Smoking’ Hot Babes
I used to be a most excellent quitter, but not anymore. I had a love-hate relationship with cigarettes for twenty-some years. I used to light up every morning and then quit every night, swearing to myself I would never touch another one. There were a few spells in there where I quit with every butt I ground out. I’ll bet I quit smoking an easy thousand times. The last time finally stuck.
We moved to Virginia Beach the summer after fifth grade, my mother, my sister and I. Mom had a boyfriend there, a Navy Pilot… you know how that goes. We were in an apartment complex with a pool. That very first day at the pool I met the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. I remember like it was yesterday; my shot nerves, leaving the town I’d lived my whole life in, starting a new school, wondering if I would have trouble making friends here. Our first conversation went like this:
”You new here?”
”I’m going to have a cigarette. You smoke?”
”Yea.” (I had only tried smoking once, but I would have said yes to literally anything she asked me to do. I would have played Barbie with her, if that’s what she wanted me to do.)
”C’mon, then. Let’s go.”
That was the day I became a smoker. Kim and I were great friends all the way through high school. She was a bad influence on me the whole way, being the first to try everything, and then pulling me into it with her. We only ever kissed once, and the kiss was a let down for both of us, probably because it tasted like two ashtrays getting dumped into a bucket ;) Last time I saw Kim I had just quit college. She was fresh out of rehab. She still looked like a million bucks, although her eyes were a touch sadder. I truly hope she made it. God, did I adore her. There are a couple of stories inspired by her in my back catalog here on Prose, although the names were likely changed to protect the guilty. There are more stories too, ones that I will never tell.
So you see? It was a girl made me start, and it was a girl made me stop.
That last time, the time I finally really did quit, it was easy (but it was still damned hard). You see, Pooky-Bear had to quit. Cancer. Having that little bugger sneak up that close to you will do it every time. My winning quitting strategy went like this:
I laid a half a pack of Marlboro’s and a lighter on the kitchen table during a week of stay at home vacation from work. My project was going to be re-screening a very large screened-in back porch. I began work every morning at 7:00 am. Every time I had a hankering for a cigarette I grabbed a beer instead. By lunch time I was too drunk to climb the ladder, which was ok. There was always tomorrow. At the end of the week I had a beautifully screened porch, a raging hangover, and that half a pack of Marlboro’s was still lying on the kitchen table. In fact, they laid there for about two more weeks until I felt strong enough that I didn’t need their support. I have never felt the need for a cigarette again. Pooky-Bear flew through the surgeries and chemo just fine. She is now twenty-three years cancer free, and the same number of years smoke free. She didn’t need the beers, but then, she had her own incentive. Strong woman right there, kiddoes.
Strong enough to make a stronger man out of me… and one that would never quit her.
Shawn-The-Bastard saw the whole thing. Of course he did.
I was in the middle of my shift and it was pretty dead. My Tuesday regulars were all there: the four-top of sixty-somethings women who always look at my ass when I plug their orders into the computer, the two bald guys with the ties, and Janice, drunk as usual, ordering her burger plain, again as usual. I had made $38 so far, including a ten spot from some business muckety-muck type who ordered a salad and talked on his cell phone while he sipped his coffee. A pretty typical day.
Then she walked in.
I'm telling you, she wasn't human. Long dark red hair that fell to the middle of her back in crimson waves I wanted to swim in, green eyes like emeralds; big emeralds, too, not the cheap shit I can afford. And legs... my old man would have said she had legs for days. They were cream white and her skin looked so soft. She had a black skirt on, not too short, just right, you know? But her smile... I can't even tell you, I've never seen anything like it. She didn't light up the room, she softened it. It was like a snake charmer, like her smile hypnotized me and I couldn't move or think or breathe. I could have spent the rest of my shift just staring at that smile. Maybe the rest of my life.
It was Shawn-The-Bastard who woke me up. He caught me staring and told me to go take her order. He watched, snickering.
I walked to the table, pad and pen in hand; no way I was going to be able to memorize her order, my mind was in outer space. I stopped at the table, looked into her eyes, and forgot my name. She smiled. She said hello.
I walked out and drove to the beach.
Are you better now?
I had a friend
We will call her
yes. we will call her Faithful.
In the beginning she was nice
We smiled and laughed.
We played tennis together.
I told her things.
Then I introduced her
to my friends
and we all got along.
Faithful was nice.
Then it came.
When she wasn't so Faithful anymore.
It started with poking fun at us.
Then they got more personal.
They started feeling like hot irons though my chest.
They went from pokes to jabs.
but is was gradual.
I didn't even notice.
Till she had stripped away everything
She tore my friends apart.
thread bare of strings keeping us together.
She started to wear away at us when alone.
Then when we were together.
She insulted us
and we took it.
I had to leave her.
While I had even a thread of myself left.
How could I bring myself to hurt her?
She said herself that we couldn't leave her
That she wasn't mentally stable enough.
If I left her, how would I know she wouldn't hurt herself?
How would I know she wouldn't do something to herself because of me?
Then COVID-19 happened.
there was some distance between me and her.
And I let go.
She wasn't there to get hurt now.
I didn't have her number
No way to really contact her anyway.
So I didn't try.
Neither did she.
Now she is on to new people.
My old friendships are strong again.
We are all trying to work on ourselves.
And we all look out for another Faithful.
I can't ever be the same again.
I had to stop doing things I loved.
I had to stop Band, for her "teasing" had gone to far.
Same with Choir.
And I couldn't show anyone my art.
She had made fun.
I couldn't play tennis
For all I would remember was her.
I build walls during that friendship.
Ones I can't bring down.
I can't let people too close.
