Sunday, June 3, 2018

Aeipathy:(n) An enduring and consuming passion

A click. 
A flame. 
A breath. 
That sound. That wonderful, crackling sound created by my own two lips. A simple breath in… and a slow breath out. I see the burning end reflected in the eyes looking back at me, eyes that are now crinkled with laughter as my slow breath out turns into a hacking cough I can’t control. 
He makes a joke about my reaction, but I can’t hear him over the protest of my lungs, trying desperately to dispel the smoke I’d just filled them with. I flip him off and he shoves a bottle of water into my shaking hand. 
I take a huge glug, the bottle convulsing under the pull of my lips. At some point, he took the cigarette out of my hand and is finishing it off himself, breathing deeply and showing no sign that the smoke is burning its way into his lungs. I admire his tolerance, and I long for his lips to welcome me the way they welcome the thin white invader between his fingers. 
I notice the glow starting to fade, the grey butt marking its territory. He twitches those long fingers just slightly, flicks his thumb with purpose, and the ashes drift to the ground with grace.
I wonder momentarily if my fingers will ever behave like that—comfortable, like welcoming an old friend into the cove they’ve eroded into you. A gap that seemingly appears overnight, but really forms over time with each and every smoky invasion. Maybe I’ll have callouses, or maybe I’ll never smoke again. 
My head is buzzing like I’m drunk, but this is more instantaneous and short lived. A giggle breaks through my traitorous lips, and he smiles a sideways smile back at me. By the time it wears off I’m wearing his letterman jacket and I already want to do it again. 

A click. 
A flame. 
A breath. 
That sound. I pull deeply and fill my lungs to capacity, savoring the slow buzz that is forming inside of me. I blow smoke ringlets out my bedroom window, something I’d just recently learned to do. I watch as the tiny rings grow and grow, until, finally, they dissipate and fade into the stardust sky surrounding them. 
I whip my head around when I hear it. The sound of a car door slamming shut; the sound of my parents getting home earlier than they were supposed to. The cigarette slips from my fingers, singeing the cushion I’m sitting on and leaving a trail of ash down the wall. I curse and scoop it up as fast as I can, burning my palm in the process, and toss it out the window. I’ll have to worry about finding it later.
I can hear my parents coming through the door, so I frantically light some candles and grab a blanket to fan the air out the window. The ceiling fan is already running, and my door is shut. I typically have some time to freshen up my room before anyone gets home…if they smell the smoke again they’re going to freak out.
“Hey sweetheart,” my mom yells up the stairs, “can you come down here for a sec’?” 
“Be right down,” I holler through my closed door. First, though, I rip off the hoodie and leggings I had on and throw on some clean clothes. I go the extra mile with a piece of gum and some body spray before heading down to see what they want. 
They brought me home half a buffalo chicken pizza and some garlic bread. They just wanted to make sure that I had something to eat and wasn’t skipping a meal. I’d lost a little bit of weight as of late and they were worried I wasn’t getting enough to eat. 
“Thanks, guys,” I say from across the table. Unfortunately, I have to walk right past them to grab some silverware. I make the trip there and back as fast as I can, and the I sit down without a word to dig in. 
I look up as my dad is walking toward me with a bottle of water, I panic realizing I’d forgotten to get a drink. When did my parents become so observant? He sets the bottle down next to me and leans in uncomfortably close. “You smell like a goddam ashtray. Think twice before you smoke in my house again, or you won’t be coming home from school next summer,” he whispers almost inaudibly. 
I nod and he kisses me on the head. As he walks away I hear him muttering something about lung cancer under his breath. 
“What’s he going on about?” My mom asks momentarily taking her eyes off the television. I shrug my shoulders. She sighs and turns back to whatever reality show is on the tonight. Their drama is enough for her—no need to get her involved in mine. 
“I’m going on a walk,” I tell my mom after rinsing my plate. She’s too engrossed with her show, and most likely didn’t even hear what I said, but tells me to have a good time. I stick close to the house as I make my way to the area below my window. I dig through the bush and find the thin white invader perched on a branch like he was waiting for me to come and get him. I remove it from the bush, examine it for moisture or cracks, and when I see it must have just fizzled out on impact I light it back up and finish what I started upstairs. 
A click. 
A flame. 
A breath. 
That sound. The sound that isn’t really a sound, but rather a feeling. The frat house two doors down is throwing a huge party and the bass is up so high its rattling my walls—and my brain for that matter. I curse as the bass drops yet again and I lose my place on the page I’m reading. Chemistry is going to have to wait until tomorrow. 
