Old piece done up for an essay class. Never been fond enough of it to actually publish, so enjoy it here I suppose?
Waking up to a small pool of sewage water twenty feet away from my bed had started the day off badly. After dealing with the city workers, the insurance, and the knowledge that my own bed wouldn't be available for at least a week, I was ready to leap out of the bus window and forcibly rip the cigarette out of a passing woman's hands.
"But you don't smoke," my friend responded in confusion after being informed that I was going to commit petty theft for no discernible reason other than a rough night. She had a point. I don't and never have smoked, at least not as far as my own definition extends. Those few days I do dig out my dollar lighter are few and far between, generally punctuated by flooded basements or impressive failures. Despite a need for a morning tea just to make it out the door, this one addiction never took root, possibly thanks to the motivations behind it.
I've never been able to rationalize the rare late night walks with plumes of smoke escaping my lips; that one cigarette on a stressful day from a pack that lasts months. While it might be the nicotine that makes the few days after a sea of despair and regrets, it isn't what causes that dented silver box to open back up. Instead, it's the parts of my childhood that years later, still convince me that the world stands still for a smoker, if only for those few precious moments.
It started from my earliest image of the world: watching a young woman at the window, leaning past the sill so that the smoke floated up, caressing the house, even as the smell drifted back into the warmth. My mother, long hair cascading down her back, took in the flushed cheeked three year old bouncing around the living room, unaware of the mutual observation; biding her time just a few more moments before having to return to dinner or finger painting, vacuuming or dress-up, braiding hair or answering an endless stream of whys.
The woman at the window wasn't quite "Mom" but rather the same person who had adopted the addiction a decade before, before children and marriage and a pale blue kitchen with a window just a touch too high took over her life.
My waif-like mother eventually took her habit outside in the next house, the dangers of exposing the rest of the household to the smoke indoors outweighing the risk of one adventurous child escaping the living room to burn the galley kitchen's linoleum floor to ashes. On occasion, it was deemed acceptable for her sanctuary of our front yard and nicotine addiction to be followed out by a pair of wide eyes and a mouth that never quite stopped. Even the constant stream of chatter was slowed down by the murky haze of smoke though. Discussions of books, movies or curious questions about the world or Messieurs Benson and Hedges were met easily; questions about mortality, money or religion were summarily dismissed to a later time, usually directly after returning inside.
During the times in which quitting smoking was the rage inside my home, I missed those moments of clarity about who this woman was outside of the context of my life. I missed having a cheerful parent who slept through the night nearly as much, and the selfish part wanted nothing more than for some stressful incident to send her careening back to the gas station or Mac's for a fresh carton of the noxious tubes. Forget the heart and lung issues she was trying to avoid- I wanted my captive audience back where it normally was.
Over time, this smokers' sanctuary has expanded. Since discovering a loss of hearing that will just get progressively worse, she smokes to cover the fact that she can't follow the conversation around her. She smokes as something to do while the dog runs amok in the garden. She smokes as a distraction from her pristine but barren nest. If I'd been there, I could have watched her nervously fiddling with a cigarette after hearing her father was in the hospital- thanks to his pack a day habit.
In January, standing outside in the wind and snow talking about some trivial thought or another, it dawned upon me that there doesn't need to be a cigarette nearby for that contemplation and bonding to occur. We could stand there drinking coffee, reading books or simply empty handed as the British Lab runs laps in front of us. Instead, we brave the cold, the heat and every temperature in between when I visit, the grey trail drifting from the cigarettes to the sky, the scent mixing into everything nearby. We talk about the dog, family, friends, whether the Twilight series is awful or hilarious and avoid the serious issues until later.
At some point, my fingers will reach for the pack sitting on the deck table, looking so much like the one tucked away in my drawers, only to be brushed away. "You don't smoke," I'll be informed without the slightest trace of doubt.
Thinking back to the long haired waif of a woman and further still to the teenager she once was, the same assured gaze will look back; it will promise that there are other ways to achieve this tranquillity, ones that don't lead to hospital trips or miserable days resisting the urge to quit quitting. Then I'll nod, agreeing that no, I don't, and try not to think wistfully of the small silver box, tucked away for a rainy day.