My grandfather used to call me a buster. He’d use the moniker when I’d move my mother’s purse from one spot to another — giggling as she searched the kitchen repeating, “I know I just had it.” Or when my sister called asking for a ride and I pretended not to understand her.
In my teenage years, I’d disguise my voice and call my grandmother on the phone, claiming she owed a significant amount of money to Seventeen magazine. As the owner of a beauty parlor, she received countless free magazines — a smart promotional tool used by publishing agents to target readers as they sat under the dryer. She’d go round and round, confused about the payments, until I broke down in laughter.
Little gags like these always amused me and, unfortunately for those around me, I never grew out of them. During family vacations, my sisters-in-laws are often unwitting victims of my pranksterism. With 11 adults and nine kids in one space, bathroom time is fairly limited. One day, my sister-in-law sat next to me on the couch, her wet hair still dripping from the shower, and expressed her aggravation. It seemed every time she stepped into the bathroom, someone knocked on the door needing to get in. I gave it a day before I designated one of the nine children to knock on the bathroom door or sneak in to grab something every time she entered the sacred space. It’s been three years now, and I still break into hysterics when I hear her sigh or yell, “For crying out loud!” from behind the door.
During quiet afternoons at the beach, when everyone is recovering in beach chairs, tired and salt covered from wrestling the waves, I’ve stealthily placed an uneaten piece of a sandwich or a few broken chips behind a victim’s chair–usually my mother, aunt, or the sister-in-law that’s annoyed by the bathroom time, and watched as the giant birds inched closer, ultimately converging on the bait. I walk away in hysterics, my sides splitting with laughter, as they scream and frantically jump out of their chairs yelling, “Where the hell are they coming from?”
At the office, I’m quick to break the tension before a press conference by jumping out from behind a door or shouting co-workers’ names when they run by. It’s immature and annoying, I’m sure, but I find it adds a bit of levity to the moment. It breaks the tension, jolts our senses, and strengthens our–okay my– mental health as laughter.
Living up to my grandfather’s nickname has paid off in tough situations. During a tense deadline, my words babbling onto the page in a failed attempt to wrap up a piece, the numbers fighting in the background, complaining about dinner and other things they need-like toilet paper, the matriarch sister-in-law calls demanding to know if I hid dirty underwear in her bathroom drawer.
My heightened stress melts into barely controllable laughter –eye-tearing, belly shaking, knee-slapping, can’t-catch-your-breath laughter. It crushes my insides, ultimately morphing pleasure into a realm of pain, as she drones on about the nastiness of the old underwear, demanding to know whom it belonged to, how long it had been there, and whether it had contaminated the other garments in the drawer. I manage to stifle my guffaws long enough to explain that the contaminated underwear are in fact a fake; a gag gift I found in a store when we went shopping. She tells me I’m sick in the head and warns me that payback would be coming before she hangs up the phone. Yet, instead of fear, or plaguing anxiety that I may have gone too far, I’m filled with an invigorated sense of clarity. A moment that has renewed my spirit, leaving me to tackle the toilet paper crisis and finish my deadline with 20 minutes to spare. My humor may not be appreciated by those around me. But for me, it’s the most affordable best mental health I have found.