We would sit out on the patio and smoke cigarettes. That’s how we ended stressful days and weeks and even months: we got the cigarettes.
Of course, we weren’t smokers. We weren’t then and we aren’t now. But there was something about these cigarettes that appealed. They were a carton of Malboro Lights that someone left at my aunt’s house and were slowly pawed at until the sticks tumbled out on these bad days to offer you their decompressing qualities. We sat out on the patio, overlooking LA, ashing the sticks into a pale green seashell ashtray.
It was always night: the cigarettes were never for daily consumption. This was likely a blurring we had to keep your on-hours and your off-hours separated. The cigarettes were an escape from work, for being offline, for being with someone else who wants to sit and be catty or crass. We’d blow smoke from our noses like hot houses and imagine that every problem we had was going out and away. That may or may not have been the case since the inhalants slid down our lungs, cascading tar along interior walls. We didn’t think about that but, alas, that’s what was happening.
The cigarettes eventually disappeared. They didn’t mysteriously vanish but we smoked them and smoked them until they were no more. I took too many too. I always took too many. I took them with me, taking them out of the space and time where the cigarettes were therapy. This violated something or signified an end of an era: the dream time, the unreality of smoking, had entered into another plane. It went from a night oriented outdoor activity to a daytime accompaniment to driving. They lost their value.
But, again, I was never a smoker. Neither was my aunt. It was an occasional indulgence, a little nibble of bad to counteract the almost constant good. I eventually moved out from my aunt’s house, the cigarettes mostly depleted by then, a memory formed as a situation, a special moment, a snap vanished. They burned to the filter and fell away. I smoked for almost a year after, on and off, on stressful nights out of my bachelor apartment window or outside of work environments where I was hoping to puff myself far away and above.
I eventually quit (for money, love, health, etc.) but the cigarettes exist in my mind. They will never have their magic again, they will never be able to reclaim their decade-old allure. But, sometimes, sitting on that patio as the night shifts from meandering warmth to creeping cool, the cigarettes appeal. They call from the cabinet they were once in, which has since been thrown away, unhidden and unmade. That, too, burned away.
Not the stress though, not the city, not the nights. The circumstances, yes. The place, no. The cigarettes are nowhere to be found.