He always called me Green Bean. Not babe. Or honey or dear. Sometimes just Bean or sometimes just Green but always one or the other. It was my favorite thing in the world to come home from work and hear him say “hey Green Bean.” I remember one night I started to drift off to sleep with my head on his chest and my arm around him but even though he was wide awake he wouldn’t move because he didn’t want to wake me. I loved his hugs or just holding his hand. I don’t care much for physical affection from others but I never got tired of it from him. Even after 11 years I wanted to hold his hand, to kiss him and to have him near me. I would give up everything in this world to have that back. He told me he didn’t know what he’d do without me but I have no idea what to do without him. I just can’t fathom living every day of my life without him. There better be some kind of eternity following death because he’s going to be mine for every day of it. I’ve always been selfish and wanted him all to myself. This life took everything from me so death better give me something back.
I bought my first, and one of only packs of cigarettes, in Florence, Italy in the summer of 2005. It was evening and already dusky out when I stopped at the little store on the crowded street and randomly picked out a box of menthol Pall Malls.I had no idea about filters or regulars or lights or brands but I wanted to try them and I found I enjoyed, though never craved, that acrid taste on my tongue. I smoked the whole box and shared a few with an Iraqi street artist who drew me a picture of an angel and who invited me home for coffee to his small apartment he shared with a couple of roommates.
When I worked in a convenience store I would often buy a cheap potent single from the styrofoam cup on the counter for twenty five cents and when there were no customers in the store, I would stand outside the door and puff it down as fast as I could. Years later, I much preferred the smoky taste of Brian’s kisses, a taste I craved, over smoking them myself. I found him intoxicating and his habit was part of the package. He always kept a box of Marlboros tucked up under the visor of his truck along with a lighter and he would expertly light it up, shift gears, and roll down the manual window seemingly in one fluid motion. I can still hear the sound of his nail flicking the ashes from the tip and then the quiet exhale of breath. In the summer when we sat on the porch, I would watch that grey smoke slowly drift upward, hanging on the humid air, reluctant to disperse. Sometimes, when it rained, he would prop open the laundry room screen door and sit on the top step, out of the dampness but close enough to watch the drops fall. I would sit on the washing machine while he lit up a cigarette, holding it between his long beautiful fingers. He first started smoking before he was legally allowed to buy them, filching them from a buddy’s mother who would leave them lying around for easy access.
Later, his habit would be a point of contention. It was costly when there wasn’t room for extra costs and damaging to his already precarious health. I always felt like a bit of a hypocrite though because I secretly loved that he smoked simply because it was such a part of him and because he made it look so damn sexy. When I pictured him as a Marine, impossibly young and impossibly handsome, I always see him with a cigarette between his lips.
If it weren’t for his nicotine addiction I’m not sure we ever would have met. He first came in the One Stop store where I worked to buy his coffee and cigarettes. I remember him asking for Marlboro Lights in the box and joking that his doctor told him he needed to eat more fried foods and smoke more cigarettes. He used to say that he had a buddy who would purposefully forget his pack of smokes on the counter so the clerk would have to run after him and bring them to him. He laughed and said that he was going to try that trick one day. And then he accidentally did. I chased him down and caught him just as he was opening the door to his patrol car and he grinned sheepishly when I handed them to him. I had thought he had done it on purpose at first but when he looked embarrassed I knew he hadn’t. Three months before he died, he quit. He’d quit before but this time, at last, it was for good.
I plan to buy a pack of Marlboros and keep them under the visor of his truck along with a lighter. Maybe I’ll even smoke one for him.
I would give up my freedom in a heartbeat if it meant having you back, but despite my earnest and desperate wishing i can’t will it to happen. If a person could change circumstances merely by the force of their desire, you would be here with me now. Since it hasn’t happened I have to reluctantly let go of what I wish for in order to live. If I don’t, I’ll remain a martyr to the past and what I can’t have and that is a useless and sad endeavor. Instead, I will look to what I now have. Some days it’s impossible but other days, or even moments at a time, I embrace the freedom to simply belong to myself. I do not have to please anyone else. My decisions are based off my own wants and needs and I no longer have to parse out my time and feel guilty when there isn’t enough of me to go around. I didn’t ask to be set free but here I am. I decide where I go and when. I only wait on myself (and Nat) and my decisions and their consequences are my own to enjoy or bear. If you have the strength to allow yourself to be alone there can be a great sense of freedom and joy in it. Something many people never learn. I have had many well meaning friends tell me I’m young and that I’ll marry again but perhaps belonging to myself will be enough. I had one great love- maybe it’s time to see what all this life has to offer beyond that.