It was a typical Northern California winter, with heavy rain and high humidity. My bones were cold and in need of warmth. I wanted to hibernate. Sitting in front of a blazing wooden-fire burning with high flames, a pleasant heat pervaded my living room. I didn’t want to go out. But I was supposed to have lunch with my girlfriend Laurie at the Bon Air Shopping Center. Courageously, I affronted the tempest. We met at Noah’s Bagel and ordered our favorite food. While savoring a poppy-seed bagel and sipping a hot latte, I started complaining about being cold to my girlfriend. She listened and said:
“It is not that cold. I thought you were born in Belgium, where the weather is much colder than here.”
“I was born in Africa where the weather is always warm,” I responded, waiting for my friend’s response.
“You were born in Africa? I didn’t know that.”
“My Aunt Lucy was born in Africa.”
“Today, Aunt Lucy is a little over three thousand years old,” I explained with a smile.
“Ha, ha, ha …,” my friend laughed understanding my joke.
“Aunt Lucy is supposedly your Aunt too,” I explained with a big smile. “She’s the Aunt of all human beings. She is one of the known links in humanity’s ancestry that started in Ethiopia.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that theory before,” Laurie answered poking me with her elbow and continuing to laugh.
Seeing her laughing, I started laughing too. Laurie’s laugh was as contagious as a yawn. The contagious laugh didn’t clear easily either. Then, it was time for paper-tissues as my nose started running. One might have thought we had smoked a joint but we hadn’t. It was all genuine and innocent. We couldn’t stop laughing. We laughed a very long time while tears of joy invaded our eyes.
On another outing with my girlfriend, Laurie and I went to the movie theater in San Rafael. We were going to see a French movie.
“The movie is in French with English subtitles,” my girlfriend continued. “It should be easy for you.”
“Yes, I should be fine,” I replied. “It will be good practice. I’m losing my French these days. I can’t find certain words in French when I talk to my mother on the phone.”
“That is not funny.”
“If you don’t use it, you lose it,” I said remembering a famous American expression.
In the dark amphitheater of the movie house, we sat in the back rows popcorns in hand.
Movie trailers started unfolding onto the giant screen. The Northern California movie-theater advertised for new movies that would be showing in a near future. The theater room was packed with Marin residents in search of an evening of entertainment. As it happened, a violent film was eventually promoted on the screen. The trailer for the movie didn’t appeal to me. Without a conscious control of my thoughts, my mouth exclaimed out loud:
“I don’t think so.”
Laurie started to laugh, everyone in the room started to laugh.
“Oups,” I said softly to my girlfriend.
Staring at Laurie, I started to laugh as well.
When the next advertisement for another movie came onto the screen, Laurie and I were still laughing. Waves of laughs bounced back between us like a ping pong ball. Again, we couldn’t stop. Tears began to drip down my cheeks while my hand desperately searched for tissues.
“Shhhhhhhhhhh,” said the crowd.
Our French movie was starting and we were able to stop our compulsive behavior. While eating warm popcorns, we stared at the big screen. The title: “La Vie en Rose” appeared in gigantic letters and the famous Edith Piaf song began to play. With my girlfriend, I discovered the tragic life story of the notorious French singer. I was glad to have extra tissues with me. I hadn’t cried in a movie for years. Walking out of the theater Laurie said:
“You know. You are part of our family.”
“My adopted family,” I responded with a smile. “A very nice one.”
And we hugged.
Back in Belgium for more than a year, I miss Laurie’s hugs. I miss all my California friends’ hugs. Belgians don’t hug, they kiss. In Belgium one kiss on the cheek is usually the custom. On the bright side of life, laughing seems universal and a human need. Most humans enjoy a good laugh. Yet laughs and tears seem of opposite forces. While tears often come from sorrow, sometimes tears are pearls of joy. I miss great laughing with Laurie.