The small child stood in a daze, watching me drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. He remarked that his mother did not approve of smoking and that he thought it made me smell like a soiled mattress. I told him that I was not his mother so we wouldn’t have a problem. He stood with a limp arm holding a toy dump tuck and another arm holding a juice box. It looked as if I told him the tooth fairy didn’t exist. I don’t think he had ever heard a reply quite like that.
“No, your not Mom,” he said, “Where is she? When is she coming back?” The sun was just falling behind the large fence in the back yard. I finished my cigarette and looked at him. “Your mother went to the mall with her sister, remember? She will be back soon. Until then we can find something to do.” The child laughed. It looked like he felt independent and old. I leaned against the railing and smiled.
“Well what do you want to do?” I asked the little man. I raised my cup to my lips and realized I was drinking the last of my coffee. I placed the cup down and the ring of grounds settled into a new moon shape. I played with my cigarette butt and said, “I have to go inside now, you coming?” The child jumped towards the door and opened it. We walked up the one step and into the apartment. I put the cigarette butt in the garbage and the child said, “That’s where it belongs to be.”
I remembered doing the same thing as a small child. I was an outspoken non-smoker as a child. My mother had asked me to think like that. Now, I barely remember not being a smoker. I am beginning to feel the harmful affects of my addiction. I hope the same fate doesn’t reach this child. Perhaps he will be brighter than I was. I should have listened to the folk who refused to buy them for me. Rules are there for a reason. I should know that by now.
It is evening now. Still I am staying alive with coffee and cigarettes. I place my empty cup on the counter and exhale. “Is that all you can breathe?” The child shouts. I am taken aback a little before saying, “I never inhaled.” He laughs and shouts, “Lets have a breathing contest. Whoever breathes biggest wins, smoker versus non-smoker.” I laugh and say, “Ok, but I have bigger lungs.”
We breathe deeply for a few seconds, and then the child laughs and says, “I win. I breathed deeper.” I agree, and look for more coffee in the pot, there is none. I click the pot of the burner and debate making more coffee. It is evening now, the child’s mother will be home soon and she’ll have no need for it. Perhaps, I think, we can stay up late drinking coffee and being adults. It was a nice thought.
The child brings his truck to me. It is one of the yellow metal dump trucks we used to have in my sandbox. It is large, but not rusted like ours were. He places it in my hand and says, “This is you.” He then runs and grabs a red sports car. It was oversized, one of the kind you see on stands in the library of an auto mechanic. The stand is gone and the wheels spin freely, so we are about to race.
I ask the child, “Where is the course?” He says, “All the way around the outside of the room, then up on the couch and back through the coffee table. Then we do it once more.” And with that, the child is running, racing around the sides of the room with a car in hand. I chase after him and drive my dump truck barely able to catch him. He reaches through the legs of the coffee table in a professional manner and starts his second lap. I reach the table and get stuck. My large stature is in no way helping the cause. He reaches the outside wall and flies up the now banked corner.
I realize I am outmatched but continue to chase him in vain. He reaches the couch and his car jumps across to the coffee table. He waits for me to catch up, with a look of glee in his eye. As I am about to reach the couch he throws the car between the legs of the coffee table and bursts into laughter. The red sports car his the glass door between the kitchen and patio with a crack. I jump, but we were lucky, no damage.
The child walks over and grabs his car from the floor. I am breathing heavily and the child looks at me and laughs like a hyena. “See, you shouldn’t smoke. You can’t even drive a car without breathing heavily.” I catch my breath and say, “You make sure to remember that you told me that, and never start smoking. I only smoke because I started smoking and now I can’t stop. It’s a strange addiction.”
The child looks at me and asks, “What does addiction mean?” I explain to him it is when you don’t want to do something but you have to. It is because your body needs the chemical you are addicted to, you have grown attached to having it around. Because of this your body chemistry changes and you become dependant of the chemical. The child remains confused and says, “I’ll never have addiction.”
I tell him he should remember he told me that as well. “Do yourself a favor,” I say, “and never have an addiction.” I end the thought with the phrase, “Vices.” The child questions what the word vice means. “Vice,” I tell him, “Is when you know something is bad for you but you do it anyways, because you enjoy it. Like eating candy.” The child smiles and says, “Oh, I like vices.”