I'm not perfect.
but Now I am a little better.
and away from Faithful the unfaithful.
giving up my whole life
i sold my soul up the road
for a Carole king vinyl
im gonna lay on the floor
and sing along in denial
i pretend you still love me
and it’s not too late
make believe that i’m not free
that i have two dinners to plate
but i’m eating alone tonight
after giving up my whole life
to household chores
to let myself be yours
i cleaned out the car
of your old cigarettes
and i drove to the bar
to drink and try to forget
i pretend that you’ll come in and see
me leaving on the broken jukebox
i dream you’re coming home with me
that there’s still time on our clock
but i’m sleeping alone tonight
after giving up my whole life
to finding you cures
and letting myself be yours
it doesn’t matter how hard i pretend
you’re not here when the night ends
i’m not what you want anymore
so i’ll be alone tonight and forevermore
i need a hero who quits. i need a hero who fails, who gets beaten down and stays down, who finds comfort in breaking down and is not resilient.
i need a hero who takes the easy way out, who leans on their support systems until they break, who is fundamentally not supposed to save anyone because they can't even save themselves. i don't know how they keep going. neither do they. maybe they don't.
i can't with the chosen one trope who's just so brave and will always do the right thing. i need someone who fucks up again and again and again and knows they are and chooses to do it anyway. i need someone who hates living and doing things that are right, who doesn't "do it anyway", they do it for something really fuckin stupid like banana waffles or their little cousin who lives in malta or just so they can pay their rent. i need selfish heroes.
The smell of pure mint winter green,
Dark brown patches touching like sardines.
One pouch on each side.
Fiberglass piercing the gums is what makes it sting.
But it’s a good sting. More of a burn.
The taste of the tar,
Bleeding out of the patches
Careful not to drip down my throat.
I miss the buzz.
The feeling of my eyelids slowly closing.
I pull both pouches out.
Toss the round can of minty sardines.
Till next time…
I had reached the point where I figured I must be unlovable; either because I was too ugly on the inside or because I simply wouldn't let people get close. The result was the same. How can you love someone if they don't let you? Thusly, it was decided that I was unlovable. He didn't understand for the longest time, and for some reason, I didn't cut him out of my life when it became clear that he wanted to love me. It is natural to want to be loved, but it is not right to lead someone on. I wanted to love him too, but I didn't you see. I couldn't. My head and my heart went to war over it. Stupid. The truth is that I cannot be touched without unleashing chaos. I sent an apology and then lost his number. Good thing too. I am too weak to resist the prospect of being seen and being loved even when I cannot be touched.
Just a Game
"Listen up everybody. I'm only going to say this once; don't quit. Down 2, with only 10 seconds left in the game. I want you all to treasure each moment out there."
Well that's easy for you to say, 'coach.' you're not a player; you're not on the battlefield, putting every last drop of blood, sweat, and tears just for a basket. Just for some stupid trophy.
"Now here's the plan-"
Screw the plan.
"-Bryan, you have 40 points already and stand notorious as the most clutch; so- and I know it may sound stupid- but I want you to bring the ball up. This will force these 2 players on the right defensive end to naturally double team you. When that happens, pass that big old rock out to Adon. From there, Adon drive straight to the basket, and try to get as many players on you as possible. logically, Lamar will attempt a double team, so from Adon, straight to Anthony-"
Never mind, that's actually a good plan.
"-And Anthony: take the shot."
Heh, no sweat. Totally can do that. It's not like my entire life is depending on this. It's whatever; y'know. I can do this.
I can do this.
"Hey Anthony, don't mess up that shot"
Oh, stop acting like you ain't got no pressure on yourself too, Bryan.
"You think this is easy, golden boy? Ok, fine. Let's see how you do it when I pass the ball back to you."
That damn kid is so annoying. He's only been playing for two months and everybody believes he's the next Jordan or something. For once, I wish this kid would shut up about his stupid accolades and feats.
"The game is back on. The paper city Bears are trailing behind Glass-Eyes by 2 points. 10 seconds left on the clock; what do you think there going to do, Stan?"
"I don't know. Their coach is so unpredictable that if the Bears just start pulling down their opponents pants, I wouldn't be surprised!"
"I don't know about pulling down pants, -or why you would bring that up- but it seems the bears are pulling off a bold move nonetheless. Bryan's bringing the ball up!"
"Bold indeed, as he squares off with 2 tough defensive opponents, swiping away at the ball. But look, Adon is open"
"And Bryan passes it straight to him! Man, that kid can pass, am I right?"
"Yes, Jack you are right-"
"That was theoretical, Stan."
"I know, but that's not important right now, Jack. What's really important is what happened in less time than it takes an average reader to scroll down a 698 word story, Anthony's got the ball, and he is wide open! Take the shot!"
I got the ball, but ain't taking the shot.
1.2 seconds are left on the clock, though it feels like years are passing by. I take a look around and I see my mom. She's been working 24/7 for her entire life just to get me in this college. I see my girlfriend. I've known her since kindergarten; I used to gag at the sight of her, and now I don't care what she looks like. I see my city standing up and cheering. The same city that gave me and mom a place to call home. I see my coach. Though annoying, I would never be as good as I am today without him. Lastly, I look at the ball. This is the sport that got me through the bad times, when dad never showed up or when grades started to fail. Sometimes, this ball was all I had.
Am I really going to quit on all these people now?
Then I look at Bryan, who just stands there with that grin. That stupid grin, with that stupid hair, and that stupid face. He puts his L shaped hand above his face and spits his saliva towards me. Disgusting
My face grows red and in an instant, I perform a magic trick. POOF, the ball is no longer in my hands; its palming the face of Bryan.
"I QUIT!" I said as I took off the VR headset.