"It isn't enough for your heart to break because everybody's heart is broken now."
I just got all ready for bed- shower, pajamas, skin regimen, brushed, flossed, checked my e-mail one last time & then went into my fridge, took out some leftover chicken Pad Thai from last night, poured mounds of peanut sauce over it, nuked it in the micro for one minute & housed it down in about 3 minutes. Its 1:30 in the morning, I’m still awake, and the only thing I can think to do is eat. It was actually kind of a desperate hunger & I cannot lie and say I have quite satiated that hunger at this point, even after the Pad Thai- so, sadly, I am now eating- with a fork right out of the baking pan sitting next to me on the couch-a funfetti cake Greg and I decided to bake, on a whim, earlier this week. So I guess, the question I should be asking myself is- what's really on my mind tonight? That is- besides broken hearts and sticky rice noodles?
Well, truth be told- its cigarettes.
Let's be honest...the need to be housing down massive amounts of leftovers in the middle of the night is usually code for something else- a bigger issue. In the movies when the main character makes their way into the kitchen in the middle of the night to gorge themselves on cookies and cakes and milk straight from the carton it's usually because they had a fight with their significant other, they lost a job, someone they loved died or pretty much because of any average variation of the age old broken heart.
I can still remember the pain of my first real broken heart, mostly because I'm not one to forget moments like those. Okay, maybe it wasn't my very first broken heart- cause it also sucked pretty bad when the summer love of my life left for college without saying goodbye or when I found my prom date in bed with someone else the next morning- but it is perhaps one of my most poignant broken-hearted moments because it was the last day of my freshman year in college. And we all know that's a pretty big deal in the average American college student's life.
So, as I was saying- it's the last day of my first year of college and that guy, yeah, THAT GUY- the one who turned me upside down that year while I was laughing and dumped little pieces of my soul onto the cold upstate New York pavement, like change from my pockets, during his little silly game, only to return me to the ground dizzy in more places then my mind and perpetually in tears- was giving me his goodbyes.
We stood in the circle outside the dorm we had shared that year and I felt hopelessly lost- standing next to the bags I had piled on the curb- waiting for a car that would whisk me off to the airport. I remember swallowing the saliva collecting in my throat like big huge lumps of coal.
There were so many things left unsaid, so many things I wanted him to say, and so many things I wanted to say myself. What would happen next year when our dorms were a whole street length apart? What would happen over the summer when he went back to his glamorous life in California and I was stuck in suburban Connecticut? Would he call me? Write? Text? Think of me...ever?
We stood there, shuffled our feet, felt awkward, hands in our pockets, eyes darting in every other direction than into each other's...and just as I gathered the courage to look up into his steely blues and begin to speak, he reached over and wrapped his arms around me, but not in the kind of way that makes you feel relieved. Not in the kind of way I needed, the kind of way where you suddenly feel connected on this other worldly level and you both suddenly understand each other and everything that should have happened- and possibly will happen in the future- perfectly. No, it was more of a courtesy hug, a goodbye not only for the semester, but maybe for good.
"Stay healthy." he said.
...and then he turned and walked away.
He just turned around, crossed the courtyard, went down the steps and back into the building. Swiftly. I could barely respond in my own brain before I lost sight of him skipping- yes skipping- down the steps. Stay healthy? STAY HEALTHY?? What did that even MEAN?? I could practically hear my heart breaking in my chest in that moment a thousand times over. I could hear the shattered pieces clanking against my rib cage and rattling around inside like shattered Christmas ornaments.
That goodbye, the buildup, the way I had pictured it, talked about it with my roommate before we fell asleep each night, played it over and over again in my head-where we would stand, what I would say, what he might say- and all it amounted to was: "Stay healthy"? I mean, for a kid like me- all hormone filled, dramatic and scene driven- well, I just needed a whole lot more than "stay healthy" on the last day of my first year of college. I mean- I was born to have a thing for last words, last moments, last looks, dramatic scenes. It was like the DVR cutting out before the last three minutes of the season finale!
Damn, I must have analyzed that goodbye message all summer. Bathed in self-loathing and anxious regret while lying in bed staring at the ceiling. Taken every and any chance to bring up the situation to anyone that would listen. Sat on rocks-cliché style (I’m damn good at that) - while staring out at the ocean, restlessly. Seething, uncomfortable, agitated, sweaty and hopeful. Agonizingly hopeful.
The following season - like all good CW11 Drama's- we picked up, more or less, right where we had left off- despite a summer of zero contact. We collided the first night back over plastic red solo cups and one too many dips into the jungle juice bin. Things were good again, then really good, then confusing, then bad again, then terrible, then tragically good for a second- then over.
