I am going to doom the very beginning of this blog with a terrible confession: Ted Cruz has made me laugh, twice.
Not laugh at him, but laugh with him. Twice, I’ve seen him say something genuinely, surprise-myself-I-laughed-so-hard funny.
The second time was this:
If you’re not familiar with why this is funny, you’ll find the basics here.
Aspects of this are clearly not at all funny — such as the number of people who think this could be true, that it’s not exactly in good taste to joke about unidentified murderers with victim’s families still awaiting justice, or that it’s a depressingly stark reminder of the way conspiracy culture and disinformation has spread — but I still laughed.
Because it was still funny.
I stumbled across this post while on the annual trip with my husband and my mother to Florida, after doing the 4am work of determining the best spots to hunt for shells that day: checking wind direction, travel times, weather, tide, traffic patterns, and contingency locations because for all that squinting at the variables, it’s still often enough up to the whims of the seashell gods. There’s a general understanding that I’ll be doing the prep work for this, starting a year out, charting a month out, double-checking a week out, and then still having to double down on the specifics at 4am, and they will be chill with me potentially waking them to coffee up and dash out the door well before dawn.
Typically, this means I wake up at 4am, have coffee, and waste a few hours, unable to go back to sleep.
But that morning, I laughed. I laughed so hard it woke my mother in her room, and she asked if I was all right.
I felt bad for waking her early, but thought she — very conservative — might appreciate the reason why.
“Ted Cruz said something really funny.”
I showed her.
“I don’t get it?”
“While he was running for president, people spread an idiotic rumor that he was the Zodiac Killer. He’s playing along with the joke. Good on him for having a sense of humor about it.”
She immediately flew into a rage, red-faced, glaring at me.
“I never heard that! How could you say such a terrible thing!”
I didn’t think this was a controversial statement. I didn’t think it was cruel or hateful in any way — in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“I didn’t say it. It’s a ridiculous rumor from the internet. It’s obviously false.”
But she wasn’t hearing me any more. She wasn’t hearing anything I said then any more than she’d heard what I said before it with any clarity at all. I may not always express myself perfectly, but I’d been careful — as I always am around her — to avoid any potential ambiguities.
She was furious and, somehow, terrified. She looked at me like I was an ominous stranger with a knife; me, in a dumpy tee and sweatpants, barefoot, holding up an iPhone in a mermaid case and a cup of morning coffee, with helpless and baffled look on my face.
None of it mattered.
I was enemy.
She fled to her room, slamming the door behind her.
There was no response.
I waited by the door for a few minutes, trying to discern if she was all right.
It wasn’t long before I heard the television fire up FOXnews, and, after another few minutes, I stepped away to the balcony and curled up in a chair by the table around my cold coffee, leaving both phone and even the cloves behind.
We had to leave well before dawn that morning. It was still dark over the marina, and all but the safety lights on the boats had long since gone out. I sat in the chill without feeling it, and listened to the sounds of the wind and the waves as the tide crawled out trying to process what had just happened, but for all I understand of the subject, it remained as hazy as the view of the fading stars through the bug screen.
The light flicked on, and the sliding door connecting her room and the patio opened; she started to step outside. When she saw I was sitting outside, she began the usual psychosomatic and still somehow-performative coughing she saves for when she sees me smoking, slipped back in, and the door slammed shut with a snap. The light went off again.
I sighed, only then realizing I’d left the cloves inside. It’s a part of who she is that I am used to, no matter how exhausting.
It was trivial.
Right then, it didn’t matter. It was one more leaf on the pile, and the pile was now infested by a nest of angry rattlesnakes. I wasn’t particularly concerned with the leaves.
The lights came on again, and she stepped outside to stiffly ask when we’d be going. I told her, and where, and she went back in without a word, only a nod.
Between the lack of cloves and the realization I needed to wake my husband to get ready, I hauled myself out of the chair and unceremoniously went about rousing him and getting my gear sorted before returning outside to actually have a clove.
When I came back in, he was getting things together from the kitchen, and he asked what was wrong. I’m often fairly good at hiding that, but was failing. I told him the short form. I showed him the post. He laughed, too.
So why did I feel like an alien from Mars?
It isn’t funny how emotion sometimes turns all logic on its head like that, it’s frustrating. I understood completely that I wasn’t the irrational one in this situation, but it didn’t matter worth a damn because I still felt like I was.
When she came out, dressed, seeming pleasant, to gather up a few mesh bags and a bucket, she asked if we were almost ready. After my husband listed off the few things he had left to do, I tried to guess at her level of calm.
She seemed all right enough for, “I’m sorry I upset you, Mom.”
I was wrong. I often forget that I picked up that trait from her, and she’s better at it than I am.
She exploded into a paranoid, accusatory frenzy that was so quick and frantic I could barely make it out, only that it ended with, “Maybe I should just stay here.”
Thankfully, my husband took over with the reassurances she should come along, and I was silent. I answered questions with as few words as possible, which — as anyone who has managed to read this far might guess — isn’t very typical of me.
No one spoke on the ride down the elevator, or on the walk to the car in the parking garage.
She piled into the back with her tablet, which lit up the interior television blue while he drove off into the 5:30am of southeast Florida with a morning radio show not a one of us cared about chattering low.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful for the dark, because I could cry and no one would say anything. I still have a few of my old voice tricks, and not a one of the sobs or chokes made a sound; I was even able to fake a conversational tone the few times my husband asked a question.
He still knew. Maybe not all of it, but he caught enough in the periphery, and was kind enough to say nothing. I caught the worried looks he darted my way.
I might have been able to hold in the sound, but not the feeling of grief.
I had spent so much time trying to counter these influences, to push back against the fear-mongering and extremes, to get reliable and verifiable information to my family.
Whatever had a hold of her, it was completely impenetrable. If I had behaved as she did that morning, she would have accused me of being possessed, and I couldn’t get in, or past, around, or through it.
I failed, and I had lost my mother.
It was the latter that played over and over in my head for the better part of half an hour, until the blue light went out, and she began whispering prayers I could never make out in the back of the car, as she did every morning we went out before dawn.
I can’t describe what that mix of sorrow and dread was like. I don’t have the words for it, and couldn’t manage if I spent thousands trying. It sat like an ominous hollow in my chest until we pulled into the beach lot, and I fled the car for the sea.
By the time the sun came up, I’d found a few things — including my husband — and we didn’t really talk about it. There was nothing to be done, and thus even less to say.
She came up to where we were tag-team sifting with a smile. She was going to head back to the car, having found some things, too.
She paused, frowning, as she looked at me. I only ever ugly cry, and I must have been a sickening magenta.
“Your face is all red. You shouldn’t rush out without sunscreen tomorrow!”
I’d laugh, but it isn’t funny.