He Stopped Laughing by Heidi Paulec

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I sat alone on the fading brown and orange sofa as the film projector portrayed Sunday afternoon of many years earlier.  I chased him behind one side of the brand new brown and orange sofa; we emerged on the opposite side.  Grinning and giggling, we ran around our grandparents’ living room again and again.  As the film cycle-clicked into darkness and the projector clicked off, the silence screamed.

His brother and I sat on the chilled floor of his dimly lit, abandoned room.  We sifted through remnants of his possessions…  Searching for… peace for our own souls.  Quietly, we intruded into his belongings.  His brother uncovered a tidy stack of Sports Illustrated magazines featuring the trials and triumphs of the Denver Broncos and the University of Nebraska Cornhusker’s football teams.  As he flipped the pages, he voiced, barely above a whisper, “Remember how we use to fight about football?”

Rummaging through his top desk drawer, I discovered a stack of photographs.  Slowly, I turned toward the lamp and placed one behind the others to see each photograph.  His strained family portrait taken three years earlier introduced the stack, followed by my school pictures from the past four years along with two of my dance team shots.  A couple friends school photos.  And one snapshot, he captured in Seattle just as a lowering drawbridge silhouetted in the dusking sun, completed the stack.

On top of his desk, his brother noticed a stack of perfectly clipped Calvin and Hobbes comic strips.  Scanning them, he read them slowly to me.  Quietly, we snickered together.  Calvin and Hobbes framed his humor and his brilliance within its simplicity; and somehow, despite the heaving unknowns, we experienced a transfer of humor and brilliance.  An unconscious weight… we carry.

A couple decades before, two young brothers married to two young sisters in a small country church planted on the prairie in Wyoming.  A couple years later, he- Carlton Jamison Plinsky– was born to one couple.  Seven weeks later, I was born to the other couple.  Since our families lived so close, we grew up nearly inseparable.  Great-Grandma Ruth often chanted her revised version of the “Jack & Jill” nursery rhyme.  “Jamie and Heidi went up a hill to fetch a pail of water.  Jamie fell down and broke his crown.  And Heidi came tumbling after…”  Jamie sat on her right knee while I sat on her left as she told us story after story with her ageless grin.   “Jamie gets so tickled!” she’d say time and time again.  I can still hear his laugh echo in the confines of my mind.

Jamie and Heidi Easter 1975

We shared family; we shared memories.  We shared humor, as well as questions, as we grew older.  Our extended family’s structured strictness often stirred us to question.  While we recognized the necessity of guidance, we often discussed our opinions of what we perceived as harsh rules.  We wondered.  We may have mocked.  Mainly, we navigated our childhood together. 

Jamie and Heidi 1976


We no longer make memories, share humor or questions. My Dad quietly told me the news.  Dropping to my knees, I sobbed hysterically.  Time froze.  Sleep evaded me.  Shock overtook me.  Thus, I wrestled to rein in every pelting thought until we arrived at his home pulsing with people, but lifeless without him.The Sheriff’s Report read, “On January 18, 1992 at approximately 7 p.m. 17-year-old Carlton Plinsky committed suicide while visiting the lodge with a youth group.

Just two months earlier, at Thanksgiving 1991, he and I spent hours watching football, sharing thoughts, and exchanging questions.  Although his gaze -distant and sad-, his stance appeared more confident and his demeanor more peaceful.  Our family, our holiday, our lives sighed “normal.”  My parents and I took him to the airport.  As he walked slowly down the terminal ramp, my Dad yelled some crazy (maybe even bordering on coarse) joke.  Jamie turned his head over his left shoulder and LAUGHED.  I saw him laugh.  I heard him laugh.  But, sometime between Thanksgiving and January 18, he stopped laughing.


This piece was written by Heidi Paulec and originally posted to her personal blog Shadows Presence. To read more from Heidi, check out her blog!

8 Responses

  1. Leah

    Oh Heidi. My heart grieves so deeply for you and your loss. Thank you for inviting us all into your sacred memories of and with Jaime.

    • Heidi L. Paulec

      Thank you, Leah. I deeply appreciate you accepting the invitation.

      Please know you are welcome in anytime over at Shadows Presence- the blog I only started to releasing these 20+ years of writings… We went public with family Perspectives back in January 2016.

      Thank you again for reading & reaching out.

  2. Sheryl

    That is my wish if I could hear my son laugh one more time, He was 13 and sooo much fun, like you said so normal.

    • Heidi L. Paulec

      Oh, Sheryl~
      I am sorry for your loss… to lose such joy and so young. Lifting you up today… Praying a peace nourishes you today in the sharp & spaces of your soul. Sending hugs… and a shiney eyed, tear-striped smile.

  3. Julie

    Beautifully written. So much emotion. Even after so many years, it’s still so painful. Not the 24/7 pain but it has a way of creeping up on you.

    • Heidi L. Paulec

      Thank you, Julie. Grateful encouragement and connection come from these deeply painful places. You are exactly right- the pain morphs, for sure… Not a raw, but still recognizably present from time to time.
      Thank you for reading.

  4. Jesse Atterbury

    January 18th…that is my sister’s birthday. She took her life November 13, 2014. Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your memories with us!

    • Heidi L. Paulec

      Oh, I am so sorry for your loss. Our kindredness connects us- even down to special days. You’re journey is still so fresh… Please know you are always welcome at my blog Shadows Presence which I’m releasing 20 years of writing on this subject including Perpectives from several family members.

      Thank you for making time to read and respond. I know the bravery that takes.