I guess you could say it was kind of a pattern with us, one that seems quite comical in retrospect, mostly because why the hell did we put up with each other for so long? But- when things were good I did end up asking him what he meant by his freshman year goodbye message of "stay healthy". Now, I wince at the response.
He hated my cigarette smoking. Mostly because he hated the smell but also, I think, because my asthma terrified him. It disgusted him that someone with asthma would ever even dream of picking up a cigarette.
I saw his point. So, instead of quitting, I tried not to do it around him most of the time. If I entered his room or tried to kiss him with so much as the remnants of nicotine clinging to my skin he would send me away immediately. It turned into a great weapon for me- or so I liked to think. Every time we fought I would defiantly sit on the picnic benches outside his dorm and chain smoke entire packs, blowing the foggy blue smoke into the cool night air as if I was making some grand point. HA. At least it made me feel better.
I suppose I was hoping he would come down out of his dorm room, see me smoking right there in front of his eyes and cry for me to stop- or at the very least, be angry because I was directly defying him, proving I could care less what he thought. But the truth is, the thing that was so infuriating about him is that he rarely displayed any anger-only indifference and irritation- which obviously forced me to try to push his buttons even more. Poor kid.
He never did come outside and catch me smoking-not once. However, I did come away with so many fond memories from those picnic benches outside of his dorm and the cigarettes I grew intimate with there, waiting for him to come outside-that it was kind of worth it.
It's funny how one relationship can remind you of another one entirely different and separate from itself. Despite his hatred for my smoking addiction, THAT guy actually brought me and my little white sticks closer together- and, I guess, in the interim, brought me closer to myself- should I thank him for that?
Those quiet moments with me, myself and my cigarettes were just a part of the very fabric of my eleven year love affair with smoke. Like one individual square in a vast patchwork quilt, the moments on that bench have their own unique story to tell that makes up a much greater whole. When I look back over the years of my relationship to smoke, the moments I spent with those little white sticks make up a vast and beautiful quilt that I could wrap around myself a thousand times (one that may eventually give me lung cancer- which I choose not to think about- but a beautiful quilt all the same).
You see, His dorm was built into the side of a steep hill that looked down over our college campus, and the view from the top was nothing less than spectacular. At sunset you could revel in the glory of the campus being bathed in deep orange sunlight, twinkling off specs of glitter in the pavement and casting beautiful deep gray shadows across the sweeping lawns. At night, the lights of the city twinkled in unison with the stars popping up just over the purple hills beyond the city- and the effect was magical.
The wind up there was menacing though, and it hurt to sit up there on those picnic tables for too long, but almost in a good way. The burning wind acted like a mental pain killer, I was so focused on the burning, I forgot to care about HIM. Sucking down my cigarettes was the equivalent of sucking in the moment, taking my surroundings into my body and digesting them in order to make them mine. I was the sunset, I felt the warm splash of orange deep in my gut, I smelled the snow and felt the twinkling lights deep in what was really my lungs, but felt like my heart. Cigarettes allowed me to connect to the world and to the moment I was living in better than just sitting and looking around did.
I owned the view from those picnic benches and the view owned me- it was inside of me and there it remains. Today, over 4 years later, those images are still burned into my mind and I allow myself to revisit them any time I like.
After a while up on that hill I would walk back to my dorm with chapped cheeks that burned more than my aching heart, lungs full of smoke & teary eyes I could blame on the wind….
Turns out, by using "stay healthy" as his parting words, he literally meant, "stay healthy". True, I was sick quite often that year. I generally have a low immune system and I caught every flu bug or cold germ that wandered through those dorm room halls. I even had wicked bouts of asthma that he never knew how to respond to, generally staying away from all things germy or medical. He said "stay healthy" because that made sense to him- he was wishing me well, not wanting me to get sick, hoping I would quit smoking.
I think I hear Christmas ornaments shattering somewhere....
You see, I quit last Thursday. Queue, broken heart.
I know I should be happy about this; proud of myself and all that jazz- but the thing about smoking is...it's my best friend. It's the longest relationship I've ever been able to sustain without any interruption. I mean, those things have been with me almost every single day since I was 15 years old. That's 8 years- 8 years! Not to mention, my first smoke being eleven years ago. That’s 11 years of friendship, love memories, deep talks, quiet moments, defiant behavior, let downs, celebration, crying sessions, laughing fits and of course, top-of-the-hill-burning-cheeks-orange-splashed-sunset-memories....truth is, me and Mr. Camel just go well together!
He is the only man that will sit with me through all of my favorite bad reality TV shows without going crazy, withstand my terrible singing in the car, the radio channel surfing until I find one of the top 5 pop songs playing, my terrible writing, endless crying sessions, long drawn out ramblings, and the only man I can truly trust to be there for me, no matter what- even if I act like a bitch- (okay, so Greg's a close second but he's only been around for 3 years)! Me and my cigarettes just click, we make sense.
