This week, random.org “assigned” me Mama Kat prompt number three: An inappropriate time to laugh. At least twenty years have elapsed since my “inappropriate laughter” incident happened, but it still makes me laugh even as I worry that I singlehandedly derailed my friend’s volunteer telephone counseling career.
I signed up to be a crisis counselor for our local Telephone Counseling and Referral Service around the same time I began my master’s program in Counseling and Human Systems. This was back when I thought I just might be able to save the world with my counseling skills. (My aspirations for saving the world are considerably more modest now…..). The training program relied heavily on role plays. One of the trainees would play the caller; one would play the counselor, and the other trainees as well as the trainer would give feedback after the role play concluded.
I had a good bit of chemistry going on with one of my fellow trainees. This chemistry was never destined to lead anywhere except to a bit of fun and a few cardiac pitter pats. But it was there for sure. Mr. Chemistry and I were in the same training group. On one of our training nights, the following role play took place (he and I were both observers; we were not involved in the role play — if we had been we probably would have actually been concentrating on the “call” and not one another’s nonverbals). Another friend, a female trainee named “X” (her name really did start with an X!) was the “counselor.”
The assignment to the caller was that they should have a somewhat chronic depression exacerbated by demands placed upon them by difficult personal circumstances. Here’s how the “call” went unfolded:
Counselor: Telephone Counseling Services, how may I help you?
Caller: I am just looking for someone to talk to; I am so exhausted and need a break.
Counselor: I am glad you called; sometimes we all just need someone to talk to.
Caller: My husband has been out of work for six months; trying to keep him cheerful is sapping every bit of my energy.
Counselor: That can be difficult – being “cheerful” for two.
Caller: Exactly. And I am afraid my children are feeling the stress too. If he would help out even with housework it would help me not feel so stretched in a hundred different directions.
Counselor: So on top of parenting and helping run the house you feel you have to be the cheerleader for everyone.
Caller: It’s a struggle just getting him up in the morning.
[at this point, I lock eyes with Mr. Chemistry and we both hear the unintended double entendre of the “caller’s” statement and there is clearly no hope that the inherent amusement we both feel will remain quiet and subdued … we both lose it and start laughing uncontrollably … sitting right there in the class]
There was a bit of mass confusion as some people caught on and laughed (NOT our trainer!) and as a group we tried to find our way back to being adults training for the very serious job of being phone counselors.
I remember the trainer leading us in a “processing” of the incident afterwards. I remember feeling very bad for X, who I know was thrown off her rhythm and any shred of concentration.
X and Mr. Chemistry both went on to be counselors at the agency. I was a counselor for quite some time and worked up to being an On Call Supervisor and trainer.
I still see Mr. Chemistry around town; he is married with a child. This town is not so big that we don’t travel in a few of the same circles.
I don’t even know if he remembers the incident or the several-week-long period of my life when I was coaxed just a little bit out of my straight-arrow-ness by the lure of an irresistible chemistry.
I know I chuckle inside every time I think of that moment of inappropriate laughter.
And all the “ups” and “downs” that came with it.