Andee St. Cloud
Essay: I Love ________ (You said we could write whatever we wanted so I did.)
NOTE TO MRS. SMART: You can pretend none of this is true, if you want to.
“I Love Smoke”
I don’t smoke just because my parents do. I mean, you hear all kinds of stuff about how kids who grow up in smokers’ homes end up being smokers, too. You hear the same thing about drinkers and abusers. If you grow up in a home where people drink, they say, or where people hit each other, well, that’s the way your home will be, too, when you grow up. I’m not so sure about that. It seems to me that most kids I know want to do the opposite of what their parents did. But I could be wrong.
Anyway, yes, the air in our house is always smoky. My mom smokes a lot, my dad smokes even more, and older sister (do you remember her? Vanessa? she’s three years older than me and she really liked you, she told me) and her boyfriend (him you don’t know), they both smoke, too—a whole lot. So I guess you could say I came by my love of smoke naturally. I was smoking the air in our house even before I knew what a cigarette was.
Other houses smell funny to me now—I’m talking about the houses of people who don’t smoke. When I walk in one of them, the air smells so weird—sharp, or something. It smells bad to me, like this school does. After about two minutes in a house like that, I can tell you what got cooked that day—and the day before. I can tell you if somebody just took a shower, or went to the bathroom for another reason. (I know you told us to be “G” rated in this, but I’m just trying to be honest.) I can tell you if they’ve got pets—and what kind, too. Birds smell different from dogs, dogs from cats—you can even smell a fish tank, did you know that? You can smell that—and a whole bunch of other stuff I’m not going to get into—in a house where no one smokes.
Let me tell you some things I really like about smoking—besides the smell, which, as I already told you, I love. I like the smell of a fresh pack when you first open it. I like how hard it is to get the first cigarette out of a tight pack. I like the feel of a cigarette in my hand. I like lighting it, with a lighter or a match. I think I like a match best because of that sulfur smell when you strike one. Hell is supposed to smell like that, so I guess I won’t mind that part of it. And Vanessa’s boyfriend (I mentioned him already, but you don’t know him, he moved in here in high school), he showed me a way to strike a match, slip it between my fingers, cup the rest of my hand around it, and that way I can light a smoke, even outside on a windy day. It’s so cool, doing that.
What else do I like? Flicking ashes gently into the ashtray—I hold the cigarette between my thumb and forefinger, then with my ring finger, I flick the ashes. It takes some practice to do it right, because if you do it too hard, you can knock off the glowing tip, and then you’ve got a problem, like if it lands on the rug or someone’s clothes or something. I’ll tell you a rug story later.
One of the funniest things I ever saw was when my dad flicked a cigarette out the window. We were out on I-80, doing about 95 mph, and he didn’t flick it hard enough (the faster you’re going, the harder you have to flip it because the wind is going so fast). So anyway, he didn’t flick it hard enough, and it blew right back in the window and down the back of his T-shirt. He started yelling and stuff, trying to reach down his back, but he couldn’t reach far enough, and we were swerving all over the road—good thing no one else was around us. I was laughing so hard I almost puked, so was Mom, and Dad finally drove off into the center strip, a real grassy place, lucky for us, where he stopped, jumped out of the car and ripped his T-shirt off, right over his head in one quick movement. His shirt had a big ragged burn-hole in it (have you ever seen those? I’ll show you a couple of my tops), and he had this nasty-looking little wound in his back, too, like someone had held a cigarette-lighter from a car against his back for a while. He was yelling and cussing and telling Mom and me we shouldn’t be laughing at him. But we couldn’t help it. We were on the ground we were laughing so hard. I laughed so hard I farted—and then we laughed even harder. And other cars were pulling up to see if we were all right, and my dad told a couple of guys to go you-know-what, which I guess they thought was a good idea, because they drove away. Finally, Dad got back in the car, and we drove off to one of those little emergency medical places. He had to lean forward the entire way, so he wouldn’t touch his back against the seat, and he was swearing the whole time while Mom and I laughed like crazy.
They gave him some junk to put on the burn, and they put a bandage on it, but he still had to lean forward for a week or so whenever he drove, and every time he did that, Mom and I just cracked up. The whole thing was really pretty funny.
You want to know what tastes really bad? Lighting up a cigarette that you already put out once. Sometimes when you’re out of smokes, and you want one so bad, you go all around the house looking in ashtrays and even in the trash to see if you can find a butt that’s long enough to light up again. Sometimes you have to straighten them out a little, because, you know, you crushed them pretty good when you put them out the first time. So you find one, you sort of make it straight again (you have to be careful, though, because if you break it, then when you inhale, you don’t get anything but a bunch of fresh air) Anyway, now you’ve got something to smoke, but you don’t ever want to inhale the first drag on it, because, as I said already, nothing tastes worse in this whole world than the first drag on a cigarette that you’re smoking for the second time.
And here’s what really smells bad: Sometimes you forget to put out a cigarette. Like you leave it in the ashtray while you go out to the kitchen to get something to eat, and then the phone rings or something and you talk for a couple of minutes and when you get back out to where you left your cigarette, you can smell it before you ever see it, if it’s lying there smoldering in the ashtray, only partway burning because of the other ashes and butts blocking the air (cigarettes need air to live, you know, just like us), and man does that ever smell bad, a smoldering cigarette. Yuk.
Sometimes you can scare yourself with a cigarette. (This is the rug story I promised.) Once I was on the floor watching TV late at night, with an ashtray right beside me, and I fell asleep during some dumb program, and when I woke up I smelled something burning. I looked over and saw that my cigarette had rolled out of the ashtray and had burned a little ugly hole right in the carpet. Man, I knew I was dead if anyone saw that hole, so I went over to the wall behind the couch, where the carpet still looked kind of new, and I found all these carpet fibers bunched up there. So I pinched some of them up and then stuffed them into the cigarette hole. By the time I was done, you couldn’t tell that anything had happened—I mean, it looked perfect.
Of course, about a month later when my mom vacuumed the floor, those fibers came right up, and she started yelling. So I went in to look, figuring I’d have to confess. But guess what? There were about a half-dozen places where someone had burned holes in the floor and stuffed the holes with fibers. So I told Mom the truth: “I didn’t do all that,” I said. She said, “Wait till your father comes home!” And when he did, he admitted he’d made the holes with his cigarettes—he didn’t even notice that there was an extra one that I’d made. It kind of made me laugh, how my dad and I think alike.
Now, I know it’s dangerous to smoke in bed. I don’t ever do that. Well, not any more, not since last year when Craig’s whole house got burned up. And his face and all. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say I don’t ever do it. Sometimes, you know, you just can’t help falling asleep.