I look over and see my roommate has come to the same conclusion. She’s leaning back in her desk chair, the same old thing she’s had all four years, stalking the social media of friends who decided to go out tonight. She sighs with every scroll of her finger. I look at her with raised brows, wondering why she didn’t just go out with them, and the look I get in return makes me laugh. 
I sigh, leaning back in my chair until it protests and flop my head back with it. I look at her, upside down now, and ask, “do you want to ditch the books and head down to the party?”
“Ohmigawd, yes!” She squeals with delight and practically runs into our shared closet.
            I put my books away and tell her I’ll be right back. I don’t tell her where I’m going, even though she already knows. 
“You promised me you would try and cut back—” I hear as the door is closing. I roll my eyes and continue down the hall. 
            I rub my thumb across the callous on my finger, formed partially from my habit and partially from my obsession with rubbing that exact spot when it’s empty of a cigarette, and I wonder why everyone is so adamant about getting me to quit. It’s not like it affects them—I only smoke outside now. Especially since state laws require you to smoke outside of restaurants. I guess it makes sense, what with secondhand smoke and all, but it sure can be an inconvenience when it rains or snows. 
            I pull the narrow cigarette from its home and bring it to life with a flame. The light exposes the yellowing skin on my fingers; it’s one of the only indicators that the relationship I have with cigarettes isn’t just a little ‘phase’ anymore, but has turned into more of an addiction. Although, my friends would say my uncanny ability to eat anything I want and stay rail thin is another side effect of the smoky friendship. 
            The smoke provides a familiar, welcome warmth on back of my throat, and the Midwestern fall provides the perfect backdrop. The contrast of the cool air with the warmth I pull into my body and the crispness biting the back of my throat between smoky inhales make me want to stay here forever. I close my eyes and savor the last puff of smoke, holding it deep in my chest until the last possible moment, then I open up and let it roll out of me like waves off the ocean. 
A click. 
A flame. 
A breath. 
That sound. I want to scream at the top of my lungs, but I swallow the urge and walk away from the whiny bitch that is my boyfriend. If he doesn’t like the smell of smoke then why does he follow me when I step away to have a cigarette. The sound of his whining drives me up a wall. 
Five months. We’ve been together for five months, and he hasn’t let up for one single second about my nasty little habit—as he likes to call it. The first few dates I was able to hold out until I got home, and by that time I was shaking so bad I could barely light the damn thing. 
It was summertime the first time I mentioned it. We were at a bar with a few of our friends and he thought I was kidding. I smiled awkwardly, walked out onto the patio, and lit the damn thing without breaking eye contact. He followed me—asked, “what the hell are you doing?”
 I sucked in and smiled.
“That twenty-eight-year-old beauty will disappear before your eyes if you don’t quit that nasty little habit of yours.” 
Now, I deliberately blow smoke in his face. He coughs dramatically and waves his hands around like there’s a bee buzzing around his head. 
“Is that really necessary?” He asks, clearly frustrated. 
“Is it necessary for you to follow me when I step away to smoke just so you can whine like a little bitch?” Clearly taken aback by my outburst, he walks ten yards away and just stares at me until I’m done. I take my sweet time, blowing rings, breathing deeply, and setting fire to his temper the same way I set fire to the little white friends in my purse. 
I instantly light up another cigarette when we get in the car, not even bothering to roll the window down. It’s my car and I can do what I want. He rolls his window down all the way and turns his head away from me. I fill my lungs with smoke then ask him all sorts of questions, then I take a puff and sing along to the song on the radio, and when I’ve sucked the life from one cigarette I light up another.
I don’t even like smoking this many cigarettes. I can feel the anger rolling off of him in waves, and I can’t stop myself from lighting one more just a mile away from his place. He screams. He screams unintelligibly like a teenage girl who’s lost her temper. I laugh. Like a hyena. 
We pull into his driveway and he gathers himself the best he can before turning to me and saying, “I don’t think this is going to work out.” 
I hold his stare and take a long pull; the words ‘me either’ rush out to assault him along with the cloud of smoke. 
A click. 
A flame. 
A breath. 
That sound. The smacking of lips on my big protruding belly. He would kiss it every chance he could, including now, before he has to leave for work. We had a quick breakfast on the couch today, because it’s far more comfortable to sit amongst the cushions than it is to bang my belly against the table every time I try to scoot in or lean over. Instead, I balance my cereal bowl on my belly and my husband sits beside me eating his and touching the protrusion intermittently to feel the movement. 
