My love affair with cigarettes began at age six.
In the mid-eighties, I lived in a ‘70s-style contemporary rental home. It had a severe sloped roof, rough cedar board siding, dookie brown shag carpet, and a fixed wooden ladder that led to a loft space in the living room. Hippy Dippy.
My family would spend hours in that living room entertaining their friends and our immediate relatives. They would all lounge about the L-shaped burnt orange velour couch (a fab color combo with the carpet) to smoke their extra long cigarettes, drink beverages, and talk for hours. My brother Michael is ten years older than me so, being a teenager, he was allowed to stay and comingle with the adults. I was banished to my room before my father would start in with an adult joke or the I Want your Sex video would play on MTV. It was a constant, “Sarah, you can’t hear this, go to your room,” or “You can’t see this, go play.” Whatever. I had already seen the blonde Asian woman rolling around in black satin sheets. Yet I trudged to my room pretending to shield my not so innocent eyes from George Michael’s over-sexed images.
I was always missing out on the good stuff. To my benefit, I was relentless and constantly escaping my isolation to rejoin the party. I would go undetected by the tipsy adults for a while, but once another inappropriate joke came up, my presence was noticed and I would be ostracized, yet again. I yearned to play among the adults. I was a mature six and I knew that I could charmingly handle their adult banter or that racy video in their presence. How could I get them to believe in me?
I was determined to exist in this glamorous grown-up world.
One evening as I am resentfully drawing during one of my party dismissals, I look down at my crayon and think, “This is the same size as a cigarette.” So, I place it in my hand as such and pretend to smoke it. Then it hits me; this is the way to fit in!
As I hold the crayon between my pointer and middle finger, I feel clumsy. I recall observing how graceful my mother looked when she smoked. Her long fingers with sculpted nails slowly drawing into her lips, taking in a pull of smoke from this nicotine receptacle that seemed to be an extension of her hand. I figure that if I manage to perfect my smoking technique then I will be invited to rub elbows with the sophisticates. I take the crayon carefully to my lips and inhale. I take that air in and let it out, just barely lifting my head as to not blow smoke into my Teddy Ruxpin’s face. That is the polite thing to do, after all. I flick my non-existent ash and continue this practice in private. I simply can’t reveal my new talent until it is faultless.
As the weeks go on, I methodically mimic the act of smoking whenever I get a moment alone. First, I carefully peel the paper from the waxy stick. Next I wear the crayon tip down so that it is flat like a real cigarette. As I do this to a decent amount of my crayons, I realize that I have created my pack. I decide to keep them in a small box for accessibility when I need a smoke break. The purple crayon is my favorite because it tastes the best.
One night, my family and I are watching a movie and I am jonesing for a smoke. I grab my pack and sneak behind the couch where there is a two-foot space between the back of the couch and the wall. It was normal for me to play around back there, so I’m certain that this is an inconspicuous place to indulge my crayon craving.
As I go in for the first inhale, my brother leans over the couch. “What are you doing back there?” My mother looks over and sees me. I hear, “Sarah Melissa Blackman!” Middle name?! I know I am in trouble, except that I am not. All the adults in the room seem to be a little tickled but know that they shouldn’t be. I am not punished; I am simply told that I cannot do that anymore. I reluctantly agree to quit while secretly thinking of a new hiding spot where I can continue my practice. I want to be taken seriously as a crayon smoker. Perhaps the loft could work?
During this time, another bad habit I picked up is swigging the coffee remnants of my family’s abandoned coffee mugs. After breakfast, when everyone would scatter about to get on with their morning, I would visit each mug and gulp the leftovers. My mother’s always held my favorite taste because she would add about three teaspoons of sugar per four ounces of coffee. I kid you not. It was the sweetest treat and it allowed me to excitedly play with my Barbie’s given that I was high on both caffeine and sugar.
A few days after getting caught puffing crayons, I am making my rounds on a chilly fall morning and my mother spots me nipping her coffee. “Sarah Melissa Blackman!” Oh damn. She places her hands on her hips, “What do you think you are doing?!?” Sassily I tell her, “drinking coffee.” She purses her lips. “Mmm hmm. You are too young to drink coffee. I don’t ever want to see you do that again.”
No more crayon smoking OR coffee drinking? I would have to find some new vices. So, I left those addictions behind and I focused on my dancing. From that point on, I performed shows on the coffee table as all the adults reluctantly let me entertain them. With a captive audience, I could perfect my dancing technique while being a part of the adult world I so longed to experience. Little did I know of where my love for crayons would take me…
Part II: Coming next week!
© Sarah Blackman 2014