Here in this house
There is much sadness
Darkness and death
Despair and humiliation
There are times of celebration
There is cause for deliberation
Much has happened
In the time that goes between
Life goes on
The undertow drags on
And yet we smile
At the edge of sorrow
At the edge of nothing
The house you call your home could be anywhere. From Kensington to Madrid to Moscow to St. Louis. The house you call your home is many things. You may have been there a very long time. You may have only just arrived. Yet there is a difference between a house and what you call a home. If the walls do not bleed with memories of both joy and sorrow, then the house has not yet become a home.
These bleeding walls provide the paint but not the canvas for the ever-changing masterpiece that is the life you live. The canvas is you.
Dwelling on failure and loss becomes either boring or deeply depressing as time goes by. You get knocked down or find yourself on your knees one day but then you remember how to stand up. When you forget how to do that you are doomed. Friends and family swarm and you find yourself laughing. Yet if you reflect upon the accumulation of sadness you will find you live in a house of laughing for no reason.
Your problems and setbacks become magnified in your own mind because they are yours. You are detached from the suffering of others. You may be close to a person, which magnifies their sorrow, but still you can step away from it. The suffering of distant masses is something you are too detached from unless you can directly relate. Even when you think you can relate you really cannot. You haven't walked a mile in anyone's shoes but your own.
Your personal pain is magnified and internalized when others tell you that you have no right. They cite situations and people who are far worse off than you and now guilt compounds your pain. You rock on. You paddle your canoe up the river of life and pretend you know what is around the next bend. There is no other recourse except surrender.
No retreat. No surrender. A collection of moments in life gives pause. Memory fades and you find reason to laugh and joke with friends. A house where so much went wrong finds everything going right when the walls vibrate with laughter.
This is not a house of laughing for no reason
This is a house of laughing for reasons
When I was nineteen, my parents divorced. Soon after, my mother threw me out of the house for not following her suddenly rigid and sometimes bizarre rules. My choice was to live with a girlfriend I knew was frequently cheating on me or to live in the streets. I had been involved in trying to start a service industry union in town. My name was splashed in the newspaper as the key witness in labor court when the union forced the owners of the nursing home I worked in to sell. They had violated so many labor laws that listing them all became pointless according to the judge. Bribing employees with television sets, VCRs and vacation packages to vote against the union was the tip of a very dirty iceberg. I found myself temporarily blacklisted. Any job interview I went to eventually came to the question of "So, what was the deal with this?" The unspoken rejection of my employment was always the same. The silent thought that made them step away. "He only wants this job so he can start a union here. Eek."
At a time when my mother's behavior was unpredictable, she had forced my unemployed self out of the house and started a strange boarding house in my absence. Teenagers from the neighborhood who had problems with their parents were welcome to stay until they worked out their problems. There was the girl whose father was molesting her, the boy whose parents were fighting constantly and asking him to chose sides, and the girl whose widowed mother had a boyfriend who liked to hit the girl and call her names. My mother opened the house to these folks to give them a helping hand but ignored the nature of my plight. She did, however, welcome me into the house for the purpose of doing my laundry since she was opposed to coin operated machines.
Suddenly the house was filled with laughter that had not been heard in quite some time. I was resentful and unenlightened in those days. I was young and foolish. These were the days when my life began to unravel. I had already let a girl who made my heart sing and my knees buckle get away because I didn't feel worthy. Instead I settled for a woman who taught me everything you could ever want to know about the physical act of love. She also taught me about how quickly some people abandon loyalties when the opportunity to practice those acts arise with someone else. I began to believe that nothing made sense and people abandoned each other at their convenience. Yet the house was filled with laughter.
So many years gone by and so much changed. Running out of time and money. It would be necessary to return, but this time there would be no laughter.
The woman he never wanted to live with packed up in the middle of the night after sinking him into thousands of dollars worth of debt and humiliating him in front of his friends. He had no options. The house was closed to him and this was made clear on many occasions. Struggling to maintain his head above water, he worked two part time jobs and waited for one to turn into a full time position. He lacked the money for his own place. When the woman who had called herself his girlfriend decided she could no longer hide her promiscuous behavior, she told him "After all, we're just roommates." Then she would make him beg her to stay, and she stayed long enough to bleed his credit cards. When she left there was nothing. A last minute reprieve brought him back to the house where his mother gave him one month to right his sinking ship. It was not enough time, but that didn't matter. This was a house of laughing for no reason. As he struggled with his life's wayward path, the laughter surrounded him.
There were children now, but they belonged to relatives and friends. The laughter of children always filled the house. His mother seemed to be obsessed with bringing back the memories of the years when her two sons had been innocent and small. Now they were both struggling with the future. Neither was living the kind of life that could be broadcast happily to the extended family through a Christmas form letter.