I voice my displeasure of having to go to work when I’m as big as a whale and can barely fit behind the wheel of the car, but he just chuckles and lays a big kiss on my belly before helping me up out of the couch. He knows I’m uncomfortable, and he’s just as anxious for our little guy to get here already. Luckily for him, though, he doesn’t have to deal with the back pain and extra weight hanging off his body. 
He takes our bowls into the kitchen and rinses them while I struggle to get my flats on. I curse and kick the shoe away from me, slipping my feet into my fuzzy slippers instead. It’s a desk job so who cares if the pregnant lady wears comfortable shoes. 
When he’s done he packs up each of our things in our respectful bags, eyes my shoes with a twinkle in his eye, and lays a big kiss on my lips while grabbing my belly lovingly. He bids us both goodbye before walking out the door.
I grab my purse and search for my keys. I swear I just watched him toss them in there. My fingers run across something that makes me pause. I watch as my shaking hand pulls something out of the depths of my purse that should not be in there. We must have missed it when we were cleansing the house of them. I didn’t want to be tempted.
I roll it around in my fingers and think about the ramifications, the potential complications, the hurt I could cause my little family; but then I think about the calming buzz, the warm smoke filling my lungs, and the phantom rings my lips have been forced to make for eight months. The warnings are right there…but if I just hadone
I put the old friend to my lips. It almost feels like an invader after all this time, and at the same time I touch it to my mouth my other little invader starts doing somersaults. I roll the cigarette back and forth between my fingers, the muscles working expertly regardless of the hiatus. I sit down on the back-porch chair, acutely aware of the time I have until I need to be at work, and reach in for the lighter. I run my finger over the silver circle and a flame jumps to life. I watch the little flame dance back and forth before I let it meet the end of the cigarette. 
I put the cigarette to my lips and take a shallow, short pull. Just enough to fill my mouth, but not my lungs. I open my mouth, close my eyes, and let the smoke snake out slowly. I almost fall out of my chair when I hear my husband yelling.
A click. 
A flame. 
A breath. 
That sound. “Would you please turn your phone off while we’re inside the nail salon?” I look at my daughter with eyebrows raised, waiting for her to switch off the sound. 
“I’ll listen to you when you start listening to me,” She says without lifting her eyes from the glowing screen. I roll my eyes at her and greet the man at the front desk. It’s going to be ten minutes until they’re ready for us.
I’m fidgeting. I want to be strong in front of her, but I also want to avoid being a cranky bitch while we’re spending time together. High school cheer captains have a lot on their plate, so spending time with mom isn’t a top priority anymore. I stand up and hear her sigh. I walk outside, hanging my head a bit from the weight of my daughter’s disappointment, and there, in my sulking line of sight, is the little rectangular box peeking out and encouraging me to continue. 
I look away, but my hands know what to do without the aid of my eyes. They grasp the slippery plastic box on three sides, smacking the open end against that perfectly flat area on the pad of my open hand; then they expertly flip the top open and slide out one of the thin ‘cancer-causing’ cylinders, put it just inside the opening of my mouth, hanging on for dear life to that barely wet slice of lip, and light it with a quick switch of the thumb. 
The nerves that just moments ago felt like millions of individual church bells ringing against my skin finally quiet, and my eyes close at the sweet calm that washes over me. When I open my eyes, I see my daughter standing inside the door, lip curled in disgust, and signaling that they’re ready for us. I finish quickly, knowing I won’t get another one until a while later, and walk inside to enjoy some quality time. 
She chooses a bright red and glittery gold for her ring finger—school colors—, and I choose a deep maroon. We sit down next to each other, chatting happily, the thought of cigarettes now merely a ghost in the background. 
The nail tech can’t seem to figure out if they should focus on my face or my fingers. I realize after a moment that she’s probably talking shit about my yellow-tinged fingernails to the nail tech currently pampering my daughter.
A click. 
A flame. 
A breath. 
That sound. Why are organs so depressing? Honestly, the deep bellowing of a church organ can be described as hauntingly beautiful, but never just beautiful. It’s deep reverberating noise seems to know that it’s getting to you. You might process the sound most fully through your ears, but once inside it spreads its long sinewy fingers into your every nerve so you vibrate with the music it emits. 
I hate it. 
There he is: big smile, hazel eye shining, wearing his favorite hoodie, and standing in front of a big beautiful tree bearing the colors of fall. My husband, alive and well.
