I like fast burning cigarettes best. It’s a conditioned enjoyment from years of having to fit my habit into fifteen minute breaks or even shorter, but aptly named, “smoke” breaks. The point is to fit as many tasks into that short amount of time as possible, even if it’s just smoking another cigarette.
The reason I say this is for dramatic purposes. I’ve established a characteristic of myself with the intention of breaking it down with the next statement. The best cigarette I’ve ever had spewed it’s smoke for a long time.
I had found myself in Chicago with a pretty girl. I had told her that I had come to the city to buy Christmas gifts I simply couldn’t find anywhere else. This was a lie, I was there for her. I was once again tied to a romance that had put my affections far away. If my memory serves me right, this was the third time this had happened.
By this point I was very conscious of the pattern that had formed with these long-distance relationships. There would be the courting via IMs, texts, webcams and emails. Then one of us would take a trip. We’d venture out into the unknown for a chance to touch without pixels getting in the way. The week, weekend, random collection of days, would pass and there’d be a touching farewell. Shortly after, she’d find another, more pressing connection and I’d drift into the universe of “I knew this one guy once.”
To her credit, this girl was a terrific tour guide. Unafraid to show me the places where tourists tread and where they dared not go, in the same day. She navigated the public transit system like a sailor setting out for land through a maze of red, blue, and green lines. She took me to countless places that would have satisfied most people’s criteria for a first kiss location. I, unfortunately, had a knack for drama and was not so willing to settle.
My unwillingness to allow our first kiss to happen in a lackluster place, as well as my own nervousness kept our lips separated through that first day. Thankfully I had a second day. Just twelve more hours to unveil a dark secret.
We set out again, travelling to Chinatown and then to Water Tower Place. Perhaps it was a slipping of my previous stubbornness, or more likely desperation, but I found a place suitable for the first kiss. For the life of me I can’t say where exactly the location was. All I know is that there was a large Christmas tree, many onlookers and a beautiful view of a Cheesecake Factory. There we kissed.
There’s some other things I should say about this girl other than that she was pretty. She had standards and an unwavering lack of tolerance for my bad habits. Smoking being the one she despised most of all. She let the Romantic Comedy magic of that first kiss lift her up for only a moment before she returned to her moral post. With expertly crafted words, she informed me that another kiss would not happen if I smoked while around her.
For awhile I suppressed my addiction and truth be told I could’ve easily have gone the rest of the day without igniting one of my cigarettes. Maybe if I had found that perfect spot on the first day, I would’ve been able to accomplish both of my tasks on separate days. But, my time was running short and the lack of minutes forced my hand to do something my words should’ve.
I saw myself waiting in an airport for someone who would never arrive. I kicked a pebble as I watched a car speed off on a road it would never touch again. As I said before, my time in Chicago was the third time a long-distance relationship had reached the holy grail that is physical interaction. Maybe I should’ve given the girl more credit, there was always a chance that her steadfastness would’ve translated over to commitment rather than residing only in a hatred of nasty habits.
That part of my brain that should have been filled with predictions about our next meeting, major life changes, and times remembering that first kiss did not hold those images. Instead I saw a final text message, a phone call filled with apologies and explanations and a changed profile picture including a new man with more refined features than me. I knew I had come to Chicago to ensure I would’ve be transported to a realm of footnote-ness as I had been, twice before. Thankfully, her ultimatum gave me an opportunity to do just that.
Like a craftsman tasked with building a guillotine I pulled my pack of cigarettes from my pocket. My ears only barely registered her objections and reminders. My lighter apparently knew what I was doing, because it managed to light on the first try rather than the third or fourth like it normally did. As I took the first drag I inhaled all the text messages, phone calls and letters then exhaled them out. I watched them swirl about my head and fingers for a moment before being overcome by the Chicago air.
That cigarette burned long. Long enough to notice how the girl had begun to walk ahead of me rather than next to me. It burned just long enough to notice the pale corn color the street lights had. It burned just long enough for me to realize that the next time I came to that city, I wouldn’t recognize that girl if we happened to cross paths.
And damn if it didn’t taste good.