The Last Laugh

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He wore a black collared shirt with the logo of American royalty, a purple horse, embroidered over the left breast. His hair was glossed and spiked with an expensive gel that smelled like an overripe kiwi. My attention, however, was focused on another feature: his lips. As they separated, the metal wires fixed to his teeth protected a smile that flashed "under construction."

The words that came out of his mouth were, like his teeth, less than perfect. For at least a second they were caught in the thick, almost visible, humidity of that Pennsylvania summer, bringing our spat over the excesses of designer clothing to a standstill. Then his comment, loaded with contempt and unfounded anger, almost knocked the wind out of me: "At least I'm not a deaf f--- like you." With that one line, he had taken our petty argument to a place only inhabited by religious slurs and racial epithets. The air stuck in my chest was let out in a short sputter, triggering a catharsis. My lips parted as I began to smile and to laugh in the same motion.

I walked away that day having discovered the power of laughing last. I laughed at the irony of having heard him. I laughed because people like him motivate me to succeed. He thought that being hearing...

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