a small, teary smile creep across Michelle’s face. She is telling herself that what her aunt is saying, that her mother is going to die from cancer tonight, is true. However, that is at the back of her mind. Her eyes glaze over as memories flit around her head; memories of friends, of love, of not being alone. As her aunt and sister get up to leave with tissues falling out of their pockets like little white parachutes, I creep up to my room to get my Shrek 2: Twisted Fairytale board game, Michelle’s favorite. We play in front of my colossal TV, a box of tissues at our knees. The flowers on the side table seem to be wilting because of the situation. They weren’t like that this morning.
The call comes a half an hour later. Michelle’s mom is gone and her eyes barely even glisten. She is all cried out. We spend the rest of the night getting warm, comforting bear hugs from my mom, eating a million dollars worth of chocolate coins, and of course, playing the Shrek 2: Twisted Fairytale board game. For the rest of the long, heartbreaking night, Michelle laughs at her own jokes and acts like she’s on top of the world, but it’s just for show. It is her way out of this nightmare that has been created. She tries to prove that laughter is the best medicine, and by doing so, she is able to pretend there is no gaping hole in her universe and everything is right, if only for a moment.

You laugh because of a joke. You laugh because of a book, or a movie, or something your best friend did four years ago, but would you laugh because you’re injured, or you just wanted to get your candy and get on with your life, or someone who taught you everything, from how to tie your shoes to where to find true happiness and comfort, has just left your life forever? You might not, but I would. I would because of my uncle Ted, the owners of that ugly, ugly couch, and my best friend. They taught me to laugh, to laugh until you cry, or to cry until you laugh. Laughter is the best medicine, and even if you’re not sick, you’ll still feel better. Always, always, always have a sense of humor. Humor: [yoo-mer]- verb, the ability to do ballet while you are driving, brushing your hair, and playing the flute with your nose, all while saying “moo!” every time you see a tree.





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