Yes, yes, I know they are giving me cancer & that being an asthmatic it raises my risk for all sorts of other diseases...but it can't stop me from loving them. Did the fact that half of my boyfriends were selfish slobs infecting me with depression and evil boy poison stop me from loving them? NO, it didn't. It doesn't matter how many times someone tells you someone is bad for you, you're going to keep going back to them until....well, until you don't.
The day HE told me he knew he didn't love me was the same day we went to see Love Actually together in Carousel Mall Theatre for the third time. As we rode down the escalator to the food court I told him he was "a habit worse than cigarettes" and he asked "to whom?" and when I rolled my eyes he smiled mischievously and vented for the next hour about the absurdity of capitalism over greasy Chinese food amidst a sea of green Formica tables. I wanted to kill him but also marry him in the same moment. Later that night, he dropped the I- don’t-love-you-bomb and I thought I would never recover.
Eventually, one day- amidst college life, cigarettes, classes, drinking, friends, roommates, papers, all nighters, random make out sessions, crazy dance parties, snow storms, long drives, sinks full of dirty dishes, Mac and cheese making, sorority party planning, long talks, mix CD’s and general discovering yourself stuff- I woke up, recovered.
And like magic- even though I knew pretty much the moment we met- when he pushed me away from him over an elevator shaft and then pulled me back into him before the doors could close completely- that he was bad for me- I was finally done. No desire to go back. I didn’t desire him, his attention, his acceptance, his love, his glances across a crowded room, his anything. My recovery met head to head with the cure of my addiction to him. Miraculously, I stopped going back.
I compare the kind of infatuation I had for him to the kind of infatuation I continue to have for cigarettes. I guess I was wrong when I told him he was a habit worse than cigarettes, because even when I gave him up, my Camels stayed by my side. I knew they were bad for me right from the start, I hate the way they make me smell, the reputation they give me in front of potential employers, my parents friends and babies... but I also have always loved them way too much to give them up. They satiate me like sticky noodles and funfetti cake NEVER could.
Just like that first broken heart, I can still remember that first cigarette like it was yesterday. It was the summer I turned thirteen, only my thirteenth birthday was a few weeks away, so I was still twelve. My best friend Erica's parents had taken us up to the Sagamore resort in Lake George, New York for the week. We couldn't be more thrilled to have our very own little hotel cabin room right on the lake. Our very first own hotel room! Of course, Erica's parents were directly next door, but this did not concern us. The summer going into eighth grade, we still had very little to hide.
Erica and I had dreams of spending the week swimming, jet skiing, parasailing and sunbathing. Unfortunately, there was a cold front that came through upstate New York that July, and the light summer sweaters we packed hardly hid our exposed skin from the gloomy haze that hung over our resort, complete with misty dew filled air and cold bursts of wind. So, plan B entailed wandering the resort grounds, renting bikes to ride into the clumsy little town of gift shops and fisheries and of course, for Erica -a year older at almost 14- flirting with boys.
The lake was beautiful and expansive, like nothing I have ever known a lake to be while growing up on Long Island Sound in Connecticut. The lake water was dark and murky, but not in a menacing way. In the early morning mist it looked like pure glass, reflecting the mountain ridges that sprouted from its shores. The mountains were some of the biggest I had ever seen to that date and their tips stretched into the sky, like they were reaching for the clouds. They were covered in lush, verdant trees that often made the lake appear forest green.
We met Dylan down by the resorts docks one night after dinner. We went for a walk just to feel independent and found ourselves at the waterfront where we could see the orange tips of the cigarettes floating through the dark sky from 100 yards away. We must have looked silly to those 16 year old boys, sauntering up as if we were not twelve and asking for a smoke.
Dylan was gorgeous at 16, dark shaggy hair and piercing blue eyes. I decided we were meant to be because his name was Dylan, and there was no musician I loved more. I asked him if he was named after Bob Dylan and he said he didn't know. Erica decided she was meant to be with him because, naturally, she was older and it made more sense. A twelve year old can't date a 16 year old but an almost- 14- year- old seemed just fine. She flirted with him adeptly while I hung back and lurked in the shadows. He let her take a chug of his bud light and when she passed the can to me I shook my head shyly. I doubt I said a word the whole night.
We didn't want the group of boys to know we were amateur smokers so we said thanks when Dylan handed Erica a long, thing, white stick from his pocket and ran off giggling wildly. We were actually going to smoke a cigarette! Given to us by THE Dylan!
We collected the matches from the bedside table in our hotel room and wandered over the resorts’ playground to sit on the swings in the dark night air, filled with beads of moisture, and attempted to light a match. After several tries, there we were- sitting in a playground, in the middle of upstate New York, swinging back in forth in time to an inaudible tandem rhythm in our adolescent brains and passing that little white stick back and forth between us. I barely remember how the cigarette tasted or even how I reacted when I took that first drag...all I remember, naturally for me, is the moment. And boy was it sweet.
