The first time I smoked a cigarette, I was standing outside of the Arts & Humanities building (A&H) while I was at school in Ashland. It was one of my very first night classes that I had ever taken, and of course it was an English literature class. If I’m not mistaken, it was 17th Century Lit with Nicky J (that’s what we called the professor).
There was a boy that sat near me in that class. He wore Allman Brothers t-shirts and a spicy sweet smell danced around him. Once in awhile I would catch a whiff of it and my spine would curl and my shoulders would drop and I would imagine what it felt like to live in that rose-colored smell. His hair fell down his shoulders in golden brown ringlets and the toes of his cowboy boots clacked against the metal legs of the desk. He was the truest definition of cool.
Once I swallowed my fear to talk to him, I found out that the intoxicating air around him was Patchouli Rose oil mixed with the soft leather of his weathered jacket. And when our night class took its 15-minute break, I began following him outside to watch him smoke. The way his lips wrapped around the cigarette, the way the cigarette lay precariously in between his fingers, the way the smoke curled into the night sky all made it impossible for me to say no when he offered me a Marlboro Red. He lit it for me like men do in the movies, with the flick of a Zippo and cupping his hand up against the wind, shielding my cheek and the flame at the same time. With a click it was down again and I tried to breathe in the smoke.
I failed. He smirked. “First cigarette?”
“No,” I said defensively. His eyes mirrored laughter “Yes…”
It wasn’t long after that that I learned to smoke–bought a pack of light cigarettes and practiced inhaling by the picnic table outside of my dorm–so that the next time he asked me if I wanted one, I wouldn’t look like an idiot.
The cigarettes led to truck rides, and when the semester ended, it led to him picking me up in a black Trans Am after my first night class without him. It led to me buying my own Patchouli oil and perfecting my cigarette holding stance. Smoking let me into a club of cool that I had never known before because I’d been too busy fake coughing when I walked past smokers.
When we graduated, that man cut his hair and moved to Pittsburgh. I moved to North Carolina. Life went on. I only smoke when I drink now, or when something is really pissing me off. It’s still a silent rebellion. Still a way for me to narrow my eyes and see the world through the smoke, so it’s a little less harsh.