I was once 16 with a light blue pack of American Spirits and a box of matches that I had gotten from the cupboard. I hadn’t really ever smoked before- in fact, I didn’t even know how to inhale. So, I let the smoke sit in my mouth for a bit, letting it fall out of my mouth and watching the wind choreograph a beautiful dance. I would repeat this for twenty minutes until there was nothing left but the filter and I would sit and stare at the sky- sometimes riddled with clouds, other times filled with stars. It was one of my favorite things to do.
And now I’m 19 with a yellow pack of American Spirits I found in an old backpack and a purple lighter covered in glitter nail polish. I light the cigarette and the top goes out as a rain drop hits it, but the bottom still burns. Eventually, the cherry evens out. I still hold the smoke in my mouth, waiting for it to cool, but I am now the choreographer. I pull the smoke deep into my lungs, closing my eyes before letting out a steady sigh. I watch as my regrets flow strong together before dissipating into the air. I can still smell their presence, but I don’t know where they have gone.
I walk around my backyard. I see the garden, which wouldn’t have been there had I not left a tent up all summer, killing the grass underneath. It is in the same space where I did the Coke and Mentos experiment. I see the crab apple tree, which was once home to a blue hula-hoop I’d thrown up when I was young. It was also where an egg fell, leaving a “little pink thing” on a chair. I had a funeral with my neighbors- a water-gun salute for bird that never got to fly.
The neighbors who I spent my afternoons with. Some days, we were detectives tracking down a fellow named Skeeter who lived in the apartments down the road, yelling “REDRUM” whenever he was close. The neighbors I spent nights with playing Graveyard- constantly thinking of new places of hide and routes to get to the porch where I would be safe. The neighbors who were riding scooters when they called me out for ditching them to hang out with a boy.
A boy who I swore was in love with- blue eyes, dark hair, and a Kansas City Chiefs sweatshirt. A boy who took more risks than I would ever dare. Who made little holes in his pants with a match he lit with his fingers. A boy who asked me out in a voicemail because he didn’t have texting. A boy I fell out of contact with a long time ago, who I saw working at a gas station when I asked for a pack of cigarettes.
The crab apple tree is now dead. It sits in the yard. Branches fall every now and then, but its skeleton still tells stories. The wind still blows through the branches. Birds still make their nests in sturdy corners. The tree still stands.
I am moving in approximately five months. Though I have moved before, this time, it’s for real. I will have a new address and new neighbors. I will have new stories and new views. I will have new crush and a new pack of cigarettes. But, I will still hold these memories. I will still sometimes think about them in the middle of the nights. I will still wonder what our lives would be like if we all stayed in touch. I will still smoke American Spirits.