One Spring morning during ’08 I learnt one of the most important lessons of my life. I learnt that laughter is always a better reaction to most things in life than anger.
I sat at the dining-table with Sam and checked out my nails. I could see dad out of the corner of my eye wiping down the bench in the kitchen, wasting time just like us.
I felt incredibly anxious just sitting there. It wasn’t like we were doing anything productive by sitting there, waiting for yet another Occupational Therapist to arrive. Especially now that he was late. Didn’t he realise I had shit to do?
I desperately wanted to go finish work on my computer for Uni. I really didn’t want to be out here. The only reason I was out here was because Dad had asked us almost twenty minutes ago to come out to the table to wait for the OT. We both knew he’d turn the internet off if we ignored him, so neither one of us had argued when he’d told us to come out. However, after patiently waiting for what had seemed like ages—we were both fed up.
‘This guy is wasting our time Dad.’
‘I’ve got stuff to do.’
‘I’m not waiting here anymore.’
Dad held up both hands up in an effort to stop us from leaving. ‘He’s coming here to see you two girls.’ He narrowed his eyes at us, ‘you both agreed.’
I rolled my eyes at him. ‘Well he’s probably forgotten about this appointment anyway, and besides I’ve been thinking lately I don’t really nee—’
A car door slammed outside and the three of us craned our necks to see outside. Dad got up and looked out the front door. ‘He’s here girls.’ He shot us a told-you-so look over his shoulder, ‘what’s his name again?’
‘Umm, I think it’s Freddy.’
A short, pudgy man who looked to be in his seventies made his way over to our front door. He was carrying a stack of papers with him so Dad held open the door for him as he approached. ‘Nice to meet you Fred, I’m Mike – the two troublemakers Dad.’ He shook the OT’s hand enthusiastically.
He spoke with a Polish accent, ‘actually it’s Fryderyk, not Fred.’
Dad smiled back, ‘sorry mate, the girls told me it was Fred.’ He turned around and glared at me.
I grinned at Fryderyk but the corners of his mouth never even twitched. ‘Sorry about that.’
Dad gestured inside. ‘Come on in and have a seat, Fryderyk, we’ve been expecting you.’
Fryderyk walked crab-like through the open door. ‘Yes, the traffic was shocking.’
Was that supposed to be an apology for being late?
Dad closed the door behind him, ‘so where are you from, Fryderyk?’
‘Warsaw.’ Fryderyk mumbled as he shifted uncomfortably.
Dad beamed, ‘such a beautiful city.’
Fryderyk raised his brows, ‘you have been there?’
Dad coughed, ‘no, no,’ he shook his head, ‘I’ve just heard good things about it.’ There was a moment’s pause before he continued by gesturing in our direction. ‘Please, do have a seat at the table.’
Fryderyk took a seat at one end of the table and set down his papers, as far away from Sam and I as he could get.
A moment later Dad joined the table and looked at us. ‘Girls, have you met Fryderyk before?’
Hasty introductions were made, followed by shy smiles and lots of nodding. The old man seemed to not like us very much, he hadn’t returned any of our smiles and couldn’t even be fucking bothered to shake our hands. In fact, come to think of it, he hadn’t smiled once since his arrival. What a grump!
The next half hour consisted of Fryderyk telling us how he had studied the best exercises out there for Friedreich’s Ataxia as part of his university course back in Poland. He informed us that he knew more about FA than most doctors who specialised in the condition. He told us that we should not be going to gym at all—because that would only tire us out (even though I’m pretty sure that’s not exclusive to our condition).
He gave me and Sam a whole heap of documents outlining the stretches he wanted us to do every day. He told us they were the only exercises we should do.
Throughout his entire spiel, we had all been making eye contact, wondering if this arrogant dickhead was serious. How dare he tell us that he knew more about FA than we did; we had been living it for a lot longer than he had been studying it and we were in contact with a global FA community that contradicted everything he was saying.
The part that sent me over the edge was when he held up the exercise sheets that he had printed for us, and pointing to each exercise in turn he told us in a stern voice to ‘just do it!’ He reminded me of Ben Stiller in Starsky & Hutch, he sounded like an absolute fucking idiot and I couldn’t help giggling.
Sam and I had been grinning at each other for some time, this OT was unlike any other OT we’d ever met. He was incredibly bossy, although he had no right to be (it was our life after all), and he seemed to think we would take everything he said at face value. It had gotten to the point where I couldn’t meet her eye without giggling. So, when I started having a quiet chuckle at Fryderyk telling us to ‘just do it!’ she started as well.
That was it. We lost it. The giggling grew louder and louder, I could no longer hear anything whatshisname said but I could see his mouth moving. I kept trying to stop laughing and act like an adult, but the more I tried the more I laughed. Every time I thought I had a grip on my hilarity Sam would start giggling and set me off again.
I can’t even remember stopping; I think eventually he stomped out, no doubt highly offended by our rude behaviour which I thought served him fucking right.
I remember wondering whether anyone had laughed at him like that before? I mean, how could anyone take him seriously?
Well he obviously took himself very seriously.
I will forever remember that day and that bloody Fryderyk. Because of him, laughing became my go to reaction in the face of ignorance. Something that’s been invaluable to me over the years.