Around 1 am, after my parents had gone to sleep–mom in bed, dad passed out to the Discovery Channel on the couch–I quietly tiptoed out of my bedroom. The whole downstairs smelled strongly of cigarettes and I remembered my childhood.
Summer mornings, obsessively examining my baseball card collection, I would call out to my mother. After no response, I knew she was in the basement again, half-heartedly attempting to hide her habit. For as long as I could remember she would retreat to the back room of our windowless and hermetically sealed underground to smoke cigarettes. Early on I never knew why she didn’t just smoke outside, or at the very least take a drive somewhere. Now I know it was because she was ashamed. She could not imagine having the neighbors or anybody else know that she was a smoker. Instead she would lock the door, and upon finishing, spray an ungodly amount of air freshener. We knew not to disturb or question her slyness. If she heard the basement door open she would yell and tell us to leave her alone. This practice continued for years, although now she only smokes in the upstairs bathroom during her nightly baths. My parents independently smoke like clockwork, same time every night. When my mom is lighting up in the upstairs bathroom, my dad is in the downstairs bathroom doing the same. Neither are astute in their practices, and immediately the whole house smells of tobacco. My mother’s smoke creeps in under my bedroom door, I think Merit 100’s, and my father’s (Marlboro Lights) enters my room through the vents. I grew up disgusted by cigarettes, but some latent gene made me crave them later in life.
I left the house, exiting through the side garage door. The air was summer-still. My backpack was almost weightless, containing 2 black leather belts, a roll of duct tape, cigarettes and a lighter. (After years of being a non-smoker, or rather an unsophisticated party smoker, I picked up the habit a few months ago during a series of cross-country road trips. Even though most of my friends have smoked for years, I chose not to, mostly because I didn’t want to be like my parents). Walking through the quiet neighborhoods, my mind was surprisingly clear and a feeling of peace flowed through me. I continued walking to the woods behind the Lutheran Church’s softball fields, where I used to make forts and bike jumps during my sister’s games. I knew the woods pretty well, and I had one spot in mind. Then it hit me: I didn’t have a flashlight.
I stopped, smoked, and cried.