I started smoking when I was 17. It was the summer before my senior year, and I was statistically unlikely to pick it up. But I did.
It wasn’t peer pressure, either. It was anger and youth. I blame, of course, a man. His name was Clay, and he pulled over his shitty Toyota on a side street and forced himself on top of me. I hit him, pushed him off, and he drove me home. Nothing happened. The next day he told all the other camp counselors I was a huge slut. I found this out in the parking lot and asked my friend Pam if I could have a cigarette. I smoked it down.
I smoked all summer.
I smoked through 12th grade. I lit them winding down the parkway, the window cracked, the heat on, my hair pulled back tight so not to smell so foul. I listened to Fiona Apple and sang along, my hoarse voice seething with late adolescent emotions. It was fall, and my neighborhood in the woods smelled like cold burning leaves and dew. I laid out in the cul-de-sac with Mike and exhaled angry streams of thin smoke and let him kiss me.
I smoked through freshman orientation outside Boston, after my Philosophy course on the hill and during just about any walk I took around campus. I became known as the girl who smoked cigarettes outside the dorm. I spent hours outside perfecting smoke rings.
When I studied in England for a semester, I could finally smoke inside. I had packed a carton of Camels and peeled through them one by one on the River Trent. My doe-eyed Northern Irish boyfriend smoked spliffs, and left trails of ash around his miniature flat. I was depressed. I lost interest in sex, I lost interest in smoking. I fought with the boyfriend in England, in Scotland, in France. I lost weight.
When I returned home, I returned to my heavy packs, but it wasn’t the same. I had been smoking a pack a day freshman year, but now my heart wasn’t in it. I started dating a non-smoker, and it suddenly became something that felt more nostalgic than appropriate. It felt like a forgotten crutch.
So I stopped, for the most part. When I drink I like to smoke, but now they make my head spin just enough to feel too overwhelming. I miss cigarette breaks at work. I miss asking handsome men for a light.
As I walked through Stuyvesant Town’s oval this evening I inhaled the smoky scent of burning leaves, the threat of frost, and receeding grass. I slowed down and looked up toward the tops of the oaks. I wanted a cigarette. I wanted to lie down on the grass, smelling the onslaught of fall and the ebb of summer, the sharp wind lifting clouds of smoke into the distance…