Cigarettes and I have a very interesting relationship.
I grew up in a house where smoking was looked down on. If a guest came over and smoked, of course, we wouldn’t be rude about it; we’d simply ask that they go outside until they were done. As it was always a friend of my parents’, often, one of them would step out on to the deck to keep them company while they smoked.
My father fixed computers. Especially his friend’s computer. We called him “Uncle Dan.” And Uncle Dan was a heavy smoker. So he’d bring his desktop computer to my dad, and it’d be yellow and brown, on the outside, and on the inside, it would be the same color, except you could see the same discoloration on all of the hardware. And my father would sigh and turn to me and say “Senna, you see this? This computer keeps failing because all that smoke gets inside the computer and all the chemicals and things cake themselves onto the hardware. And that’s exactly what cigarettes do to your lungs.” This, on top of D.A.R.E. visiting my school every year to tell me how bad any kind of drug was for me made me stay far away from smoking.
But then there was my Pop Pop.
My Pop Pop was a balding man with a potbelly and in the summer he would have a deep tan from working out in the garden he loved so much. His drinks of choice were coffee and beer, he fell asleep watching sports, and he gave me those little colored mint squares whenever I got sad. And I loved him very much.
My Pop Pop was a smoker, so most of the time, the whole house smelled vaguely of cigarette smoke. It was apparent that my father didn’t like it, but my mom had grown up with it, so she didn’t mind much. Eventually though, my Mom Mom told him that he had to smoke out on the back porch, which was less of a porch and more of a sun room with a TV and treadmill. And it was in this room that he would often fall asleep.
I hated being in the same room as him when he smoked when I was young. It smelled icky and it made the room a little hazy. And the dangers of secondhand smoke had been pounded into my head so many times I could recite them by heart. But as time progressed, I found I didn’t mind too much. Only when he smoked, though. Everyone else, I tried to avoid when they smoked. But my Pop Pop was okay.
I liked going out onto the porch when he wasn’t there. I would sit in the middle of the room and watch TV and smell the smokey smell that had worked itself into the wood, the carpet, the couch cushions. And I loved hugging my Pop Pop. For one, his shirts were always warm flannel, and he was big, so there was a lot of him to hug. And he smelled like cigarette smoke. But not just cigarette smoke, something else that to this day I can’t put my finger on. The house where he smoked smelled like that, too.
My Pop Pop died a few years back of a heart attack. It’s a little funny, because that was around the time he’d decided to start “living right”; he was eating healthier, he’d cut back on how often he smoked, and he was exercising more. And then one day… gone. I remember going into my grandparent’s house and still smelling that smell, the smell of smoke and something else. And I remember how powerful that was to me, and I remember sitting on the porch while my mother and Mom Mom discussed funeral plans and I remember falling asleep on the couch that smelled like him.
Every once in a while, someone in class will sit near me, and their clothes will smell like cigarette smoke, and for a moment I’ll almost lean in to breathe it in. But it never smells like him, not even vaguely; it only ever smells like they smoked half a pack before class.