the beginning of always
It was familiar, almost intimate, like the echo of an old habit. The air was just shy of being warm, but still barely on this side of chilly. The pink in yellow roses reached back toward summer, but summer began to fade as the moon had.
Some smell grab your hand and pull your backward, conjuring up a moment or moments. Resurrecting people long-dead or absent. Some scents are ghosts, howling or whispering promises in your ears. All ghosts need remembering, all the secrets need tending. Ghosts like this, they are a reminding sort.
I was the only one around, this morning. I was the only one around, this morning. Yet carrying on the faint breeze, nothing more than a gossamer movement, was the smell of cigarette smoke. I’ve never smoked a day in my life. None of my immediately family does. The neighbours were all either still tucked in their beds or long-since at work.
On the way to work, I smelled it again. The window was rolled partially down. I was alone on an empty street. There were no houses, no pedestrians. Just me, and that scent.
I remembered my great uncle’s basement. The bar and the covered pool in the backyard. I remembered being picked up and swung around by my second cousin. I remembered not being able to see through the room. I remember not being able to see over the railing, looking with a child’s eyes.
I also remembered hiding cigarettes. I remember trying to protect someone from himself, even though I didn’t really know how. Even though it wasn’t quite my place. That didn’t matter to me. If I have to get in between you and yourself, for your own good, I will. This was another lifetime ago, when I was half a different person – too afraid of everything. And yet, brave enough.
I remembered chasing a friend down the stairs, full-speed, in an attempt to steal her cigarettes. I remembered people who quit and those who started again. I remembered a promise broken by my grandmother – one I’ve never quite been able to forgive her for.
To me, cigarettes mean loss. They mean death. They are a thing you need protection from. I’ve loved people who’ve smoked. Some of them, I’ve lost. Lost for good, the permanent kind of missing that leaves you without the possibility of getting back. You make your peace with that kind of ghost. It still slips through the doors and windows, sometimes. But you look it in the eye. You acknowledge it. And then you move on.
There are few things worse than not having that moment – than not being able to look a situation or a person in the eye. The waiting, the wondering, the cloying smoke that’s dancing in the air. Turn the corner, and there’s a reminder. Turn on the radio, and it’s there. Walk out your door, and the world stops.
This month is a hard one. It has been for a long time. So many things gone or going. So much absence and so many questions. They settle in like a lump in the throat. You can’t swallow it away. All you can do is just get through.
Get through it. In whatever way you can.
“Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.” ~Vladimir Nabokov