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She Sings Me To Sleep With Laughter

Don White


I understand exhaustion. Exhaustion and I have a longstanding and deeply intimate knowledge of one another. He knows how to slip into my life and make me miserable and I know that he enjoys doing it. Over the past thirteen years I have carved out a small career as a singer-songwriter while simultaneously maintaining a marriage, raising two children and holding one, and sometimes two, day jobs. The currency with which I have paid for this music career is sleep. Exhaustion is the constant companion of all of us who choose to trade in this particular currency.

My daughter's bedroom is next to the bedroom where my wife, myself,  and exhaustion sleep. There has never been a real door on her room. We installed one of those flimsy folding doors that slides on tracks and opens and closes like an  accordion. It has given her some privacy but has deprived her of one of the key ingredients of a complete adolescence—a door that slams. I must admit to several moments of quiet glee over the years when the door slamming exclamation point at the end of a teenage melodrama was replaced by little squeaky wheels sliding across aluminum runners.

One night when my daughter was fifteen, I was in a particularly profound state of exhaustion. It was 11:30. I could hear the six am setting on the alarm clock actually taunting me. "I'm going to ring as soon as you close your eyes." My daughter was on the phone with one of her girlfriends. She was laughing. It was the kind of laugh that can only come from a fifteen-year-old girl.  As something of a comedian, I have spent a disproportionate amount of my life studying the different sounds of laughter. In addition to the obvious fact that each person has their own unique laugh (It's kind of like a fingerprint when you think about it), there are several different types of laughter. The one that I am always shooting for in my shows is the "I can't believe it, that's just like my mother" one. This laugh is characterized by high pitch screams that seem to contain within them the name of the person in the family who is just like the person you are talking about. I always hear the sound of recognition in this laughter. To the discerning ear of the knowledgeable comic, this sound is magic. It's like striking oil. When a room is filled with it, you can't help but feel like you are flying. In the continuing effort to design an act that will manifest as much of this kind of laughter as possible, I have learned to recognize the other, less evolved, types of laughter. The "Oh my God, I can't believe he is talking about this," shock laugh. The polite, unenthusiastic, almost obligatory, laugh. The "This guy is really scary" nervous laugh. And the very unique laughter that comes from mean-spirited, victim-oriented humor. (What's up with these idiots from other countries in the tollbooths, who can't even speak English let alone make change for a dollar ha, ha.) I have often thought that this is the sound of the laughter that one would hear on the nightclub circuit in Hell. To the untrained ear, all of these sound pretty much the same. However, the laughter of a fifteen-year-old girl on the telephone with her best friend is a sound unlike any other on earth.

I am lying in bed. I am so tired I could cry. I am not only being taunted by exhaustion and my alarm clock, but also by the realities inflicted upon my life by every poor decision I have ever made. Sleep, even just a little bit of it, is the only remedy. Unfortunately, I am being denied this cure by the shrieks and wails of hysterical teenage laughter devilishly dancing out of my daughter's room.

I resolve that I must address the situation. I then begin the process of deciding which of my two available dad identities I should manifest in the bedroom doorway of my inconsiderate daughter. So I wonder: which dad persona that will bring blessed quiet back to my domicile as quickly as possible with the least amount of energy output and subsequent ramifications?

The first dad incarnation that comes to mind is the stereotypical blustering version. This is the one where I storm over to her room and with all the self-righteous indignation available to the dad number one stereotype, I identify her crimes against humanity and the reasons why they are personally offensive to me. Then, using the loud, severely agitated and totally unreasonable dad number one voice I say, "I'm trying to get some sleep here! You don't care that I have to get up at six in the morning. Why should you?  You get to sleep till noon. All you ever think about is yourself. It would never even occur to you that other people might actually be living in this house!"  Then I flex my dad number one dictatorial muscle by saying, "Hang that phone up right now," and then there is quiet. Quiet anger, quiet resentment and quiet plotting of revenge. You see, dad number one always gets much more quiet than he bargained for. That's because he is one hundred percent bluster and bravado and zero percent circumspection. His shortsightedness is legendary. The method by which he attains his immediate goal actually fortifies the resolve of the opposition. He wins the battle at the expense of the war. He is, generally speaking, a byproduct of exhaustion and lives a life that alternates between explosive bravado and the need to apologize for it.

Once dad number one is finished blowing off steam and asserting his authority in my mind, he gives the podium to dad number two. This dad is also motivated by exhaustion but he lacks the will to fight. Instead, he is a pleader. His method is to crawl out of bed looking as pitiful as possible and to speak in a defeated monotone. "Ariel honey, I have to get up early. Can you please use the phone downstairs?" Although sad and emasculated, this dad usually accomplishes his goal without creating a situation that he will feel obligated to repair later.

I choose to manifest dad number two. I conjure up my defeated monotone and roll it around in my mouth. I am preparing to climb out of bed and address the situation when a hitherto unknown door in my mind opens up and out walks dad number three. He speaks, "Dad number one is an asshole and dad number two is an idiot. The problem here is not with the sounds in this house, it is with the way you are choosing to hear them."  I think, "Great, dad number three is a good-for-nothing philosopher." I say, "Is this going to take long?  I really need to get some sleep." He tells me to shut up and he continues, "Let's take a look at what we actually have here. You are about to take action that will curtail the sounds of laughter in your home. Is this really what you want? Would you prefer your home to be filled with the sounds of anger or crying? The sounds that fill a home are part and parcel of the memories that are created there. Quiet is what happens in a home when you are alone in it. Be careful how much of this you wish for." Then he says it again. "The problem here is not with the sounds in this house, it is with the way you are choosing to hear them."

And then I get it. I don't just get it a little bit. I really get it. I completely get it. I get it in the center of my solar plexus. It must be like this when all of a sudden you understand jazz or Shakespeare. I say to myself "What kind of a father can't go to sleep to the sound of his daughter laughing?" Instantly, as if the asking of the question initiated the metamorphosis, all the sounds emerging from my daughter's room are transformed. They become music. They become summer rain. I lay back and let them wash over me. All the pores in my body open up and absorb them. I drink in the miracle of my daughter's teenage laughter. It is magic. It is giddy. It is a sound so complete that it seems as if every one of her molecules are laughing. There is no separation between my daughter the young adult and laughter itself. It is all one glorious symphony, light and lovely. She sings me to sleep with laughter. I dream of woodwinds and of small birds dancing gracefully upon delicate breaths of wind. In the morning I awake refreshed. Exhaustion is gone and will not return until the day has wrestled from me my zest.

There is a distinct lightness in the early morning quiet of my home. I glance in upon the sleeping figure of my daughter, beautiful and at peace. I whistle a line from The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and begin my day.

Source:  Don White.

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