No Smoking


“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.


9 thoughts on “No Smoking

  1. I have two teenage sons who regularly answer my “but why did you do that?” with “I dunno”. It frustrates me no end, but yes, you’re quite right, sometimes we just do things. We don’t always have a reason or motivation.


    • Haha. Well, since I don’t have kids yet all I can say is that if/when I do I hope I’m as embracing as I profess to be. I think this way now, but will I embrace the mysteries of a child’s (il)logic or will I be frustrated by it? Time will tell!

      Liked by 1 person

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