Somewhere in that unfortunate time frame where I was old enough to try it and not old enough to realize I shouldn't, I decided to smoke cigarettes. Naturally, I blame someone else for this: my best friend Ricky, who snuck a pack out of his mother's dresser drawer and showed it to me in his front yard, hidden under his shirt like a stolen watch.
"Let's smoke 'em!" he suggested.
"Sure," I replied calmly, though so much fear was sluicing through me I could barely remain upright. I'd already had the following conversation with my father:
Father: If I catch you smoking, I'll kill you.
Me: But why?
Father: Because they're bad for you.
I didn't point out that, no matter how bad smoking might be for my health, surely killing me was even worse. You didn't point out stuff like that to my dad.
Ricky and I puffed our chests out and strutted around, looking for a place where we could light up without being caught. It's actually sort of difficult to strut when you're on a mission of such cowardice, but there was no way either one of us were going to smoke out in the open.
We eventually decided on the storm sewer which ran underneath the highway behind my back yard. This was a cramped, three-foot-high cement tunnel with an inch of foul water running through it while cars rushed by overhead. I could not imagine my father looking in such a place, but just in case he might, we crabbed to the very center of the tube before striking a match.
We gave each other squinty looks as we lit up. I sucked manfully, the tip of my cigarette glowing red.
My lungs reacted by going to war. My cough felt like I'd been hit in the chest with a baseball bat, and it was several seconds before I could inhale again. "Pretty good," I choked to Ricky, who appeared to be experiencing cardiac arrest.
Neither of us spoke as we hacked and gagged our way through the ordeal. My eyes teared up and flushed and my throat felt as though I'd been eating sidewalk. The air scraped like sandpaper inside my chest. "Let's do another," I wheezed.
We lit the second ones from the embers of the first. Ricky took another drag and shook his head. "Can't," he groaned.
"Chew it, then," I suggested. He gave me a questioning look.
"If you can't smoke it, you're supposed to chew it," I explained with a sophisticated wave.
Ricky nodded and unrolled the paper, stuffing a pinch in between cheek and gum. I continued to suck and choke, nodding like I was having the time of my life. The smoke had nowhere to go and collected around our heads in the sewer, so that even the air had no air. Ricky's tongue looked like it was coated with ants. A steady pounding began to build like an approaching brass band--it took me awhile to figure out it was my heart, which had climbed up between my ears. The tunnel began rotating slowly to the left. I sneezed and it felt like my nose filled with dirt.
"This is fun," I said.
Ricky's stomach gave up the fight and the sewer had a new odor to deal with. I lit another cigarette. "You okay?" I croaked.
He turned his face to me. It was the same color as the slimy water running beneath our folded legs. He spoke, but the cigarettes had rendered one of us incapable of English, so I couldn't make out what he was saying.
After an hour I could no longer see any light at either end of the tunnel. My body compensated by offering me a heightened sense of hearing: I could make out the faraway sound of the world's largest freight train, rushing toward us. Soon I had to shout to be heard. "I can see why people have trouble quitting!" I yelled in what surely stands as the most absurd declaration of my life.
By the time Ricky and I stumbled out of the tunnel we were pale as two vampires, and I had become what I am today: a non-smoker.
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Copyright W. Bruce Cameron 2001
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Submitted By: W. Bruce Cameron
Jan 19, 2001 07:14