On Developing A Smoker’s Cough


I flip the latches and slide the window upward. There’s no way to gracefully get through the foot and a half of space that starts at my waist and stops at my armpits, but I’m alone — everyone else is sleeping, so I can awkwardly crawl onto the roof without fear of embarrassing myself.

I land sitting down and scrape my way across the shingles until I’m against the steeper slope and can lean back to look at the stars.

No one will trap me in the suburbs. I’ll die first.

Those stars, though. Damn.

I fumble through the change in my pocket until I grasp my lighter, at the same time placing the cigarette to my lips. It’s a little windy. I guard the flame with my left hand and light with my right, watching the white tip of the American Spirit blacken and then shrivel towards me. My 8th grade biology book told me that athletes have a greater lung capacity. Despite considering myself a physical wreck, I take a drag that would make Michael Phelps proud. The glowing orange ring travels across the paper, leaving ash in its wake and filling my lungs with a gray cloud. I hold the cancer in for a moment, then breathe it back into the night.

It’s my quiet act of rebellion, of self-destruction, of freedom.

I hate coming home.

First, I have to remove my damn‘s and fuck that‘s and any references to drugs or alcohol that suggest I spend my weekends emptying cans of PBR with stoners. Next, I must repress my opinions on politics, religion, and sexuality. As far as they’re concerned, I’m a conservative Republican who loves Jesus and is waiting for marriage. To keep my environment from destroying me, I voluntarily give up my personality. I adapt.

And I hate it.

It’s not that my family doesn’t know how I live. I’m sure my siblings have their assumptions, but when I told them I had experimented with drugs and alcohol freshman year, their responses were less than approving, so I don’t keep them up to date. And while I tried to keep my parents in the dark, deflecting questions about my “walk with Christ” or my “church home” they eventually cornered me, interrogated me, and forced out my decided agnostic views and disillusionment with Christianity. Then my mom asked it I was a virgin.

God, I’ve never seen her cry so much.

The worst part is, I hadn’t even done anything out of the ordinary. This was entry level college stuff at best, but in a family of church leaders and Jesus camp staff, it’s enough to ostracize you completely.

So I shut up and spend as much time as I can visiting friends or working in coffee shops or being anywhere except home.

I draw in a very hot vapor and realize I’ve smoked up to the filter. I slip my second cigarette from behind my ear and press the burning end of the other to it, lighting another round. I can’t be myself at home, but I can smoke. No, it’s not good for me. And I know that. Eventually, I’ll probably give it up.

For now, though, it’s my way of remembering that house shows and youth and freethinking are still out in the world, and that’s where I belong. That’s where I’m going. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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