I was reading a book set in Istanbul, and I fell in love with the city all over again, and anew. I love the descriptions; of meals of meat and buttermilk, of the chaos and noise of the streets, of the fervent prayers and the flashy belly dancers, and of the beautiful brazen women carelessly carrying cigarettes to their bright red lips while their finger nails flash a brighter and jauntier red.
I’ve never really been the girl with nail polish, or the girl with the cigarette.
Not that I haven’t tried either.
In my twenty three years of living, I’ve smoked 4 cigarettes. They’ve all been smoked at times of confusion and heartbreak and loss and self-pity.
Except for that first cigarette. I must have been around three years old.
It’s one of my first memories in life, and so, blindingly hazy.
First, some context.
My father was a chain smoker until heart surgery abruptly ended his long and strong relationship with cigarettes.
Before the operation that would change his and our lives, my mother had relentlessly campaigned, nagged, and raged, using tactic and strategy to try to stop him from smoking. Ordinarily being able to influence all his behaviour instantly, this refusal to keep away from smoking led her to do things that were strange, even for her.
This brings us back to my three year old self’s encounter with a cigarette. Enraged by another argument with my father about his smoking habits, my mother grabbed a packet of cigarettes, and swept my sister and I into the living room, while my father watched TV outside, serenely. I don’t remember her lighting a cigarette, or taking a puff herself, but I remember the sudden hit of bitter, acrid, hot air flooding my body, and finding it painful to breathe. I remember coughing endlessly and feeling like my throat had been hacked open, and seeing only smoke and stars, everywhere. I don’t really remember what happened after that, but I’ll never forget how petrified I had been, in a way only a threey year old can.
I’d like to say that the other cigarettes of my life have more interesting and dramatic stories around them, but that would be a lie by all accounts.
The remaining three cigarettes have been me desperately seeking some form of solace, and trying to find myself because the world was telling me too many things about myself that I didn’t like. The other cigarettes have been after fights with parents and friends and boyfriends. They’ve been last ditch attempts to find comfort in a giant middle finger to the world.
Unfortunately, I’m afraid of matchsticks, and wholly terrified that I’ll never be able to mask the smell of tobacco on me. Cigarettes don’t make me cool and unruffled, they make me nervous and clumsy. Unsurprisingly, they’ve provided no comfort, and only a push into deeper self pity.
Maybe some day I’ll find a way to deal with sorrow in a cool, careless way, through a vice that’ll effortlessly carry me to a time when I’m happy again. Maybe some day I’ll look my pain in the face, inhale it, blow it out in rings, and crush it into powder with the heel of my sandals. I’ll pop some bubble gum in, and move on.
Until then, I’ll cry into my pillow, and find refuge in a hot shower.