The Marlboro Man Always Smoked Alone

Ashtray with burned cigarettes

A year ago, with little fanfare, I put down my last cigarette. In this past year, I have had reason to reflect… actually, I really don’t want to talk about quitting. It was 365 days ago and I am a non-smoker, happily, hopefully, and willingly. 

Smoking was one of my last defenses. When I was feeling particularly mentally ill, I could always duck out for a smoke to soothe the cacophony around me. My cigarette was my shield, a cloud of safety in various parking lots around the world.

When your brain is distracted, and people are in tunnels around you, being outside was literal and the best way to deal with it all. A place to formulate a plan and screw up the courage to once again wade into the breach that is human interaction.

Sometimes, the cigarette you clutch in your hand is the last grasp you have on this planet. A burning in your lungs and a burnt smell assuring you, yes, you are still here. 

Only the untethered know what I mean. 

My mind goes a million miles a minute, thinking about Genesis post-Peter Gabriel and quantum states of cats and stories about a hacker/ninja girl named Babette. All this while I disassociate, floating above my body, controlling it like a puppet.

Astronaut on a spacewalk surrounded by umbilical cords

The cigarette in the parking lot saved me from all of that.

So now I have no rope of smoke, as impermanent as it was. Now, I am forced to deal with it all. If I really have to dodge, most of the family understands if I take a loooooong bathroom break. There is the smaller ‘breathe break’ (4-7-8 FTW) to get by as well. 

It’s all a matter of degrees now. I need time alone (provided I should have time alone, unless, of course, I shouldn’t… IYKYK) and a quiet moment, because if you lived in this head mentally and physically, sometimes not focusing, not thinking, not having to be present is a gift.

I am always floating away. That is the truth of it, cigarette or not. The cigarette was an excuse to increase my altitude, above it all, beyond it all, in the shadows of a parking lot. 

cigarette burning hanging from someones hand

I know it sounds like I am being dragged somewhere, kicking and screaming (and though I am a nonsmoker, I am not offended by the smell, for the miracle, as well as highly addictive, drug, nicotine lives there. Like opiates, I will miss your high, but it never made me high enough, just leading me to a hospital bed wondering if I was going to bleed out). I am finding reasons to ground myself, because, frankly, I am fucking strong enough to hang on.

That wasn’t always true. It was a cigarette in a parking lot.

Nobody dies alone, but we walk the path of oblivion on our own. I won’t die alone and I don’t need the other. Oblivion is easy. The end of the world is easier to face than the rest of your life. 

The end of the world doesn’t need to happen with a cloud of smoke in a parking lot. In fact, it doesn’t need to happen at all.

Published by Just j

Author, photographer, music nerd and just this guy, you know.

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