That’s Not Funny: Why I Joke About My Abusive Childhood

TRIGGER WARNING: Rape, antelope rape, AIDS-rabies

I have a really dark sense of humor, and it’s gotten me in trouble. A lot. Frequently the only thing that’s gotten me out of trouble is that most of what I joke about has actually happened to me.

Humor saved my life. There’s a part in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that says “we are not a glum lot. If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn’t want it. We absolutely insist on enjoying life.”

Of course I thought that was fucking bullshit the instant I heard it. All the sober alcoholics I knew were glum. In fact, glum would have been an improvement. Then again, everybody I knew was glum. I was a very serious child. I became a very serious teen. My favorite thing about jokes was to point out all the racist and classist parts so that I could feel superior to everybody else and ruin their fun at the same time. Double whammy. (As if this doesn’t prove that all of you guys who are guessing which program I’m in aren’t completely right.)

I remember the first time I really, actually laughed. Not because I have a vivid memory. But because I was 15. I talk a little bit about this in Two Corns Passing in the Night, but the human condition is ultimately a hilarious one. Here we are, running around pretending to have these extremely important experiences, where we reach our career goals and make peace with our abusive mothers, and at the end of the day we’re basically just animated rot on the ass-cheek of the universe. We are all as important as a dried up corn kernel under the fridge. That’s the meaning of life.

Humor is two things. It’s a way to tell the truth without flinching, and it’s a way to keep the truth in it’s place. Yeah, something so terrible has happened that you’re not sure you can breath, but you keep doing it anyway, even as you expect to be swept off the planet by the vacuum of your loss after which you will float, aimless and windless through the cold and vast gape of an uncaring solar system. But if you walk 10 feet in any direction, chances are you’ll find someone who doesn’t know, doesn’t care, or can and will tell you that they personally have had worse happen to them. You got raped by a prison gang? They got raped by a herd of antelope, then trampled, then rescued by rebel soldiers and then raped again. Now they have AIDS-rabies and would like it if you checked your rape privilege. Also, that is able-ist. Jesus, you’re insensitive.

I’ve seen a lot of people (not you) who cherish their grief because they think that’s all they have left. I know that’s what I did, and still do from time to time. I built a mansion out of my misery where I boarded up the windows, barricaded the doors, and slept in a box in the basement, alone. My trauma is so sacred to me that I want to make sure nobody else can touch it with their grimey, mortal hands. I preserve every terrible moment in it’s own crystal bubble, exactly as I perceived it to be at the time, and when I feel the gaping hole in my chest start to ache, I take them all out and parade them around, and insist that everybody stay 15 feet away and only say good things about how tragic it all is.

In my experience, keeping trauma precious is a great way to keep it real, to ensure it’s effects stay unchanged in your life until you take that trophy wound and smash it with a rock. I know I’m really okay with something when I can easily joke and laugh about it. The big bad wolf turned out to be a mouse in a clown shoe. Not to say that trauma is unimportant, but at a certain point I found that I was using it as an excuse for not engaging in the outside world, for keeping people on their toes around me, and for controlling the situation by holding topical veto power by virtue of my terribly sad childhood. Turns out it’s way more fun to laugh at myself, and by extension at every shitty circumstance that thought to hold me down.