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He was no one special. I had never even seen him before. I didn’t even know that he went to our school. He was leaning against a stone bench, his blue buttoned down shirt showing a white undershirt. He wore glasses, his black hair long on the sides so it hid his ears. His eyes were black or maybe carmel, the color of his skin. I knew just by looking at him that he was one of “those” boys. The kind that parents have nightmares about, the kind they don’t want their daughters to get involved with. But what made my breath freeze in my lungs was what he held in his hands. It was tiny and thin, one end a bright orange as he inhaled. I imagined the smoke going down his throat, traveling into his blackened lungs. He saw me staring and smirked, the cigarette leaving his lips as his hand went to his side, flicking it, as some ash fell to the sidewalk.
It was only a moment, what we shared, but the school bus continued down Dodge Street and in an instant I could no longer see him. I tried not to cry as memories overtook my mind like a never ending waterfall. I felt like I was drowning, my lungs filling up with previous tears and previous fears as I leaned my head against the finger-smeared window, not wanting anyone to see me.
“Where are my cigarettes?” He asked me, his business suit on as well as his thick, black winter coat. He had come into my room, looking around, trying to see them poking out from their hiding place. My dad ran a hand through his greying hair, his eyes resting on my five year old face, trying to rein in his frustration but I could clearly see it on his face.
“I don’t know, Daddy.” I lied, knowing that this was the only time that I could lie to him because I was trying to help him. My eyes glanced to the bookshelf and my father’s eyes followed mine. He walked over to the shelf, pulling a pack out from in-between my Junie B. Jones books.
“Sweetie…” His voice was sad and I looked away, wishing he would stop but not knowing how to tell him.
“I’m sorry, Daddy.” I told him as I watched him stuff the pack in his coat pocket. “I just want you to stop…” I mumbled, following him as he walked out of my bedroom.
“I know, I want to stop too, Punkin.” He said, bending down as he kissed me goodbye, leaving for work.
Seeing that teenager smoke that cigarette made me think of my dad and how this had all began. He had started smoking cigarettes when he was in high school as well and only just a year ago, after smoking for nearly 30 years, was he able to quit. It just made me think of what that boy will be like when he gets older, when he grows up and has a family of his own. What will his daughter think when she sees her dad light a cigarette, the smoke scratching her eyes and making her cough. She tells him to stop but he knows he can’t. He promises he will but he knows it’s an empty promise, one he will probably never keep.
It infuriated me that at such a young age, he was choosing a path of destruction, a path that leads to empty pockets and empty eyes. Why do people feel the need to fill up on smoke, how does it make everything better? All it does is ruin families and start the cycle over again. It solves nothing but create more problems, problems that he won’t think about now but will regret that he didn’t later. Later, when his little girl asks him why he puts the cigarette up to his lips and inhales its choking smoke, and he won’t be able to answer her.