“It’s disgusting,” my mother said every time we came home from my grandparent’s after Sunday dinner, hanging our clothes in the garage to air them out. Her father was a two-pack-a-day smoker with leather skin and a handkerchief he used to hack into. “Smoking is a nasty, disgusting habit,” she said. I agreed with her, but I still wanted to try it.
I decided one day after school that I’d built up enough nerve—I was going to walk to the gas station, putter around, pay someone a dollar for a cigarette and smoke it on the knoll overlooking the highway. But by the time I got to the gas station my nerves were shot. I couldn’t approach a stranger to ask directions, never mind bum a smoke off one. I spent the dollar on a candy bar and left.
As I walked home, my hand turning over the unused pack of matches in my jacket pocket, it occurred to me that I was not above finding a cigarette butt and smoking that. I made a detour and slowed my pace as I got to the path that cut through the park. Off in the distance I could see the pinks and blues of fall jackets, boys and girls clambering over the playground, technicolour pendulums on the swing set. I hung back from the park and scoured the path that ran along the man-made lake. All I found were a few butts that had been smoked down to the filter. I would learn one day how expensive cigarettes were and why a thrifty person wouldn’t waste, but at the time that was no consolation for my wasted effort. I cursed the smokers who hadn’t even left me enough tobacco for one experimental puff and went home dejected.
As I think about what it was that made me want to smoke, I’m stumped for answers. It wasn’t from peer pressure—none of my friends had admitted to trying it. I still wore sweatpants, so it certainly wasn’t that I was attempting to look cool. Perhaps the problem in trying to understand the motives of my twelve-year-old self is that motive is a grown-up concept. I think about all the times my parents asked me why I did something that I wasn’t supposed to do and how often the answer was, “Because.” If I’d been the sort of kid who talked back I might have asked them, “Why do you need a reason for everything?” I understand now why they needed an explanation, but at the same time I love that there wasn’t one. With so little mystery left in the universe it’s a small relief to me that people remain plenty mysterious.