I stutter and say, “No, no, vices are usually addictions.” The child says, “Actually I have an addiction. My vice is candy. I’m addicted to it. And sometimes I need to have candy or I’ll die. Seriously.” I laugh and retrace my steps, explaining candy may not be a vice. I mention that vices are sort of like candy, in a way. I have always been and strong advocate for stimulants of all kinds. Maybe someday he’ll be a coffee and cigarettes kind of guy. They are always the best people.
I am swimming in this thought and he asks, “So cigarettes are like candy?” I fight the urge to chuckle and say, “No, cigarettes are a vice. Candy is just sugar.” He seems to understand, “But cigarettes make you feel like you ate candy? I like that feeling.” “No,” I reply. “That’s more like coffee. Cigarettes are like sucking on a tailpipe.” He laughs and asks, “Why do you do that then?”
I don’t know how to reply. I have no reason to smoke that I would want to tell a vulnerable child. I think I should be honest. I smoke because I enjoy every one I have. I smoke because I thought it looked cool in grade school. I smoke because my friends did, but they have come and gone and what I have left is a full ashtray. I smoke because I am unstable, because I need a crutch. I smoke because I cannot go a day without them. But I can’t tell a child that, I’m supposed to be a role model.
The reply I give him is stammered, “Because I’m addicted to it.” I begin to tell him about all the horrible things cigarettes do and he says, “I know, Mom told me that.” I then explain that cigarettes are not like candy because candy is rarely connected to any of results of lifelong cigarette addiction. He looks at me and says, “I don’t like vices.” I tell him I don’t like my vices either.
I ask him if he wants to go outside for a smoke, like an adult. This is partially because I think its funny asking a six year old to smoke with me and partially because all the talk of cigarettes made me think of having another. No more coffee with this one, I’ve decided. It is probably for the best. The sun has gone down and his mother will be home soon. Maybe she would like some coffee, I thought.
I cough and the child says, “Don’t smoke.” I am halfway out the door with a cigarette in my hand. I look at him. He looks as if he has been hurt. “You just finished telling me how those cause cancer and strokes.” I pull him outside and light the cigarette. I think about my vice. He is still talking, telling me all the things I told him about the horrors of tobacco use. I puff on the cigarette and exhale the white smoke.
“Is it true you cough up boogers if you smoke?” The child asks me. I clear my throat and state as clear as the day, “Its grosser than that.” The child squirms and asks me to clarify. “They are like big, gray boogers.” He laughs. “Except they are wet and sticky. They fly out of your mouth and cover your hands.” He screams in disgust and asks, “Why do you smoke then?” I don’t know how to answer his question.
I take a drag from the cigarette and say, “Ok, you are a smart kid, right?” He says quickly that he is. I explain the chemical I am addicted to in the smoke is called nicotine. I tell him that my brain cannot bridge a gap in my daily life without nicotine, now that I have tried it. I explain that when I was only a few years older than him I tried smoking and thought it would make me cool. I explain that once I had made a conscious decision to begin smoking I lost the ability to not smoke.
He pretends to understand me but I knew he couldn’t. I dock the cigarette at the halfway mark and tell him I shouldn’t be smoking around him. What would his mother say? He claims she wouldn’t mind and she would be happy that he is learning new things. He tells me they told him that once in school so it must be true. I open the pack and find I only have one and a half cigarettes left.
The child walks into the apartment and shuts the door behind him. I try to open it and find he has locked it. I hear him say there are no smokers allowed inside the house. I knock on the door and ask him nicely to open it. He laughs and runs across the room. He jumps on the couch and starts bouncing, laughing. I knock on the glass and he jumps from one cushion to the next. He falls on the armrest and rolls onto the floor. I knock on the glass one more time.
I am helpless and out of ideas. There is no other way I can get in to the room. I struggle for a moment but am saved quickly as his mother and aunt walk into the room. She laughs and shouts his name, unlocking the door and letting me in. She is laughing and asks me, “How long have you been out there?” I smile and tell her it was just briefly. She scolds the child and sends him to bed, telling me it has passed his bedtime.
She tucks him in and comes back from the hall. I am sitting with her sister talking about our mutual friends. She sits next to me and laughs. “Kids,” she says. I tell her she has a smart kid, a good conversationalist. She smiles and says, “Isn’t he just a big bundle of love?”
I look at her and ask, “He doesn’t know you smoke?” She laughs. “I have a half a smoke here,” I say, “Lets go for one.”