My brother was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and a host of other learning disabilities. Because of that he was allowed to fail. If two months went by without one of his teachers contacting my parents because of a behavior problem he would get ice cream. If I brought home a paper on which I scored a 98 I would have to have a sit down with my father. The question would always come. "What can we do so that next time this will be a 100 paper?" It was time to spend more time with the books and less time playing kickball with the kids in the street.
It was hard to hide recreational activities from my father while he pushed me to attain perfection. When I was eight years old I learned I could create my own worlds and my own reality. I began to write stories and create characters to entertain myself. I shared them with my mother, who one day shared them with my father. It was a tragic mistake. No matter how many times my father told my mother she was "dumb" because she was a nurse and he was an engineer working on an advanced degree, I knew she was quite intelligent. Sharing my stories with my father gave him new ideas for my future. "He likes typing? Technical writing or computer programming are great fields for him to get into." He only wanted the best for me, and yet he never listened to anything I really said or understood what I really wanted. When I was twelve years old I was writing programs in Fortran at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. I never wrote what he wanted me to, though. I wrote games, discovered a way to contact students at the university, and had them test the games for me. They found my ideas about establishing better ways to communicate over the computer intriguing. They never knew I was twelve years old. I pretended I was one of them. I never really had a childhood. Writing game programs in Fortran is a nightmare but I couldn't sleep once I started.
"When are you going to get serious?
A genius IQ is not something everyone is born with.
You need to get serious."
He was right in many ways, but whenever I was studying and my mother had her afternoon coffee friends over I could not concentrate. Their laughter in the kitchen made me want to listen to their stories and hear about their lives. When I was locked in my room I never knew why they were laughing. Sometimes I would go down to the kitchen and make some tea and listen to them. They would ask me why I was so serious, so I would try to amuse them by acting as strange as possible. They would laugh for a while and my mother would remind me that I had a test coming up or a paper due. She also reminded me that my father would be home at 5:30. By five o'clock the coffee friends would clean out the ashtrays, spray the kitchen with fragrance, and disperse. Smoking was not allowed in the house. My father found it to be as unproductive as it was unhealthy. Years later I started smoking just to spite him.
It took a carload of shrinks to figure out what my father could never understand. In the most simple terms, only the right side of my brain really works. In high school they put me into the advanced placement and college level courses across the board. Straight "A" marks in English, History, Psychology, Sociology, what have you. Always the "D" in math and science, yet those were the only books I ever took home. My father said I was lazy. He drove the coffee friends out with increasingly bizarre and random behavior. He caught them smoking in the house. He caught them laughing in the house. For a while he blamed them for my failings. They were distracting his genius.
There was turmoil in the house. It was so tense that he was happy to go away to school. When the college plans started to unravel he came home again to the house of laughing for no reason. Things had become worse. At dinner one night his father smashed his dinner plate on the table. His family was a collection of failures and he announced this on that solemn occasion. The little brother was a moron. The older brother was a failure. The mother was nothing but "a stupid cocksucker." When the air cleared and there was silence, the elder brother muttered, "Well, that is more information than I needed to know." The silence was broken and the house was filled with laughter. It was the strangest laughter the house had ever known.
Two weeks later the father moved out. The divorce was finalized two years later because the father begged and fought the mother for another chance. She stood her ground. She could handle no more. Then she entertained madness on her own accord for several years. Inadvertently she blamed the elder son for everything. Had he not been conceived on Valentine's Day 1965, the day both his parents lost their virginity, then there never would have been a marriage of two mismatched partners.
He put his fist through the walls of his room six times.
While it seemed no one would understand what he really wanted out of life, a miracle happened in the midst of the war zone. She was a silly sixteen year old girl who was inexplicably drawn to him. Dating girls was something he had almost no experience in. After all, he was chained to his books most of the time and only wrote about girls as he imagined them to be. Yet she was attracted to him and wanted to know him. Long before the days when he would be saddled with a girlfriend who played the field in her own special way, there was the meeting with The Muse. Although he had no car and lived five towns away, she insisted he find a way. He enlistened the help of a friend and convinced his mother to let him have a party in the house of laughing for no reason. He thought it strange his mother would agree, but as the mother was becoming the overseer of the neighborhood's wayward children, this became an opportunity to expand her fan base.
The house was filled with laughter, and he drank it in while sitting on the living room sofa with The Muse, not knowing who she really was. She wanted to read what he wrote. She wanted to know the things that he thought. She listened to every word. She convinced him that there are people in the world who care about the things you care about and can understand. She listened like no one had ever listened before. Then they were drawn into a long and passionate kiss, the kind he had never experienced before and likely will never experience again. All at the very center of the house of laughing for no reason. There was finally a reason.
And yet it was all so temporary
One day the house was sold
And now the laughter belongs to other people
Who will never know why
It is a house of laughing for no reason.