I cannot, not be selfish. It’s a tic, a stray hair that I can’t be rid of no matter the times I pull it loose. And every hair has its roots, and mine lay with death and what it leaves behind.
It started simple, as every beginning does; A look, a smile, a greeting, a kiss-a key-a door-a bed, a baby. It ended, simply put, quick.
On that day when my mother happened to open her knees wide and spit me out, I got my first taste of tobacco. Still attached to the cord and screaming, from between my mothers fingers came the putrid scent of burning tar. The fact the I was alive, breathing, and her son, brought her no smile, no nothing. Only when the suckable stick of sin lay between her lips did she open her eyes, and for the moment pretended to live. Growing up, it took me less time to realize this then it did to open my eyes wide. And that’s how I lived, in patience, waiting for my own mother to see me; Even if it was through a nicotine haze.
At seven I was running cigarette relays for her to the local convince store. Since they all knew my mother, they didn’t much care about the child with $32.50 of smoke in his hot little hands. I was trusted with something teenagers were not, and for the moment, I thought myself a little special. Looking back to that retrospective mist of childish fancies, I wish I could go back, and stay there forever. I’d stay seven, and never leave it for the world.
On my eighth birthday, my mother strolled in all winter-breathed and happy. She walked over to me and tossed me my very first pack of the red box lights, her favorite. She said something to the extent that I should start when she did, keep the tradition. So I opened the box, pulled out one long white stick with the filtered end, and lay it between my lips like I’d seen a hundred times. Picked up a lighter off the counter to the left of me, struck it once, twice, and third times the charm for the flame. At this point, I’d burst in the door as I am now, 24 and dead, and throw that pack out the window. But I can’t, and didn’t.
I pulled the lighter to the tip of my very own cigarette, and kept it there till it turned red, like I’d seen a hundred hundred times. As soon as it did, I took a long, deep breath through that filtered end and felt the smoke billow down into my lungs. I was expecting a cool, soothing sensation like one of the seventeen hugs my mom has given me, I didn’t get it. I always understood smoke was a product of fire, and never knew it could produce its own. But it did, it lit a fire something fierce deep inside my chest that burned worst then the stove top at dinner time. I coughed and wheezed until I couldn’t no more, all the while my mother stood laughing loud, in a tone I hadn’t heard before; Like angels with wind chimes for wings.
When it was over, I was on the ground, my throat raw with effort and the cigarette burnt out to the filter; Its ashes, now that I think about it, looking like a line of blackened coke. Then was my moment of truth, my one and only epiphany that for all the joy I thought it’d bring, I wish I never had. I could do something I never thought possible, something special, something good. I could make my mother laugh, I could make her smile, and I could make her happy. And all I ever had to do was set myself on fire.
I would, and only on an all too regular basis too. I’d do it for her, her friends and whoever she wanted to bring to watch her boy hurt himself for a giggle or two. It’d go on for a couple weeks, right up until it just didn’t hurt anymore, didn’t burn, didn’t nothing. It became like breathing air, I could scarcely tell the difference anymore, and I couldn’t be more scared. Everyone stopped coming, there was nothing to see. I’d lost my mothers happiness, and I didn’t know how to bring it back. So I’d take two, three cigarettes at a time, wanting the burn more than anything, and lit up. Nothing happened, nothing. So I’d take one after another, sucking them to ash as fast as I was able, nothing still. I started to cry.
I cried, and I cried and I cried , watching my tears hit the floor, only to be soaked up by all the spent ashes. And cried more, right up until I couldn’t no more, and fell asleep.
I woke up scared, and tired and sore and shaking. I felt like a I was dying, if ever I thought I was, and didn’t know why. I tried to cry but didn’t, I tried to see but I couldn’t; Everything was blurry like tears in my eyes, but the back of my hand always came back dry. Then I remembered about the burn and my mothers smile, I knew I had to get it back. I couldn’t forget her laugh, even if it killed me; A horrible mentality for an eight year old. I forced myself to see until I found the box of red lights, her favorite, and repeated what I knew by heart. As the air in my lungs began to shade to grey, something happened that I wish didn’t. My trembling body had slowly started to still itself, my vision got clearer and it was like I’d woke up for the first time. It was then I knew happiness, and breathed easy. It was then, that I never did stop.
It didn’t matter if I never heard my mother laugh again, or smile, or anything. As long as I knew happiness, everything else was second step to my sick stick.
It was only up until I was 23, did something start to matter again. I had walked through school, and away from anyone who came my way. It didn’t matter to me, I got what I needed when I was eight, and everyone was still looking. If they looked my way, I turned heel strong and never looked back, burnt tar in my wake. Then before I knew it coming my way, I tripped hard and never made my way back up. I fell sickly, in ways I couldn’t cure with my red box lights. The doctor said it was bad. He said he was sorry to be the one to say it. The doctor said it was cancer.
Cancer in the way I breathe.
I tried to walk away, pretend I was deaf, dumb and blind. For all the good it did me, I could’ve been. You can’t run from what’s truly a part of you, a person inoperable finds that out real quick. It didn’t take long, faster then I could ever run it was, and eventually I couldn’t even do that. My last days were in a hospital, with indifferent nurses just waiting for my bed and no one of any significance by my side. Just one last sick stick in my red box lights at the end of my bed, that I didn’t even have the strength to get. I’d stare at them for hours, and ask the nurses to get them for me, they’d only laugh.
Then it was over. I was scarcely 24, and the light above my head faded to nothing, all the voices quieted down and I could hear wind chimes on ocean shores. Then more than any cigarette, more than anyones laugh or smile, I felt happiness, I felt joy.