Few things are more universally adorable than a baby in a full-blown belly laugh. You know the kind, when the baby’s entire body seems to be laughing. And it doesn’t take much to elicit the delightful reaction, quite often it’s completely accidental. A new sound, a funny face made by Uncle Craig, the puppy licking their toes. It’s contagious, too. You must be in a pretty foul mood not to crack a smile at the very least. Dog lovers know that happiness and joy are not exclusive to humans either. Your dog’s face when you come home, her whole-body-tail-wag is pure excitement, a joy-filled heart at the site of the person she loves more than anything in the world.
When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried? For me it was about 20 minutes ago, when Carli was trying to get the maps to work on her phone but wasn’t having much success. Feeling a little frustrated she said “damn it”, to which her phone replied “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with damn it.” An unexpected moment of hilarious silliness from a cell phone……fantastic! A few nights ago, Carli and I were watching a movie and near the end she was laughing so hard she was brought to tears. I was laughing at the movie, too. It was sweet and funny; the humor came at the expense of no one. While I was laughing right along with Carli, I searched 30 years of memories for a time before she transitioned when she laughed so hard and with such unabashed emotion and pleasure. I simply could not find one.
I remember times when Carli was happy, joyful, amused, of course. The typical life events that produce intense emotions did elicit pride, fear, joy, sadness in Carli. But what I do not recall are the outward, public expressions of these emotions, like laughing so hard she cried. Her emotions were always tempered, always measured and reserved. I chalked it up to her military bearing and never questioned it. Being stoic was simply expected and anything less was often considered a sign of weakness. Now we know much of this was self-preservation, a coping mechanism employed to avoid feelings she couldn’t understand and certainly didn’t think she could share.
People used to ask me why Carli was always angry. I assured them she wasn’t angry, she just didn’t smile a lot. She rarely let anyone take her picture, and never smiled if someone was lucky enough to snap a shot. She wasn’t much for conversation, either. A good friend recently said the longest sentence he ever heard Carli say was about six words long and the topic was usually a tractor. It wasn’t until she came out that her smile was spotted more often and she started to enjoy long talks. It happened slowly over time, but the change is dramatic. She wears her emotions well, is unafraid to be expressive, and the feeling of freedom that surrounds her is palpable.
What breaks my heart are the years she spent burying her emotions instead of feeling connected to the people around her. How hard must that be, to constantly hide behind a façade of stoicism, stifling the very emotions that make a human being feel human? And for what purpose? From my vantage point Carli had years of feeling human stolen from her because other people are uncomfortable or unaccepting or hateful or hurtful or bigoted or violent. Because they deny the existence of the transgender person. Because their version of religion says God doesn’t make mistakes.
I wish there was a way I could get all those years back for Carli. Can we get a do-over, please? Carli deserves to feel and express emotions just like everyone else, and I deserve to witness all the joy, bliss, grief, surprise, admiration, love, serenity……
She deserves to laugh until she cries.