I smoke when I hate me, I want to burn her up. I smoke when I hate you, you never give me that buzz, that dependability. A lighter flick is a stand-in, we all know that. A flame is the semblance of touch, the semblance of love. Can I borrow your lighter? I ask, but I’m really asking for more: I’m killing myself. I want to, can you help me do it?
I had my first cigarette in college. Junior year. I can’t remember if it was a friend, or a guy, or just another party where I was wearing the wrong thing, where everyone else was rich and smooth, correctly taking the right drugs and I was there with eyes too big — so big people always mention it — feelings too raw, trying to figure out what I was supposed to be looking at. Was it you? Whoever my you was had left me lonely again, so I’m at another party with my abandonment issues and a shot of, god, what, vodka?
Give me a cigarette, I said to him, outside, close to tears, but also exuberant, drunk not off the shitty Smirnoff, but the power of making a choice. He looked at me funny, I was the good girl, we all knew I didn’t smoke. You don’t smoke, he said. I try to be fierce with rich strangers, but really I just needed help. Please, just give me a fucking cigarette? He caved, smirking while I stumbled through my follow-up: Can I borrow your lighter?
That was my first one, on the front balcony in the Malibu Villas. Then, another on the back balcony, and then, many more — outside your room, on the way to the car, while driving away, looking out at the blue instead of the pale, stucco elegance. I hate Malibu, I’d trill, Valley Girl hint, California bored, externalizing my self-loathing in a plume of smoke. I thought I looked cool, aloof, cosmopolitan. Honestly, I did look cool. Hating myself, sabotaging my one sweet life, I look so good doing it.
There are things worse than smoking, you know. Those women, the ones who walk by you with poison eyes and a fake cough. Do you think hate forms wrinkles and rots your lungs, the same way smoke does? The smokers I know are good people with hearts of gold. There’s no way emotionally abusing strangers as a habit doesn’t give you cancer, too, right? When they glare at me I realize wouldn’t trade it, ever, knowing about the pain, the smoke, knowing real loss.