Dear Cigarettes

Ode to an addiction

by Aleyah Goins; illustration by Kelsey Skordal

Dear Cigarettes,

We all have that one thing. It’s a thing we adore, sometimes dread and always desire. And that thing is hardly ever the same thing as another person’s thing, but when we find out that our things are the same, we can let them hang out together so they can play. Or maybe we won’t. I don’t expect you to understand, I don’t either. And maybe we’re ashamed to find out how you can get to a place where you desperately need your thing. It is important to know that more or less everyone has an addiction. The commitment to their addiction varies greatly, but it normally leads to sneaking around during the nighttime. I’m no different. There are times during my day when just a drop can overfill the glass, and in those emotional troughs, I need you like squirrels need nuts.  

We are in the phase of our relationship between “Hey, can I get a drag?” and “I only smoke on weekends. Every weekend.” I need to do something before I take high dive into full-blown dependency. I need to confess my thoughts on smoking and share insight into how I became addicted to you. Cigarettes, it’s not your seductive advertisements or your promises of invitations to the Cool Kids’ table. Before smoking, I couldn’t understand why anyone would pay you to dig their grave. What I realized after starting to smoke cigarettes is that smokers aren’t stupid, and they don’t deserve belittlement by non-smokers. 

I used to watch my loved ones go through a pack of your friends, thinking that they were killing themselves, which turned ot to be an accurate belief seeing that many now have cancer. But in the last year, I have come to understand how someone could take that risk. After long years of hardship, this vice provided them with strength by placing a cloud under their head to rest and rely on when there was no one else around. However dark that cloud is, Cigarettes, why is it that I maintain this intimate relationship with you? 

You’ve convinced me that I need you. However, it is you that needs me. You need me to be tired from a long day of work, running from meeting to meeting, block after block, so that I am exhausted and vulnerable enough for you. You know that I only prefer to smoke at the window of my room, alone. Cigarettes, you need me to stop thinking about the potential for long healthy years ahead, so you can have me just for a moment. Your smell drives others away just so you can have me to yourself. At first you helped me overcome isolation and fear, but now you fuel my loneliness. I needed you in the past, but now you need me. How selfish you are. 

Let me tell you how I fell in love with you. It started in Spain during my time studying abroad. Noises and music obnoxiously bounced from window to window in the 48-passenger bus that drove us to our hostel. One of my classmates had a penchant for singing any American pop tune with Spanglish lyrics she could remember. Some of the others excitedly chimed along. Since I was too afraid to join, I was desperate for a quiet moment. The windows were tinted blue, but in the sunlight the town appeared nauseatingly green.

When we arrived, everyone jumped to their feet and squeezed out of the bus. Ben threw a soccer ball down a hill and then trailed after it. As soon as Kate noticed the call to playtime, she dropped her backpack to the ground and hurried after him. The others sat on the curb. The girls carefully wondered aloud about the evening’s agenda and how happy they were to stretch their legs. The boys immediately lit cigarettes to draw out their plans of future inebriation. I walked over to the sweating soccer players. After I realized that I didn’t know how to play soccer, I went back to the group to ask Cole for a drag of his cigarette. That’s when we first connected. I kept smoking you until the nicotine buzzed in my ears and drowned out all the chatter. When I finished, I gazed at the sitting girls, but before I could move, the professors sprung from the hostel’s lobby to assign room numbers. 

Once my roommate and I settled in, I immediately took a shower to shave my legs and then put on an orange dress that made the color of my skin appear like a spring flower emerging from brown soil. My roommate showered right after me and she put on her usual leather boots, cut-off jeans and plaid flannel. I had never seen a girl make this look as pleasing as she could. At this point, I was open to making friends. However, I found our conversation bland and reflective of how culturally distant I was from my classmates; a problem typical for minority students. 

“I can’t believe my hair is so thick; when I was a little girl my mom used to cut it all off and I hated it,” she said coming out of the shower with her hair in hand. “Long hair ain’t for everybody but it is for me.” 

“It’s really pretty. I couldn’t imagine having that much,” I replied.

“Yours is so cool, too. I wish I had yours.” She took up her hair and swirled it into a loose bun. “You can do so much with it.”

“I can’t make buns like that, I have days of curly and days of ‘fro, and nothing else,” I ended that conversation and was ready to leave. “Would you like the key or should I take it?”

“It doesn’t matter to me, we’re going to meet up soon anyways.”

“OK.” I wanted to say more to her, perhaps invite her to walk with me into the town, but I was afraid that she would have said no. I did not want to feel rejected, so I left. 

Shortly after, I became very lonely, very quickly. However, during dinner a waiter asked me on a date. I was hesitant to engage with a stranger but the craving for connection to the gorgeous and mysterious city drove me to say yes. On our date, he offered me a Camel cigarette each time he had one, approximately every hour. I smoked and smoked and smoked and you filled me with exactly what I had hoped for: courage. You turned my fear into evidence that I could let go of my old passive self.   

The waiter and I went to the beach around midnight to talk and then he took me to a bar where I met his friends. One girl from Granada was a professional flamenco singer, so she sung beautiful Spanish songs for me as I was new to the southern culture. By an awesome coincidence, I had memorized Federico Garcia Lorca poems for my class and I was able to recite Romance Sonámbulo and Romance de la Luna with her while everyone in the bar looked on with surprise and approval. During that entire time, I held you in one hand while the other was wrapped around my new friends’ shoulders. Our eccentric conversation in Spanish cut through the smoky room like sunrays on a cloudy day. Finally, I felt free. Meanwhile, you were becoming my nasty habit.

In the next couple weeks, having fun became synonymous with smoking. You were imprinting yourself on me; my teeth turned a shade darker and my clothes began to stink. But I kept you around to help me foster more connections, considering that everyone I met smoked, too. Eventually, I asked myself if the social capital and confidence you gave me were worth the judgment from non-smokers and health risks. Absolutely not. Could I have accomplished the same thing without letting you suck me dry? Probably so. But I’m certain that the type of comfort that you bring eases adjustment to new, exciting and anxiety-producing experiences, and I thought this was worth the trouble. 

Cigarettes, you’ve helped me overcome isolation and fear, but now you are ultimately the cause of my despair. I needed you in Spain, but now you need me. The bonds set in place between you and me are already too strong because the ugly truth is that when I am smoking, I feel like I am living. But it’s time to move on—I’m breaking up with you.