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.


“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.


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.


Mom said to me, “What else?”


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.


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


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.


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.