When I was growing up, smoking was all around. All of my grandparents smoked, as did most of the grown-ups I knew. You could smoke in bars and restaurants, you could even smoke in college classrooms. I had a professor who would puff his way through 4 or 5 cigarettes during his 50-minute lectures at 8 in the morning. When my parents would have parties, the house filled with smoke and laughter. Sure, the house stunk of old smoke the next day, but while the party was going on, cigarette smoke meant something was happening.
The first boy I kissed beyond a simple peck on the lips smoked. He was the older brother of a friend of mine, and seemed mysterious. Until I met him, I thought only bad kids smoked but he seemed nice, not a "hood," as my mom would call the kids I wasn't allowed to hang out with; however, he didn't say much, so maybe I didn't know his secret life. I met him as part of a group and we seemed to get along. I got those first kisses at a dance club for teens, during a slow dance. Our next (and only) date was to meet to watch the next high school football game. I don't remember much about that night except being terrified that we'd run into someone who would tell my parents I was with a boy who smoked.
We didn't have a lot to say to each other but when he kissed me, it was exciting. I could taste the smoke on his lips. I can't say that kissing him made me feel grown up, but it did make me feel like less of a kid and more like a teenager. It made me wonder what dating and meeting boys and falling in love would be like.
When I got older and went out with friends, we would go to places where smoking was all around. Pizza places, bowling, concerts, anywhere people hung out, there was smoking. Going to bars in college meant you came home with your clothes reeking of cigarette smoke. Most of my friends smoked, and I was jealous as to how effortlessly they'd handle their cigarettes. The tapping of the pack, the cupping of the end around the flame as they lit up, that first inhale and exhale, the different ways they blew smoke. I'd be lying if I said I didn't find the way people smoked as cool. People look cool when they smoke, they just do.
(Of course I tried smoking in college. However, I have a chronic cough and even one cigarette left me with a hack so deep in my lungs even an idiot 20-something knows that's not a good look. I was left to admire others for having something to do with their hands when we were just hanging out.)
The smell of cigarette smoke takes me to nights full of possibilities. It takes me to a time when we didn't text to know who was going to be where. You showed up and looked around and hoped. Smoke was where things were happening. Smoke reminds me of going to breakfast with my Nana, and just taking your time with your coffee and cigarettes. To me, smoke is still the scent of excitement.