Take the Cigarette

By Kate Dannenmaier

Illustration by Kassidy Curry

One. Parents. At first only every so often, at parties, when drunk, shared with sheepish, guilty smiles; the cigarettes helped them love a little more smoothly. Fifteen years later and they’re smoking a pack a night on our front porch, the haze in their mouths an excuse not to talk to each other, like they’d prematurely poisoned their own words. Dad once told me he’d only started smoking to show Mom how easy it would be to quit.

Two. Back in Tennessee, when Grandma’s best friend Gerry would drive me to summer camp with the windows rolled up and a cigarette between her lips. These rides were palpably silent, so I never said anything about the smoke, only gingerly sucked air in through the side of my mouth, holding that breath for as long as I could until we finally rolled up to that dreadful day-care facility. The one time I mustered the courage to roll down my window, she rolled it back up.

Three. When I was 19 a boy I liked asked me to put on red lipstick, then take a pack full of cigarettes out one by one and mark each tip with my lips. They’d be used as props for a short film he was making, and it made my thinly rimmed mouth feel like talent. We started dating, and I soon learned he’d created his own mythology around cigarettes. They played a leading role in all his films. He smoked them to cure his colds and hangovers. He replaced whole meals with them when money was tight. But as much as I bought into him, I never bought into that brand of smoke... only watched from inside the apartment as he and our favorite neighbors would gather in the courtyard to share their vice, feeling like a little girl with too much light in her eyes.

Four. The night we broke up I stole two Lucky Strikes from him, and as soon as I got home I ran to my balcony and dramatically smoked them to the sound of Otis Redding’s saddest song. My first two cigarettes, one right after the other, because they burned much faster than the joints I was used to. Maybe a minute after the second one I had to run to the bathroom and puke up my whole day. It felt appropriately pathetic.

Five. Four months later, the boy I’ve been wanting to fuck for a while now rolls himself a cigarette, and a drag is all I need to stand close to him. When his friends became my friends and we all felt we’d found our people, cigarettes became our group’s naughty hobby. We’d all quit together, until one of us would smirk mischievously, raise an eyebrow, and then we’d all run outside, lighters at the ready. A necessary step beyond self-deprecation to prove to each other how real our world-weariness was. At first I only took drags from the boys I liked best, but eventually I was the one with the pack, providing the group with their smoke.

Six. I’m standing on my front porch, holding this self-rolled cigarette in my mouth, my left  hand shielding from the wind as my right lights. I spend most of my time alone now. I’m smoking this so I won’t smoke weed at 11 in the morning, which I’ve decided is Self Destructive and Not Who I Am Anymore. But I still have to satisfy the oral fixation, that smoke inhalation sensation, and since cigarettes won’t keep me high for hours on end, they seem like the most practical alternative for the moment. So I take a drag of this neutral old vice I’ve never felt was mine, and though it tastes sick, I feel like I can’t throw it away just yet. Something about finishing your meal, about not wasting money. Something about friends far away, stealing and sharing. Something about loneliness.