It was in our living room. I was a seasoned eight-year-old performing for Mom and her buddy’s happy hour. Mom handed me two small aqua-colored dinner plates. She held a clear adult beverage and a burning Virginia Slim in one hand, and her other hand, outstretched, was passing me the plates.

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“Here,” Mom said. “What can you do with these? Make something.” Cool. I got to stay up late. She wasn’t mad at me when I made her laugh.

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I held the saucers up on top of my head. “Hi! I’m Minnie Mouse.” The buzzed group smoke-laughed at the charming performer. One bouffant beauty sloshed her drink a bit, which only made her laugh more.

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Mom said to me, “What else?”

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My brain spun through ideas. I held the plates by my ears and said, “I can’t hear you! What?” More laughs. (I am killin’!) A two-inch long ash clung to the end of Mom’s ciggie even as she pointed at me, drink sloshing. That ash is not going to surrender.

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“One more, Lisa.” Mom urged, her smile equal parts pride and vodka. Coral-colored Mary Kay lipstick stuck to her front tooth.

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I put the saucers in front of my eyes and announced, “Who-o! Who-o!” The crowd was quite smart, and one of Mom’s male guests in tan plaid pants chirped, “She’s an owl!” I knew they weren’t ready for my “bikini top made of dinnerware” finale, so I let that pass and headed to bed.

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Lesson: I learned very young that laughter connects ages and groups. Humor is a universal communicator. Also, I discovered that an abusive mother who is laughing isn’t hitting you.