One cigarette a week is about what I'm currently allowed. It's all dictated by outside influences. Such as I don’t smoke in front of my kids. Of course. I am a responsible (in the loosest sense of the word) parent. PHF disapproves. He’s no tight-ass either; smoking is a vile, disgusting, smelly habit that’s bad for you. He’s just being a grown up.
And if my momma knew...
One time when I was in high school she found my cigs and there was hell to pay, I tell ya. Hell. To. Pay. Well, most of you have mothers. You can imagine.
Those Who Don’t Partake (to shamelessly steal a labeling method from TG) are given a viable opportunity to look upon us with disdain. Boulder is a “clean” town – no smoking indoors without a separate ventilation system. We are forced to stand outside, hands in our pockets in winter, sweating in summer, sharing a light and a story. But I say TWDP don’t know what they’re missing.
Sure, it’s about the nicotine, at least occasionally. This morning I literally sucked in smoke with every other breath, half a cigarette’s worth, during the short walk between Monkey’s preschool and Starbucks. It’s been a few weeks and I wanted that damage. But basically, I’m an untouchable. I’ve smoked off and on since I was 13. Nearly a quarter century of it, and I’m not addicted. (This sounds familiar. Perhaps I’ve mentioned this recently.) I don’t even smoke every time I go out. I mean, shit; sometimes it’s just too damn cold. Sometimes I’m in disapproving company. Sometimes I plain old don’t have a cigarette, or have one and don’t want it. It’ll be a year before I have that experience of real longing again. So then, I guess it’s not about the nicotine, really almost ever.
It’s really about being a part of a sub-culture - something I should be well past by now - of people who say IDGAF. We’re all in exile there; on the back patio at the Pub, say; and there is a reliable camaraderie to be found among the outcast. I’ve met people I would have never before met – like the members of the Indulgers (playing Connor O’Neil’s 8 April, 10 pm - be there or be square). Once we met six guys, twenty –somethings, and we got an entire dissertation on piercings and tattoos. These guys had it all – nipples, eyebrows, gratuitous amounts of ink on their backs and arms, chunks taken out of their ears. We never quite arrived at the why of it all, but we tried. In turn they were interested in married sex and parenthood and giant diamond rings and the like. Again, they never quite arrived at the why, but the fun is in the journey, right?
One time last fall PHF got drunk enough to smoke. He is incredibly sexy when he smokes. He holds his cigarette like a European, and he studies the smoke like he’s studying the face of a lover. He got the best sex of his life that night. He thinks it was the strip joint we went to later, but it wasn’t. It was me watching him smoke that one cigarette.
In high school I met a whole circle of friends (all guys) and earned their respect because I’d only smoke reds. (I gave up that nasty shit long ago, but I still won’t touch menthol or long, skinny, faggy fags. Too girly for me.) I met my best friend (yeah, a guy) from high school back on the smoking patio at Topeka High. I was a newcomer as a junior, and all the popularity contests were won by then. I was picked up and subsequently dumped by a guy quite quickly. (Oddly enough, the same exact thing happened in college. They even looked alike and had the same faggy mannerisms. Did I learn nothing? Apparently not.) The smokers were a friendly lot, agreeable to a cute chic who would share a cigarette. So what the hell, I always wanted to be a rebel anyway.
I saw his car the other night on Gattica - the car where Victor is conceived the natural way. The rear window, the actual glass, goes back to point. Don’t even recall what kind of car it was (I’m sure one of you boys will tell me though). There was always shit stashed back there – you know, like books and old homework assignments and empty cigarette packs - and I even rode back there once when the car was chock full of a bunch of big guys. I was the only one tiny enough to fit. This was back in the day when I was still scared to touch a guy beyond kissing, and when I figured out that drugs were a complete waste of time; back in the day when my bf just had to let me get in this car and go off with a bunch of boys without protest, because it was what I was going to do. A fuss would only make him look like an idiot in front of all those guys. (Yeah, it was an unconscious test and yeah, he passed.)
I got my 20 (!) year reunion invite the other day. I thought, hmm, I wonder what point going would prove. On one hand, people go to these things and the stereotypical tale is that they have to lose weight and appear all successful and shit. But what did I have to prove? Did I even care? Would I even remember anyone?
I made average grades in school. I was neglected by my guidance counselor and teachers, except for my art teacher. No one was overtly mean, but no one talked to me much. I had no girl friends. I dated a guy all steady like and gave up on the other friends pretty quick, as a girl will when her daddy has left her. I was friends of a sort with the cutest boy in school, Sean Kelly – god, even his name is romantic somehow - and he told me later when I was home from college (and completely entranced with PHF by then) that he’d wanted to date me. He stared at me all the time, he said. He wanted to ask me out but I was always with the bf. He thought I didn’t like him. I missed out on those clues, even – I was in some smoky fugue of repression. (No, I didn’t kiss him, but I sure as hell wanted to. That was the most tempted I ever was. There, you all know. Damn, he was hot.)
I was looking for something back then; and maybe I still am since I smoke sometimes. As much as my family has given me - they make it relatively ok not to find that elusive, satisfying “thing”- it’s not with them. I didn’t find it in the arms of my bf, or smoking on the back patio with a ragtag collection of high school guys. I didn’t find it in the rear window of that car. I sincerely doubt I’d find it at a reunion. It’s not in the outside smoking corral of most of the restaurants in Boulder.
I think I know that I’m looking for something at all only because I get a glimpse of it with you all; when I chat to people in Australia or the East Coast or Chicago or LA. And every now and then one of my characters reminds me that it exists. It knows who I am. It calls to me. But I can’t put a name to it – whatever it is I’m searching for. Fortunately my family makes it ok not to find it.
But I won’t quit looking. I probably won’t ever quit.