AN ODE TO SMOKING AND THE DEATH OF MY JOURNEY WITH IT

Written by Kate Burkhardt

the first cigarette is lovely when you’re drunk, a new foreign thing, temptingly naughty and risky, pressed between your lips, in fumbling awkward fingers, harsh and unpleasant in your throat, in your lungs. you’re fifteen, a sophomore in high school, awkward and ready for whatever it is. you want it. you want it all.
you think ‘hey i can do this’ surrounded by a bunch of punks and a girl who is beautiful and shaved her head to be a different person
you feel young and alive, staring death in the face and think ‘you can’t catch me, you can’t catch me.’
god it’s such an easy thing to do, so easy, undetected harm in your body, so slow, so gradual, so liberating.
the second cigarette comes the same night, then a third.
‘buy your own pack!’
and you think naw, i’d rather not.
the next time, a meeting for lunch, mcdonalds. chewing down fries.
‘can i have one?’ you ask and she pulls one out – a marlboro 100, inside a shiny red package. she hands it to you, smirking.
you light it, you inhale gingerly.
‘you have to really inhale, you know?’ she says laughing at you, taking the cigarette from your palms. she drags it like an old movie star; it looks so natural but now you know that she probably practiced it a lot before she got it down right to an art form. the smoke is thick, it stays in her lungs for a bit before expelled back into the cold air.
your ass is on the rough pavement on the ground outside the door of mcdonalds.
you try again. you really inhale this time. and it hurts. you can’t remember if you inhaled that much over the weekend because you were smashed in a way you’d never been before. your eyes water. she laughs and gets up, knocking you to the side, slightly.
you smoke with her.
you smoke with this boy at shows, and you go out back and you lose a small part of your innocence and have a cigarette afterwards with that person, sweaty, clumsy, head swirling.

