Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Smoke in My Eyes

At my law school graduation, I envied – just a little – the graduates whose parents were both alive for the ceremony. But it was okay. I knew my father was smiling.

That’s how I remember my father – seeing his bearded smile through rising cigarette smoke. I must have been six or seven years old when I realized the deadly potential of burning cigarettes in ash trays. My youthful thoughts would darken just a little when I’d see him pat his pockets in search of a smoke.

“It’s not bad for me,” he’d quickly say as he placed the cigarette between his lips and opened a matchbook. At age five, I had enjoyed the little “can you draw?” tests on the back of those matchbooks, but that changed after my first grade teacher set aside half an hour to talk about the dangers of smoking. After that session, I drew NO SMOKING signs and stuck them on the walls of our basement apartment.

My father agreed not to smoke when I was in the room. At least for a few days. Oh, how I cried at the Howard Johnson’s table when he reached for that cigarette pack. “It’s not bad for me,” he said again. I put on the best martyred look I could muster at age eight. At that age, I did not understand the death grip of addiction, and the way in which it robbed my father of his free will.

When I was nine or ten, I saw an anti-smoking ad on TV. “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by the Platters was the soundtrack of the ad. For days, I loudly sang the song and cried. My mother explained to me that the song wasn’t really about smoking -- but the lyrics spoke to my heart of smoking and sadness. I was a handful.

Over the next two decades, we celebrated time and time again as my father would ceremoniously flush a nearly full cigarette pack down the toilet. Even in high school and college, I cried when I’d accidentally find a new pack stashed in the car or in his workshop. 

As he battled the rapid progression of lung cancer, he insisted that I stay in law school. He didn’t want to interrupt my education. So I stayed in school. The smoke from my own emotional fires was beginning to rise, but I kept going. The day my mother called to tell me he had died, I was in school. I numbly answered, "okay" as my roommate tried to read my expression.

At law school graduation, I waited for them to call my name. I could picture my father, across the table, with the ash tray between us. We smiled at each other as smoke got in our eyes.

[Written for RememberRed prompt: an image of a burning cigarette in an ash tray.] 


bttrflyscar said...

this is so nice.

Anonymous said...

This story is very well written! I had a huge lump in my throat as I read each line, word by word. I was with you all the way and even as a person who beat smoking 12 years ago, I had a tear in my heart (well maybe more) for you and your relationship you had with your father. Brings back my own memories of my daughter. Thank you for sharing. Stay Creative!

Cecilia Marie Pulliam said...

Great post! Very descriptive, emotional and captivating. My heart went out to you at your graduation. It was the same for my daughter at her graduation and her wedding. Although, her dad did not pass away from the raveges of smoking, he did smoke. And I understand how you felt. You put all the emotions into words, beautifully.

Sober Julie said...

This is a fantastic reflection of what it's like to be the child of a smoker. I can truly relate. Thank you for sharing with me.

Margie said...

This is a sad story but how very well done!
Thank you, Judith for sharing!
I love your writing!

Wishing you a most wonderful day full of much joy!

Anonymous said...

beautiful!! I feel for you and only hope that doesn't happen to me with my parents. Such a lovely remembrance of your father, even with a negative ending.

le Chef said...

I can't imagine what it would be like to watch someone die that way. I may have to. Both my brothers, and now my son are smokers. So sorry for your loss. I think if more people saw the reality of it they would never start.

Jackie said...

I'm sorry your dad wasn't around for graduation.
This was beautiful.

Judith C Evans said...

Thank you all for your kind comments on my story. I just felt inspired to share that facet of my life...even 20 years later, the writing is helping me heal. Blessings!

Anastasia said...

How awful for you. I am sorry that your father wasn't there, but I think you're right he was still smiling on you.

amygrew said...

This must have been an incredibly difficult thing to battle.

Such great writing. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Judith C Evans said...

Thanks so much, Anastasia and amygrew. Glad you stopped by my blog!