my dad's caption for this in the old album was, "Laurie Jo lights a cigarette."
and then i didn't try smoking again until i was 17 and in my first year of college. i had had a couple of coffee dates with the boy who was the reporter/editor/everything for the college paper. (it was a very small paper, a weekly, or possibly monthly, and it truly had a one-person staff.) he was quitting the paper, and i was interviewing for the job. i had never thought about journalism before, but suddenly i really wanted to do it.
the boy was very cool. he hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and his index fingers pointed down toward his crotch in a casual, thrilling way. also, he smoked. he told me that it calmed him down.
this sounded wise to me, and important. i thought that i needed something to calm me down, too, though actually i didn't; i wasn't tense and i've always been pretty boringly sensible.
but being tense and overworked and in need of calm sounded appealing to me. romantic. i thought it would be fun to roll my eyes and say, "gawd, i need a cigarette!" and mean it. maybe i'd get really thin, and tall, and start wearing black. maybe my hair would go straight, and long, and i would start looking mildly ethnic, like Mimi Farina.
so i got together enough change for a pack of cigarettes and filched a package of matches from somewhere.
i scoped out the only cigarette machine on campus--it was in the basement of the student union. i walked past it several times, fingering the heavy coins in my pocket. i worried that someone would notice; i worried that someone would call me out--"hey, you don't smoke!"--or, worse, laugh at me.
and then i just did it. slid in the quarters and pulled the knob and out shot a red package of Marlboros. i scooped it up hastily and dashed outside.
the college was catholic, and out in back, beyond the soccer fields, on the edge of the woods, was a graveyard. this is where all the old dead nuns were buried.
this is where i tore the cellophane off the Marlboros, shook out a cigarette, and lit the match.
i walked amongst the graves, puffing and trying to look serious. also, trying not to choke. the flavor was absolutely foul; how does anyone ever start smoking, anyway?, i wondered. it seemed to me that the taste would be quite a hurdle to get past. i had half-expected to be hooked for the rest of my life after those first few puffs. but instead i just felt like a front-end loader had driven up to my mouth and dropped in a big old payload of dirt.
i dropped the half-smoked cigarette on some poor unfortunate nun's grave, and i slipped the rest of the pack into my pocket. i decided to give it to my sister holly--marlboros was her brand.
i went back inside the student lounge and rinsed out my mouth. it did no good; my mouth tasted of dirt for days after. days. holly laughed uproariously when i gave her the pack and told her my story. "you didn't inhale, did you?" she said.
"of course i did!" i said. i was offended at her mirth.
"did you cough?"
she laughed again. "then you didn't inhale," she said, and walked away chuckling.
a few days later, the smoking boy told me that he had decided not to quit the paper after all.
this is what it's like to be 17: to have huge powerful dreams that come out of nowhere, take over your life, and then get dashed on the rocks, all in the space of about three days. when i realized i wasn't going to get the job, or the cigarette habit, or the mysterious boy, i was depressed for hours. possibly even for an entire afternoon.
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