I have a loud laugh. It’s the kind of laugh people remark on (“there’s that Alli Harvey laugh!”), or are sometimes taken aback by.
I’ve clapped a hand over my mouth at restaurants. And I’ve been asked, many times, to please pipe down.
It was with this in mind that I walked over to a campsite a few down from mine a couple of weeks ago.
What prompted the walk was watching campers, including us, getting ready to turn in around 11 p.m. one night. Our fire was dying down. The bourbon was almost gone. We had music playing low, but I could hear peals of laughter from a campsite I couldn’t see. The kids were no longer running around, and families in trailers at adjacent sites had already shut their doors.
I mentioned it a few times to my husband, and then after another loud laugh I sighed and got up.
That’s the other thing. Yes, I laugh loudly. I also ask for what I want if something is bothering me. I’ve been in those other campers’ shoes so many times as the loud person that I figured what I would do is give them was feedback. They’d realize they were being loud and would quiet down, and the rest of the campground would head to bed.
Maybe I am naive.
As I walked, it was clear which site I was heading for — a small group gathered around a fire, talking boisterously. Since it was dark and I was wearing a headlamp, I announced myself in my clearest voice to cut through the noise but not alarm them. Something along the lines of, “Hey, you guys — sorry to bother you.”
A man maybe in his early 30s was standing outside the trailer, saw me and said, “Oh, hey — what’s up?”
I said I was camping a few sites away and getting ready to go to bed. It sounded like they were having fun, but I wondered if they would be more quiet.
His immediate response: “Do you have a mask on? Because I can feel the poison coming off you.”
I was dumbstruck. I didn’t say anything but looked at him. He followed up with, “Oh, I mean — of course, yeah, we can be more quiet, sure.”
Someone else at the fire sounded contrite, piling on with a yes. Another voice asked sarcastically if we could keep our car alarm from going off the following day; the contrite person interjected that it wasn’t us.
When it seemed like they were unanimous in agreeing they would quiet down, I thanked them and started to walk away.
Immediately, I heard my words getting mocked at full volume. I wheeled around, now in the middle of the campground road just a few yards away. “I can hear you!” I said, looking at the man who had initially spoken to me.
He responded: “We paid the same to stay here as you.”
There was laughter, followed by a woman sneering loudly, “I can hear you! I can hear you!”
I walked away, gravel crunching under my feet and my eyes wide.
Back at camp, my husband asked me wryly, “How did that go?” I sat down in the camp chair and told him about it.
For hours afterward, we heard the loud jeers of “Will you be QUIET?!” and “I can hear you!” Camped in the back of the truck with the windows shut made it better, more so when we listened to music on my phone. Eventually I calmed down, but I felt unsettled and uneasy.
The next morning, we agreed we’d leave early. The campground felt wrong.
Now, more than a week later, I’m still wrestling with this short, unhappy encounter.
How does someone like me — with my loud laugh and perhaps naive assumption that if I appeal to people with reasonable requests, they’ll work with me — retain that sense of good in general humanity, while simultaneously reckoning with an everyday kind of awful?
How do I see that behavior and acknowledge it as existing, but not stoop to it, or expect it?
I share this very small story in an appeal to each of us to be kind. We share spaces. We decide every day whether to do even small good things within our control — a compliment, a small favor, a smile at a stranger, a kindness over the phone.
For me, I can decide how to absorb this experience in a clear-eyed way that doesn’t do additional damage to me. To keep replaying it in my mind just drives in their bad behavior deeper. To tell it, acknowledge it and stick to my expectation of myself and others to be kind regardless disempowers it.
And when — not if — you hear me laughing loudly at a campground or another shared space, by all means, remind me I’m being obnoxious.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.
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