Chasing Smoke

Exhale. There is a knowledge in an exhale. There is much to be learned from an exhale. Think about the last exhale you heard. Was it gentle and drawn out, like the breath that comes from looking out a plane window while flying over the ocean? Did it quiver with the trepidation and excitement of a first date? Was it short, like the breath that punctuates the realization that an opponent cannot be reasoned with? There is so much knowledge in an exhale.

“ Sidestream smoke – smoke from the lighted end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar.

Mainstream smoke – the smoke exhaled by a smoker.” – American Cancer Society

The garage floor was cold against my bare feet. I would sit here for hours of my childhood with my grandmother standing above me, smoking a cigarette. I loved these moments. I loved talking to my grandmother. She didn’t listen to me the way most adults listen to children. She didn’t speak to me the way most adults talk to children. My grandmother pressed a cigarette to her soft newly wrinkled lips and looked at me like we had known each other for a lifetime. She was not old, in fact, she was quite young as far as grandmothers go. Her skin was creased with the wisdom that came with having three grandchildren. Tall and thin, the pressures of life made her fragile yet unbreakable sill. Her eyes were steady. Her smile was full of the innocence that filled her heart. Our conversations would roll like the smoke in air: twisting, falling, bouncing. She made me laugh. She made me feel smart. The concrete stung my feet but they would never move.

  “But it it’s just driving me insane

When the smoke gets in my brain

    I can’t resist it.”

 -Nicotine Stain, Siouxsie and the Banshees

I used to be a fervent yogi. I’ve since lost the self-disciple that once had me practicing my poses on a daily basis. I’ve found that happens as I get older; I lose the ability to juggle multiple hobbies and habits, no matter how simple. On the other hand perhaps I’ve grown complacent. In yoga, we practice the art of breathing. The breathing technique used during a typical Vinyasa is called Ujjayi. It is the art of breathing in and out through ones nose, while attempting to make a wave-like sound in the back of the throat. Throughout a Vinyasa, the yogi works to deepen and lengthen the breath. One of the reasons breathing is so important to yoga is that it brings conscious attention to the moment. It brings one into the “now.” Could the same be said for a smoke break? Smoking, at times, is very intimate. Such use of breath can make a person vulnerable. In that breath lies the relief they’ve been craving. I’ve learned many things from breaths that have escaped into the darkness of starless Midwestern nights.

“Bob says that when you’re alone, and you light a cigarette, and the cigarette is only halfway lit that means someone is thinking about you.”-The Perks of Being a Wallflower

He had started smoking a lot, at least more than I had realized. I sat, watching him try to pull some reason out of that cigarette. Desperately dragging for something that might help him find the words. I knew what he was searching for. He didn’t know it yet. That’s always how it was in my life; I could see the endings before they came. I tried to believe in the clichés I’d heard the brightest stars. That somethings are just too great to survive. The most magnificent stars die the fastest. He looked awkward with the small white stick between his large fingers. It looked so uncomfortable, I was half tempted to reach out and hold it for him. I’m not sure what it is that makes a person look natural with a cigarette in their hand. Time, frequency, attitude. Whatever it was, it was lacking in the portrait that sat across from me that night. I’ve learned there are moments that render this moment a necessity. The smoke from his mouth came in exacerbated bursts that disappeared quickly into the night. Like I said, there is a lot to learn from an exhale.


Sidestream smoke has higher concentrations of cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) than mainstream smoke. And, it has smaller particles than mainstream smoke, which make their way into the lungs and the body’s cells more easily. The more SHS you breathe, the higher the level of these harmful chemicals in your body.- American Cancer Society

I have a lot of bad habits of my own. I pick my nails when I’m anxious, I tap my feet when I’m agitated, I drink diet coke more often than I should. I can remember my fourth cigarette well. I sit there feeling like the star in an awful Lifetime movie except unlike the daytime starlets, logic and consequence kept me from turning the key and driving until my troubles faded with the sunset. My hands shook but my legs sat stiff. I had imagined moments like this one a thousand times before. I’m always playing these tragic, morbid daydreams in my mind. I have these visions of my loved-ones dying or my own funeral. I imagine the tears and the words and the life-after that would come. I had imagined moments like this one a thousand times before but yet I was still utterly unprepared. Tears would not fall. Screams would not surface. There was nothing in me, I just sat. I was paralyzed and choking at the same time. I felt no pain.

“Smoking cigarettes is as intimate as we can become with fire without immediate excruciation. Every smoker is an embodiment of Prometheus, stealing fire from the gods and bringing it on back home. We smoke to capture the power of the sun, to pacify Hell, to identify with the primordial spark, to feed on them arrow of the volcano. It’s not the tobacco we’re after but the fire. When we smoke, we are performing a version of the fire dance, a ritual as ancient as lightning.”― Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker

For years my father hid his smoking from us. I would spy out the window and go chase him down behind the shed, wanting to know what he was doing. Years went by before he would tell us the truth. A friend noted how strange it was that I often sat with people while they smoked. I had never thought about it. I won’t go out of my way to go stand with someone who left the table but if I am in a one on one scenario, yes I’ll stand outside while they smoke. I began thinking about it after they asked and now I am at a stopping point. I tried to put some reason to it and link it all together. I thought about it. Ultimately, maybe it is because I’ve had some great conversations in that cold garage. Or maybe its about wanting to be let it. Maybe I subconsciously believe I’ll find the answer I’ve been peeping out the window for. To be honest, I’m not sure if there’s a reason.

Always there every time you need me

It ain’t love, it’s just like nicotine

You’re addicted to a feeling you can only get

From me and your cigarettes

-Me and Your Cigarettes, Miranda Lambert


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