2002-06-15 - 6:20 a.m.

ďIs this okay?Ē I ask her while gently placing my lips around the smoothness of my passion. My fingers gently closing around it as I close my eyes and inhale the sultry scent with all my being. I asked her, but I didnít wait for an answer, instead my lips started moving, slowly putting more pressure upon it, my tongue gently flicking the tip and I take a deep breath in and wait for the sublime moment when my body relaxes into the moment.

ďYeah, itís okay, really, this is good for me,Ē she tells me with hungry eyes.

The flickering flame between us snaps to attention and burns steadily as its heat pours around us, lighting the one thing that makes both of us weak.

ďAre you sure, this okay? I ask again.

ďYes, I havenít smoked in a year, I need to learn how to be around other smokers,Ē she sighs while grabbing at the air for even one morsel of wafting smoke to push into her lungs.

Cigarettes. Sigh.

I donít even remember when I smoked my first one. I donít remember the feeling of it, I donít remember where I was, I donít know who I was with. I donít remember this because it seems from the beginning of my existence I have been a smoker. When I was in elementary school we would collect dried grass from our lawns and roll it in paper and smoke it like a cigarette in the loft of an old barn in back of my house. In middle school my friend and I stole cigarette butts from her fathers ashtray and smoked them hidden behind big spools of wire at the phone company. In high school I started buying my own when I could, if I couldnít buy them I would have someone else do it for me. I always kept it relatively secret, only a couple people knew about my smoking, most of my school friends did not because they were all Miss Prissy Poos.

Then I started working at Frosty Boy. And I started hanging around people from different schools. We were a group of six and out of the six of us, five smoked. It became ritual that after work we would go to Subway and eat subs in the parking lot and then smoke a lot of cigarettes. Slowly my friends at my own school became less important to me. Instead of hanging out with them after school I would immediately jump in my car and drive twenty miles to meet Nicole in the parking lot of her school. We would roll down the windows and drive for hours chain smoking and listening to Janis Joplin at top volume.

It was the secret language of cigarettes that found me my new group of friends. My childhood best friend with whom I was inseparable from for nine years became obsolete. She just didnít have that bond with me that Nicole had. Not only did she not smoke, but she had asthma which made my smoking around her impossible. I spent my last year of high school slowly separating myself from all my friends who I had grown up with and slowly but surely formed closer bonds with my new group of friends, and the cigarettes, than I have ever had.

For the ten years Nicole and I have been friends we have maintained our smoke fests. When she went away to school five hundred miles away I would drive there twice a year and she would drive here twice a year. It was the routine of cigarettes that kept us excited about visits. Sometimes on the phone one of us would sigh and say, ďOh, I canít wait to be sitting on your back porch with a beer and a cigarette.Ē We became eachothers crutch, being together meant that we would be relaxing, talking a mile a minute, dispelling three months worth of various agitationís...and smoking, chain smoking.

And then, last year, after her spring trip here, she quit smoking. It took acupuncture, yoga, knitting and Zyban to make her quit. But she did it. At first, she counted the hours she hadnít smoked until it got to the sixth month marker, then she started counting days. Now she is counting months. I didnít visit her in the summer or the fall because I was too scared I wouldnít be able to not smoke around her and that she would become tempted. I didnít know how our relationship would work any more without our rituals.

This spring she came here. Itís been a year since Iíve seen her. Iíve talked to her on the phone once or twice a week, weíve exchanged presents for holidays and birthdays, as we have always done. But it just seemed as though there would be something missing. It seemed that we wouldnít spring from bed in the morning looking forward to going out to breakfast and smoking that one wonderful cigarette with our bellies full of grease and coffee.

But there wasnít anything missing. It turns out the cigarettes werenít our bond. It wasnít the glue that held us together. Cigarettes were only a minor happenstance, she and I probably would have become best friends when we were seventeen with or without the smokes and the rituals. Cigarettes were only the first common denominator we had. But we have found others, we would have been friends and we would have found other rituals.

She watched me smoke that cigarette with eyes full of greed. She said, ďIíll never get over it, but Iíve come too far now,Ē

And I wonder, because I know I need to quit too, if I will ever be able to let go of that one comfort I have, if I will ever be able to find something as constant as cigarettes. I wonder if I can let go of my unhealthy relationship with them like she did. And if I do, itís going to take a lot more than acupuncture, knitting and Zyban. Itís going to take everything I am and everything I will ever have.


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