Today I was chatting with a coworker who I knew had been in an abusive relationship in the past. She was laughing as she told me and another coworker about how her ex never let her leave the house. Like she was for real cracking jokes about his jealous rages and how she wasn’t allowed to so much as set foot outside their door if he wasn’t with her, and the way she was telling it was funny, so we laughed along. “That’s why I enjoy doing the little things now, like taking the bus and going to the bank,” she said, and we all giggled because who likes public transportation and doing errands, right?
Then she got serious for the first time since the conversation started, it lasted only for a few moments, but I will never forget the one sentence that she said without smiling: “I’m going to die before I let that happen to me again.”
There was also this one rape victim whom a relative of mine represented in court. The rapist’s lawyer tried to discredit her by pointing out that she’d laughed while giving her testimony. She was eighteen years old on the witness stand, telling a judge and a room full of people about what had been done to her. She giggled because she was embarrassed about having to describe the graphic sex acts, and she nearly lost her case because of that.
I have classmates who laughed while telling me about old men who stole kisses from them. Who made jokes out of stories about their boyfriends screening their messages and forcing them to do things they didn’t want to do. I have known girls who were molested and manipulated for years, who shake their heads and snicker at their own past selves, how could I have let him do that to me, I was so naive, hahaha. This one woman reenacted for me, complete with dramatic gestures and voice impersonations, how her ex-husband who was under a Temporary Restraining Order scaled the gate of her house with a gun, and how she’d locked herself in her bedroom and screamed at the police over the phone to come NOW. Both of us were in stitches at the end of her tale, clutching our stomachs in mirth.
Just because they laugh doesn’t mean it isn’t real.