you smoke cigarettes the first time you ingest mushrooms and see the trees become faces and move closer towards you.
you smoke cigarettes when you take late night walks with the boy you love, who is temporarily ‘yours’ in a way no one has ever been before, not quite like this, though you know you don’t really love him.
on a park bench, you swap smoke, your tongues dancing stale nicotine, cheap wine, alive in the night, wet, wanting.
you don’t smoke as much for the next boy, the real true love kinda deal – you kind of forget about smoking. it’s not your thing, your trademark. but sometimes you smoke and he likes the aftermath of that flavor in his mouth.
you don’t remember when you become a smoker, a real one, a full time, when it becomes your trademark, like the other kids who are.
it’s probaby when you start shifting your focus to the two girls who want to be experimental with you and you get the boy that lives a few blocks down to buy them for you. sometimes when you are bored, you call him up and ask him to buy you cigarettes so you have something to do, something to fill the loneliness and restlessness that’s flooding your chest cavity.
sometimes you sneak out on school nights onto the porch when your parents are in bed and you smoke and watch it curl into the night air, in utter singular fascination.
each cigarette is heavier.
you smoke after tests, after good tests and bad test, math tests, astronomy tests, during lunch after lunch,
during class, during script rehearsal time.
these girls, these girls, your new friends with your shared interests, they try your cigarettes and feel bad the way good girls should.
you smoke cigarettes when everything else has fallen out of control, when you wake up and you don’t know where you are for a moment and a body is on top of you, pushing, pushing, pushing, you close your eyes and say ‘get off’ but they don’t.
you smoke afterwards, self-conscious, crawling out of your own skin, after you pee outside  in the dirt, watching it roll down hill, looking at the pubic hair you shaved a few days prior grow back in as stubble, hating your pale naked body, wanting to rip it apart. you smoke with the windows rolled down on a highway, the gas pedal pressed down,  full speed, speeding speeding speeding down a virtually empty highway, terrified and also feeling the very definition of oblivion, you forget about the body and the night before and ‘suck me underwater’ while he watches and ‘no, no, no’ and the wet grass under your toes,
you forget about all of that when you say ‘it’s over’ shoved out of a car
scraped up knees on a curb, his vomit and tears in your mouth, you smoke, because it’s familiar, you stop heaving, you just smoke.
you smoke when you are drunk, always.
you smoke so much more when you are drunk.
the more you smoke, the more it blurs.
you like the way your fingers smell like cigarettes.
you like the aesthetics of smoking with others, and of smoking alone.
you romanticize smoking.
it gives you a sense of camaraderie, a shared cigarette, a shared moment.
alone, a sense of poetry, a sense of divine grace.
you smoke at the shack every morning with the same kids, shivering in the cold, rosy cheeks, feeling the morning light hitting your face.
you smoke during your free periods with someone, with anyone. you smoke in the rain.
you smoke, you smoke, you smoke, you smoke.
you go to college, you smoke.
as natural as breathing.
each cigarette tainted in nostalgia, tainted in comfort.
each cigarette, completing your image, you can admit it, you look good when you smoke, it looks good with your mouth and your clothes and the way you hold yourself. it feels and looks natural hanging between your fingers, pressed between your lips, sucked down, ashed on your shoe, ashed in your being. inhale, flick, repeat, repeat, repeat, stub out, stamp on, into the ashtray.
each brand, a dream, a time in your life, a set of memories.
marlboro 100’s, the beginning.
turkish royals, interwoven with everything, summer, the autumn of senior year,
four lokos, shivering in the park a new best friend
a singular cigarette, brand unknown given to you after the last time you were in his bed, as a way to lure you away. shared in the darkness of euphoria, an ominous sort of distance between the two of you as you jabber on, up, up,up on the closeness, cigarette passed back and forth until it is nothing
american spirit blacks, a cold sunny springtime of stealing from the supermarket, of the stoners’ houses and their company, bringing 24 packs of pbr to the basement, taking smoke breaks, talking about the future and dumb shit, funny shit
marlboro reds again from paige’s mom, you’re sitting out on the first floor balcony thing, talking to her, relating to her, ‘what a cool woman, what an interesting, kind-hearted woman,’ and you drink beers and pass the bowl around a few times and pet the cats and feel good and sad all at once
marlboro lights – the summer, colonel sumner’s park, downtown, an encounter with a heroin addict,
a new set of friends, a gay ex-heroin addict prostitute with the warmest heart
an alcoholic like you and your best friend are, temporarily,
smoking the marlboro lights in between those moments, of soaking in the fountain on the days of unbearable heat
and lying in the grass to dry, mud stains imprinted on your shorts, streaking down your legs
cloudy summer afternoons with rolling rock and ipod speakers in the middle of some sandy grass,
a bowl passed around, a marlboro light balanced between your fingers on the opposite hand
wasted time, filled up lungs, complacency, and senselessness
alcohol tainted blood, 4 am lying in the middle of the road surrounded by smashed bottle of wine remnants, utterly fucked and only sometimes grateful.
you smoke at the beach with the wind in your hair, sun in your eyes,
you smoke in the deep endlessness of the woods, a pack of cloves for the trails, sweet sweet, sweet, crinkling noise, keeling over-type laughter
camel 99’s, the rainy winter, always wet, always nostalgic for the camel 99s, and Alberta park, and the smell of basements,
the body painting and secret telling over pissing and
of course over a cigarette passed between hands, between lips
and now, turkish royals again, an in-betweener,
last pack,
threw it away with one to spare,
walked up the steps to a class you hate with a spring in your step.
you smoke you smoke you smoke you smoke.
sometimes you want to stop.
but you don’t really want to.
so you don’t.
until one day,
you really do.
the blackness and tar still in your lungs,
like battle scars,
etched like memories,
your fingers still potent,
they will fade quickly.
the smoking, always your love, always your past,
never regretted.
but you stand in a group and they’re all sharing their cigarettes.
you can stand there and not fidget, and slowly learn not to wish you had one in your fingers because you realize that you are so much more than your cigarette, your always replaceable cigarette
you are more than your memories, and your stance, and your ways, index and middle finger, pursed lips, familiar scented hands
you say goodbye to the cigarettes and it’s bittersweet and lovely and you feel tainted and decadent
but in such a pleasurable way
goodbye goodbye, i love you
but i’ll try not to miss you

 

Kate Burkhardt, a junior creative writing major, is our first featured artist.

Kate Burkhardt, a junior creative writing major, is our first featured artist.

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