Now, that picture is all that remains of both my husband and the tree. Winter claimed them both this year. 
Jesus Christ, I am so sick of this organ I say mostly to myself. Based on the harsh looks from my children, though, it was a little louder than I thought. 
“We are in a church, mom,” my son whispers to me. He grabs my hand and gives it a squeeze. My daughter just shakes her head. I see a fresh stream of tears silently making their way down her long face. 
At last, the organ stops, the preacher preaches, people hug us, and we make our way out of the church. My son has his arms around both me and his sister, consoling us in the way that only sweet baby boys can. There is another, though, whose consolation I yearn for. 
I kiss my children on their cheeks and tell them I’ll be there in just a second. They say nothing, because at this point there is nothing to say. 
My hand, unsteady as of late, finds solace in the repetition of my habit. My brain knows the way, there is no processing, just release. The smoke fills me. It fills the holes inside, even if only for a moment, and it feels nice to be whole again. 
I slip into the black car next to my children, both teary eyed, and hear my daughter whisper through her tears that if I don’t quit she’ll have to bury another parent too soon. 
A click. 
A flame. 
A breath. 
That sound. The sound of little feet padding the ground fills me with joy. You don’t realize how much you miss the sound of children until your own children are grown and start having kids of their own. 
Now I can’t get enough of it. My grandbabies come over to the house every Sunday after we go to church, and we play all day until dinner time. This is the week all the pools opened up, but lucky for my babies I have a pool in my backyard.
We put on swimsuits and those little arm floaties, and we buy goggles and noodles and dive toys. For lunch we have slices of watermelon to hold us over because we’re having too much fun to stop and sit down for a meal. My own children relax on pool chairs, reading books or drinking a beer, while Mamaw plays all day long. 
Every now and then I step away in order to have a cigarette, but admittedly I don’t smoke as much when they’re around because I’m having so much fun I don’t want to leave them. Sometimes, though, addiction calls, and I almost always answer. 
I grab my ashtray and step around the edge of the house to have a quick cigarette. This isn’t the time to sit and enjoy the nicotine—it’s time to quell an urge. I watch the three little hellions splash each other and just smile ear to ear. I pull the last bit of life from the stub between my lips and crush the end into the tray in my hand. 
I return to the fun and sit next to my daughter. Motherhood has been good to her. The little ones decide they’re ready for a snack and all come running over at the same time. I hand out towels and tell them to dry off for a minute before grabbing any food. 
Ava, the youngest of the three, climbs up in my lap. I snuggle her close and kiss her on the head. Around a mouthful of watermelon, she says Mamaw you smell yucky. 
A click. 
A flame. 
A breath. 
That sound. I click every button on the damn remote but nothing is happening. Fed up, I start banging the thing against the handrail on my bed. The batteries go flying every which way and one rolls out into the hall. I curse.
The young nurse, the nice one, is chuckling when she walks into my room. She grabs the batteries one by one, then puts them back into the remote for me. “What’s going on?” she asks. 
“The TV won’t stop beeping.,” I tell her, “the daggon’ thing is keeping me up all day and night.”
She walks over to the machinery next to my bed and checks all my numbers. She tells me everything is looking good today. 
“Everything is looking good every day; my godforsaken children just didn’t want to take care of their mother in her old age,” I say matter of fact.
 She laughs like I’m joking and I inform her I’m not. She sighs and takes my blood pressure. It’s a little high. 
“Did you take your medicine?” she asks. 
I shrug my shoulders noncommittally, because no I didn’t take it. It gives me the runs. 
She hands me a pill and a glass of water and give me thelook. I swallow the pill and dismiss her. I know why my blood pressure is high, and now I realize the beeping is from that stupid machine. If I have to listen to that then I’m going to need a different kind of medicine. 
When the nurse leaves I get out of bed and put on my slippers. They’re getting awfully old, but they do the trick.
I don’t ever cause no trouble, so no one notices when I walk over to the empty nurse’s station and release the lock on the door. I walk right out into the fresh air and start toward the gas station. I click the crosswalk button and start walking—yield to pedestrians, right? 
I nearly get run over by a car that didn’t slow down at all—“Goddam idiot!” I holler after them. It’s a little chilly, and that’s when I realize I forgot my sweater and the wallet in the pocket. 
“What’s an old woman gotta’ do for a cigarette,” I grumble under my breath. I turn around in the middle of the crosswalk—and walk directly into the path of an incoming minivan. 
A click.
A flame. 
A breath.
That sound.

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