Her laughter was infectious, like a virus that takes hold of your body and makes you give up everything your stomach and intestines have to offer, then leaves you alone “” spent and helpless.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw her. It was the middle of August, and I was in a coffee shop having a medium latte with soy milk. She was sitting at a table across the shop, reading Mad Magazine and drinking an iced coffee. She was tall, with blue eyes and the most beautiful, curly, black hair I’d ever seen.
So what? I wouldn’t have given her a second look, but when I was about to take my last sip of latte and walk out of the place, the shop became alive with the sound of laughter.
I looked toward her. A short episode of snickering had given way to a burst of chuckling that had erupted into a convulsive fit of laughter that shook her body like a grand mal seizure. Her head was tilted back and one hand was pressed against the middle of her chest. Tears were streaming from her eyes. Her mouth was wide open. I could see several cavities in her lower molar region. She still had her tonsils.
“¦it was a wonderful feeling “” to make someone laugh, even if the someone wasn’t beautiful.
How can I begin to describe the sound of her laughter? It caressed my soul as it bounced off the walls of the coffee shop, like the music of a songbird echoing through the woods. It was not quite a “hee-haw” or a “tee-hee” but more like a warm and enchanting “yuk, yuk, yuk.” This was laughter that came straight from the heart “” similar in pace and style to but more melodic than Woody Woodpecker’s. Her laughter had a message, and that message was: “Don’t worry! Be happy! Embrace life and enjoy it to the fullest!”
Still, I had no reason to approach her until her iced coffee came streaming through her beautiful little nose. The expensive liquid, pressurized by the force of the laughter pushing it through those tiny nasal passages, came shooting out of her delicate nostrils and across her table.
I was later to learn that she had a deviated septum “” likely a contributing factor to this phenomenon. In the months to come, I would remember this episode fondly each time my lips kissed that precious little pecker.
For a second, life for me stood still, the stream of coffee frozen like a rope. What seemed like minutes later, the second was gone. I grabbed a handful of napkins and rushed to her aid.
“Oh God, thanks!” she said as she gratefully took a few of the napkins and cleaned the coffee from her face and chin. “I’m so embarrassed.”
Obviously, she had never been warned of the dangers of drinking while laughing.
She took a few more napkins and reached down inside her blouse to get the coffee that had streamed down her creamy white skin. As her hand slid under her bra, I suddenly began feeling very warm. “Better ease up on this hot latte before I start sweating,” I thought to myself.
She used the last of the napkins to give her nose a good hard blow. She was a honker.
“Whew! Lucky I was drinking iced coffee. Last time that happened with hot coffee, my sinuses were scalded so bad I couldn’t smell anything for days.”
Her name was Risa. She invited me to sit down with her and have some more coffee.
“Well, thank you, but I think you’ve already had enough,” I said as I pulled out a chair.
She laughed again. For someone like me, who had just gone through 10 years of a laughless marriage, it was a wonderful feeling “” to make someone laugh, even if the someone wasn’t beautiful.
For the next three hours, we talked and laughed. Mostly, I talked and mostly, she laughed.
What a great sense of humor! Her spirit was free to see and enjoy the humor in everything, which made it that much more of a surprise when she told me she was working as a mortician’s apprentice at Grimm’s Funeral Home. She was in her first year of mortician’s school, working toward her degree in mortuary science.
“Wow, you sure don’t look like a mortician,” I said. “And you don’t act like one, either. Laughter comes so easily to you.”
“Working at the funeral home gives balance to my life,” she explained. “I love life and enjoy it to the fullest, but you know what Sigmund Freud said: “˜The goal of all life is to die.'” Then she broke out into a fit of laughter.
Boy, that Freud! What a comedian!
The next few months were the happiest of my life. She made me feel like a king “” the king of comedy, that is. She was the greatest audience a man could ever have. But there was also a dark side to Risa, and that was her apparent obsession with death.
“Never fear death,” Risa would often admonish me. “Rather, embrace it. Think of it as going on a wonderful journey.”
“Well, if God’s the tour guide on this journey, I wish He’d do me a favor and give me the itinerary.”
She continued, ignoring my comment. “And besides, part of you will live on after you are physically gone. Just by our living, we have altered the course of human existence. Your work as a pest exterminator has already left an indelible mark on the world. Just like all of the great artists who have passed on, leaving their beautiful work for us to enjoy. It’s like a part of them is living on.”
“True,” I said, “but their artistic production has dropped off significantly since they died. Risa, don’t you see a contradiction between your love of life and complete acceptance of death?”
“Life is a contradiction,” she replied.
She loved working at the funeral home, although “” and I guess this is just me “” I considered it creepy. What bothered me the most was that it wasn’t just a job to her. It was a vocation. “My calling in life is serving the dead,” she would often tell me.
The master mortician at Grimm’s Funeral Home, Drago, often complimented Risa on how the place had come alive ever since the day she started work there.
“Before Risa, it was really dead around here. Now the place is filled with joy and laughter.”
I guess you could say that she laughed in the face of death.
I thought something had finally changed one day when she came home from work in tears. I’m ashamed to say it now, but the sight of my beautiful Risa crying actually brought joy to my heart. “That job is finally getting to her,” I thought.
“Did something at work upset you, Risa?” I asked.
“Well, we had this client that came in today, a beautiful woman. So young, only 45. She had a stroke and suddenly died,” she sobbed.
“Risa, I think this job has finally gotten to you. Maybe you should consider changing your career.”
“Oh no, it’s not that. It’s just the way she died. She laughed so hard she had a stroke. Isn’t that beautiful? She died laughing! That’s the way I want to go, Joe.”
My therapist said she reminded me of my mother. For crying out loud! He said every woman reminded me of my mother! Risa was about as much like my mother as the pope.
I had been considering changing my therapist anyway, ever since he had advised me to take up the saxophone as therapy for falling in love with every lovely woman I met. The saxophone! What a dumb idea!
In the beginning, Risa and I were as close as rice and gravy. Then, ever so gradually, things seemed to change. She started coming in later and later from work.
“I’m going to be coming home late tonight. Got a big test Thursday in my advanced rigor mortis class. Gonna go over my notes with Drago after work.”
It seemed like there was one test after another that took Risa away from me.
“Don’t wait up for me. Got a midterm coming up in dressing for death!”
Something was going on. My worst suspicions were confirmed one evening when she came home with coffee stains on her blouse. She had been laughing with another man!
She eventually ran off with Drago, leaving me a goodbye note on Grimm’s Funeral Home stationery. “With Our Deepest Sympathy,” it began on the outside of the card. How fitting.
“Dear Joe. It’s been a wonderful six months. Think of me whenever you laugh. Love, Risa.”
She laughed, she loved, she left. Now I’m left alone to pick up the pieces.
Have I learned anything from my relationship with Risa? Yes. I’ve learned that women do love men who have a sense of humor, but if you think keeping your woman laughing all day long will make her happy, you’re dead wrong.
I’ve also learned that mastering a musical instrument is excellent therapy. My saxophone lessons have kept me pretty busy, so I don’t have much time to think about Risa.