One smell, one solitary tendril across my nose and my body gives a little shiver and says, in it’s most pitiful little voice,“want”.
I haven’t touched a cigarette in almost 5 years. My body still knows it’s M.O., my fingers still twitch to hold slim paper between them, my lips long for the silk across them, the fire burning into my throat. My belly aches with desire for the completion, the end to a day, a meal, lovemaking.
My brain sees lung cancer, 10.00 a pack and the stench of smoke.
I don’t miss the judgement, the stares. The smell I was only aware of once I quit 3 months pregnant with Rosalyn, realizing that DEAR LORD PEOPLE REEK. I don’t miss standing, huddled in the snow and wind, trying to remember why I smoked aside from the fact that I was completely addicted.
I remember how proud I was of myself for quitting, cold turkey, and staying that way all this time. I know I can never touch another cigarette.
There was a me who smoked, who stayed up late writing in coffee shops, talking about, so many things that seemed important, themes in crappy fantasy novels, chess moves, lame “cult” movies that were meant to move us but instead left us scratching our heads and wondering why we were supposed to consider it art. But now, years later, there’s a me who knows my lungs were crying for mercy and asking me why watching my mother die of cancer wasn’t enough. There’s a me who has decided that art is what her brain and heart decide it is, not what others do. A me who has moved past a part of my life and into a different place. A place where being responsible for another life will always color what I say, and do, where I go, and how I get there.
Say what you will. Living as someone responsible for another life, solely responsible, be it as parent or guardian, changes who you are. I cannot be the same girl who was high for days straight because now, I need to worry, with absolute certainty, about feeding my children, about setting the right example for them. I can’t coast by with only Mr. Noodle in the cupboard (not that they’d mind) because I have brains and bodies to grow. I can’t live my life according to only my rules-I simply can’t, not while responsible for the growth and development of other people.
I love at my life in many chunks, all of which are formative pieces of clay. Each tugged me a little this way, and a little that way, with no real guidance or advice. But having a child-not just gestating and birthing her, but bringing her home and realizing “oh shit, I’m supposed to know what to do!”-that propped me up, gave shape to my truest form yet, and solidified into where I sit now, mature in my skin, content, at peace.
You can have reason without children, contentment, purpose. You can devote your life selflessly to any number of causes and reasons. But it is driven differently, and it easier to escape when it becomes hard, or you decide it isn’t what you want. You cannot abandon having children, being a mother or parent, guarding the lives of others. You could most certainly leave them behind, but they would never leave you. Talking to my birthmother 19 years after my birth assured me of that. You are always someone’s rock, someone’s past, someone’s peace.
We can argue who deserves the medal more, who has suffered for their cause, who is entitled to say they are more worthy of…whatever it is that we’re worthy of.
I raise my children as best I know. I recognize in myself a strength that never existed before, a capacity for love I never thought I could have. I finally see in me that adult woman I had been struggling to be for so long, and just couldn’t find. I see someone strong enough to finally kick the beast of an addication off her back, for all the right reasons, all the ones that made sense.
The women I know without children, are brave, kind, wonderful women who love their nieces and nephews, who give back to their communities, who are incredible in so many ways. But they will not understand, not fully, what it means to give every bit of yourself to a human in your care. Nor will I understand what it’s like to have lupus, or face the fact that I cannot have children, or wonder if the abortion I had as a teenager means I’ll never have a child. I cannot fully grasp their lives, as I do not live those.
But I can try and bridge the gap. I can light the room with the bliss of watching my daughter read, really read! for the first time, and listen when someone talks to me about their latest trip to India, and how much they’ve learned.
Different has never, and will never, mean better. And judgement will never smell as sweet as understanding.