Cigarettes

I don’t know why I like them so much. I remember my mother vomiting through chemo treatments; my father wolfs down sticks like they’re m&m’s; my grandfather’s deathbed cough tensed his whole body–like his blackened lungs were trying to turn inside out; most vividly though, I remember my childhood friend’s tears–talking about holding his mothers ankles as she suffocated to death from lung cancer. “When people die in real life” he said, “it’s not like when they die in the movies.” Shouldn’t I know better?

I think it’s because I’m so far removed from the almost choking Amherst command: “take care of yourself, damnit!” I think it’s because so many people around me smoke. I think it’s because I like the way it makes all my limbs go heavy.

Each time I have one I’m itching for the next–and I’ve never been a smoker before this recent bout. It’s just that one cigarette is never heavy enough; it ends as soon as it really gets good–as soon as my hands and shoulders drop.

I came to Germany to escape the bad dreams I started having again–and all the baggage that comes with them. But being in a foreign country has unexpectedly opened the flood gates. There’s no running away from your own problems, I guess. I wanted to write short vignettes in this post about the dreams I’ve been having. But when I read them over, it just didn’t feel right to publish. So instead, I’m writing about one of the ways my waking life has come to parallel the self-destruction that my sleeping life has come to know.

Each cigarette is like my own personal moment to look back on my failures–mourning the things that could have been, that I never had the strength to do, that I didn’t dare to do. Then it ends–the fire is too hot, too close to the filter, and I have to put it out, go inside, and pick up the thesis work again.

We’ve all had the moment where we know we could turn our life around, we know the right decision. But with me, the dark, bad, self-destructive decision is always so seductive–magnetic, even. Sometimes I actually believe that my special relationship to my own self-destruction is the only thing that makes my person significant. I was convinced as a child that I would die early; and while brooding isn’t my only emotional mode, I think it suits me. I know I’m most intelligent and interesting when I’m in contact with the part of me that hates myself. And smoking gives me that.

So before you judge me, or tell me “OMG, just don’t do it!” I know what I’m doing and what I’m walking into. And I think that’s what I like the most about cigarettes–the risk of ruining the only life we’ve been given. And it’s my addiction to the risk that makes me special.