Smoke Story

Photo by Jamie Kapili | New York, New York

It was my senior year of high school, and it was either just before or after we graduated. Whatever way, it was an in-between time.

We were in several cars, and we pulled into a parking lot of a café on Route 33. We’d gone to the café a lot — for caramel frappes and for live music. A boy who once brought me sushi to my house but who I never kissed played at their open mic nights. I always missed them, because I spent my Friday nights volunteering in the back of an ambulance. On one Friday, he texted me, “There’s a Native American woman from Oklahoma up close. She sees my soul.” I didn’t write back until the morning, since a toddler dislocated his jaw after he fell on the kitchen floor. His parents sobbed for a long time.

As I was saying: on this night, I was there. It was late, and the café was closed. My friend parked his dark blue Mustang, opened the doors, and kept the music on — hip-hop from a CD we’d made together. More cars pulled up, and we danced in our sweats under the street lights. We laughed loudly and were wise enough to know better but too giddy to stop.

Another friend hopped out with a pack of Black & Mild cigars. There, under a night sky and surrounded by young hearts, many of us had our first smoke. We stood, stripped of a certain kind of innocence, across from a porn shop that some of us would enter a few years later on a scavenger hunt. Even though I was killing tiny parts of my body, I had never felt more alive. We talked about life and love and sins and Hell. We tried not to cough too much, but we couldn’t stop and had to let it out.

Now, I breathe it in, because it brings me back.