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  • "This isn't funny," I chided myself. "This isn't funny. Thisisntfunny!"

    I pinched the tender bit of flesh inside my arm, near the elbow, and buried my face in a scarf as I prayed to stop shaking with laughter. It was a funeral! Granted, it was absurd - a hamster funeral with an open casket viewing on Christmas Day, but sometime soon, the loss of a pet would devastate the child. She just needed to stop moving, to stop organizing pallbearers, chairs and microphone for the eulogies.

    When it was my turn, she tapped my knee and motioned to the mic. I faced the family of the bereaved and had nothing to offer. Nothing at all.

    "He was a good hamster," I said, floundering for words and fighting a laugh. Idly, I wondered if maybe I it was something else. I'd seen the commercials. I knew that I was at risk for "emotional incontinence."

    "If you're experiencing uncontrollable laughter and/or crying you could have Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA). Take this short assessment and talk with your doctor!"

    Tears came easily lately, rolling down my cheeks as I walked down the street, in bed at night, on the floor of my living room with great wracking sobs when I came home to blood, broken glass, shredded basket and mail strewn across the floor.

    At the time, I attributed the tears to the stress of work and the holidays, family issues, health problems, and volunteering, damage, destruction and mayhem caused by a neurotic dog and a local vandal, but maybe it was something else.

    "He brought great joy to Emma's life and he will be missed."

    I actually had plans for the day, lame plans, but it was a holiday! A day of nothing at all! I planned to spend the whole day in bed, in my pajamas, watching Hallmark Christmas movies. I'd seen them all (that's where I learned about PBA!) but that didn't matter. Having already seen them made everything better. I didn't have to stay awake to follow them! They would pass in a pleasant blur of holiday hope and happiness.

    The past couple of days had left my head spinning and back screaming with pain. My feet dragged. My vision faltered. I struggled to talk because I had a condition exacerbated by stress. I longed for lame, but when friends invited me over, offered to feed me, opened their home and the holiday, I shelved the Hallmark Movies (back in 11 months!) to break bread (stuffed squash) together, watch half a movie and sleep on the couch.

    At a half past three, I woke to strange sounds in an unfamiliar place. My glasses on the table, I squinted into the dark.

    "Hey, sweetie. What's up?"

    Nobody answered.

    "Emma?" I asked and reached for my glasses.

    I was talking to the Christmas tree.

    At a quarter past six, with five hours of sleep, I woke to sobs from somewhere upstairs. The tree remained silent on the issue, but I pushed up from the couch, folded my blanket and found the girl crying. The hamster was dead. Her hamster was dead.

    "Well, that's not exactly a Christmas miracle, is it?" I muttered.

    "If you only knew how many times she came into our room and said that he'd died!" her mother said. "In the past, he was just sleeping."

    The hamster slowly stiffened inside his cage.

    "If only it were Easter," her dad said. "The hamster's dead. The hamster's risen! The hamster will come again… Let's open presents."

    There weren't any for me. I'd brought gifts for my hosts but they weren't exactly doing Christmas this year. They weren't doing a lot of things this year. Most of the gifts went to the girl with the dead hamster. My own presents waited at home and I'd get there eventually. After presents, though, came breakfast, Legos and lunch, another film, a walk, prep for dinner.

    "I'm awfully tired," I said.

    "Why don't you take a nap?"

    "Where?" I wondered.

    People were sitting on the couch, my bed for those few, disorienting hours. The girl fluttered about, decorating the coffin, making arrangements for the services, arranging seats and pall bearers.

    "I want everyone to dress up!" she proclaimed.

    I wanted to go home but we didn't always get what we wanted.

    I was stuck. I couldn't drive and my ability to walk and talk were quickly disintegrating. At home, on my doorstep, packages were being ripped open and pillaged but before I could find them, long before I got there I had a hamster funeral that left me in stitches. Flowers. Cayenne pepper. Eulogies.

    "Do we throw a handful of dirt?"

    Nearly 2 million Americans with certain underlying neurologic diseases suffered from PBA. I had one! I had an underlying neurologic disease! Maybe that was me!

    Of course, maybe it was just that funny.
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