I come by my ability to laugh at bad luck honestly. Not from my mom or pops, but my Aunt Marti—my mom’s younger sister. She can’t get through the story of my mom being tossed head first off a demented horse without tinkling just a little. Sure, mom required stitches, she had gravel imbedded in her chin for weeks and her glasses were smashed. All Marti saw was the trail horse my mom was riding take off like a shot when a car backfired, then as quickly stop on a dime, sending my mom over its ears like a game-winning NFL field goal. It doesn’t sound funny unless you hear Marti tell it, and you have to see her face contort in hysterics during the telling. Apparently, the whole thing happened in slow motion.
The first time I heard the story my innards seized with pity for my mom. How awful! It didn’t seem like the sort of thing one should laugh at, but my mom and her sister grew up poor, without a dad, and they never felt sorry for themselves. So I imagine they learned to laugh off a lot of stuff that would have sunk a lesser person.
That’s just something that has stuck with me my whole life. Sure, I wasn’t laughing at the time that my grandma made my two piece bathing suit for a swim meet and didn’t know there was something called swimsuit elastic, and my bottoms remained at one end of the pool as I swam to the other. I was nine. And fat. And swimming the crawl. Right about now a picture should be emerging of a big white butt rising out of the water like an albino manatee. They didn’t have prescription goggles like they do today, so I have no idea whether Aunt Marti was in the stands laughing like a maniac or not, but I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that one.
The thing is, when it happened, the world didn’t stop spinning. Nor did anyone bring me my bottoms. I hop/swam to the other end of the pool to retrieve them myself, and realized then and there it wasn’t that bad. At the age of nine, hop/swimming toward my giant white waffle-weave bottoms with yellow daisy appliques, I was already plotting how I’d tell the story. I knew that making it funny would diffuse the horror. No one would ridicule me if I made them laugh first.
I rehearsed the story in the car on the way home to great reviews. To this day when my dad finds something really truly hilarious he does a crinkly-eyed, open-mouthed grimace-y silent laugh until he turns red and tears stream down his face. When I saw the grimace and the tears I knew I had him. I knew I was onto something.
Over the years many many insane things have happened to me—things that make the swimsuit episode pale in comparison. (I was only a little kid then. I hadn’t even begun to date yet.) All these instances of bad luck formed the foundation for the character of Charlotte Nightingale. I took a girl who at first blush was maybe not quite as tough as me (or my mom and her sister) and I threw everything I had at her. Then I applied the magic that I had learned that day in the car on the way home from my swim meet, and Charlotte evolved into someone I love dearly, and who doesn’t mind one bit that I laugh with her every chance I get.