I Miss What It Was Like When Nothing Hurt


Lighting a cigarette, cupping your hand around the flame to protect it — fragile, young thing — until it begins to burn, igniting the paper into blackness, the tobacco into a beautiful ruby ember, and the first inhale, long because it’s packed tight.

American Spirits aren’t loose like the rest and they take 15 minutes to smoke down to the filter — with that beautiful exhale that feels like Parisian money and Vegas money and the vices of people with no money: I miss it.

The camaraderie that comes with having a lighter that works, or a spare smoke for the homeless guy who doesn’t have anything else, or the waitresses and bartenders at Your Place (you know their first name and you all cluster round as they take their breaks and avoid their tables in the humid wind) and it feels like true friendship.

Especially after hours when the owner passes out plastic cups filled with water so you can smoke indoors with the door locked if you’re important enough to be there — those evenings that turned into nights and then into early mornings where we all stumbled off into sleep as the commuters got up for work.

Reaching for the pack naked in bed and sipping whiskey, laying across the chest of a man — your elicit lover — and your breasts graze his chest before you offer him the pack and you light them both together, sitting in silent reflection of what you’ve just done, the bad, bad thing while Tom Waits plays muffled from his phone and your exhale fills the room with smoke imported from around the waist of a belly dancer in a hookah bar, or the parted lips of a dazed intellectual in an opium den as he meets God for the first time.

It comes to you, through your lips, and when you kiss, you taste a mirror.

I said goodbye to all that because of morning coughs, believing an electric facsimile would be the same flavor of glamour, but it’s a cheap xerox going out of business downtown from my loft apartment, and I turn into a child whenever a grown man asks to bum a smoke (“it’s fake” — and something changes in everyone’s eyes before I throw mine down, like a butt to be rubbed out by the sole of a single spike heel), but there’s no returning.

My palette has changed, and I’m not in the same 23-year-old place that can learn to love disaster. I’m elsewhere else I turn back and that’s nowhere I want to be. So: here, another quitter, dreaming of those magic dream days filled with haze, when nothing hurt.