Little did I know that within the next few years those little sticks would become a big part of my life- the patchwork quilt that started with that foggy night on the swings in Lake George would soon be big enough to cover my whole body, and then some. The moments stretch for miles, from the shores of Lake George, to Carly Swanberg’s flat roof when her parents weren’t home, to behind the big oak tree on the corner, to the alleyway behind main street, to the Mobil parking lot, to the roof of Henry Lamborn’s old house, to the back of Dave Konover's cherry red Jeep Wrangler, To the Sea wall, to the roof of my parents house, To the X5, to the tips of sand dunes in Nantucket, to the snow draped dumpsters outside my freshman dorm, to the Dellplain picnic tables, to my sorority's courting porch or the side door during all night study sessions, my boyfriend's loft bed in the fraternity house after making love for hours on end, to the snowy walks across campus when the world is quiet, to the steps of Watson, to the porch of my first house, to Euclid Avenue in the big comfy bowl chair, to the back alley of Castle Court looking out over desolate parking lots, to the roof of the parking garage, to the Marshall Street strolls and to my New York City apartment....leaning out the window and sucking in the bright lights of the luminescent towers....feeling alive.
The thing is, is that even though I have quit I still don’t feel like this relationship is totally over. The loss hurts like the worst heartbreak I have ever had. I don’t think I have quite reached that miraculous moment where you wake up and suddenly, it’s over in your heart.
It’s not that easy this time, mostly because it didn’t happen so gradually. Two weeks ago I had a near fatal asthma attack. It was the day of my niece’s birthday- the actual day she was born. It’s a day I don’t choose to write about here because, well, I don’t want to cheapen it in any way whatsoever. It was one of the absolute best days of my life even though it was difficult for me to breathe the whole day. I wasn’t sure why, but by the next morning I could hardly walk. As I wobbled into my asthma specialist’s office, my wheeze had become audible with each stumble & the nurses rushed me into the back right away to put me on nebulizer treatments, oral steroids and check my oxygen levels. Apparently, my oxygen level was so low that I could have died. That kind of hit a little close to home.
I mean, a Life Junkie can’t die, ya know? What was I thinking, letting myself get to this point? I never wanted to feel like that again. The natural decision was to quit smoking, if only because it took me about a week to even breathe properly again.
Painful as it is to say after such a terrifying health issue, I don’t think I am going to be able to let go of this love that easy. I mean- I have yet to have the oh-so-necessary “breakup sex”- otherwise known as, one last drag to see if the magic has truly died- but I fear if I go there I will discover the magic has not yet died and it’s not my time to let go.
I loved cigarettes for more than the way they tasted- I loved them for the moment they perfected, for the vein they satiated, for the drama they created- I pulled out a cigarette every time I was going for that perfect scene. Smoking cigarettes, just the action of it alone- elated me, made me feel alive, liberated me and granted me supreme independence. Whenever I am alone and I slide open my big front window, lean out over the city scape and take in a deep, sharp, drag I feel more alive then I have ever felt in my life.
Now I watch as all my friends follow each other out of bars and parties, wrapping their scarves around their necks and flicking their lighters- laughing, talking, sharing warm and cozy cigarette filled moments while huddling in the cold...and I just stand there, holding the seats, watching the purses. I am out of the club. Exiled- by myself. I was part of a club that I loved being a part of more than any club I had ever been a part of- and I kicked myself out! When my friends file back inside the dark bar I ask to sniff their hair, bury my face in the arms of their coats....like catching a whiff of some ex’s cologne in a crowded bar- it brings me right back.
Just like with the worst broken hearts- it's always hard to admit this is it- but I'm not original. Everyone suffers from a broken heart at some point- if not several points in their lives- they stain the chambers of our hearts like the crazy tattoos we get on a whim when we turn 18.
The scars may fade over time, but they will always be there, etched into the very pattern of our souls, even if only visible to our own naked eye.
I fear that without my cigarettes I won't ever be able to drive my car the same, won’t be able to write the same, won't be able to think the same, dream the same, walk down a New York City street the same, create and perfect a moment the same....but these are the same worries we have whenever we have to walk away from anything we once loved...
…there are belongings to return, Entire CD's, sometimes entire music groups or music types to disregard, quotes to forget, scents to separate from, places to avoid, fragments of ourselves to mend...it’s funny to think there was a time I though I would never get over that first broken heart, never be able to drive my car the same without him, or drink a certain type of drink, listen to a certain song…
...but you know what? I think it's time for me to suck it up because...
...it isn't really enough for my heart to break, because everyone's heart is broken now-and in the end- whenever that end may be- we always recover.