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.