I had to write a monologue for my creative writing class this week – focusing on creating a distinct character. It needs some work still (as everything always does), but thought I’d stick it up here anyway!
Dad keeps telling me I need to stop smoking. When he comes home sober, he smacks what he calls the “red-ended death stick” out of my hand, and he usually yells. He says they don’t look good on me, that they’re going to make the creases around my mouth deepen too early. He says he’s done a “lotta shit” he “ain’t proud of”, but he never picked up a cigarette habit. When he comes home drunk, he cries and tells me he wants me to live longer than he does. He always brings up Mom, asking if I remember how her eyes looked before she died. He relives her sockets falling into her skull, like sinkholes waiting to begin their descent, and her lungs following suit. Finally, he says cigarettes make the house smell bad. But when he throws up on himself as he’s climbing the stairs, that doesn’t smell so great either. And really – what’s the problem with smoking anyway? You can drink yourself to death in a night, but it takes years to smoke yourself into the ground. It took Mom 49. I guess that’s why I’m starting young.
Picking up cigarettes has earned me a reputation at the high school. The rest of the senior class doesn’t fuck with me – because they think being a lesbian is contagious, or because I once put the lit end of a cigarette into Tommy’s arm. I don’t know which it is. Maybe both. My nickname has always been Dizzy – in sixth grade, we had a sort of school Olympics. One of the competitions was to spin around fifteen times, and then race down a quarter of the football field. I won, but I fell sideways crossing the finish line, hitting Joshua, the smallest boy in our grade, and breaking his arm. Dizzy stuck. Last month, I lit up in English class when Ms. Seffree left to go grab extra paper from the library. Joshua isn’t the smallest boy in our grade anymore, but he’s an uncomfortable asthmatic with unbearable heavy-breathing. He muttered, “I think I’m feeling a little dizzy” just before he went into an asthma attack. The ambulance pulled up out front of the school, but nobody told that I was the one who had pushed poor heavy-breather-Joshua over the edge. He didn’t come to school for a week, and I was able to go back to suffering through English without him wheezing behind me. Cigarettes have their perks.
I really only smoke two or three cigs a day – Marlboro red, classy – but most of the other kids would say I smoke a lot more. Even though I ignore Dad when he drunk-cries over Mom, I do remember the Topeka doctors, with their latex hands, talking about how dark her lungs were. How they looked like charcoal and they couldn’t believe she’d been breathing on her own for this long. I had dreams about those stuffy Topeka doctors opening up my ribs, cracking them back one by one to find a pile of smoking cinders and ash where my lungs should be. I keep a fresh pack of cigs in my back pocket all the time, but sometimes I just trap one between my lips, hold the lighter, and act like I am going to light up. But I don’t, and I shove the cigarette back in later, pissed that I am too afraid to smoke a pack a day. I want to throw a fuck you at the school, my Dad’s pleadings, and my Mother’s death, but I can’t shake those charcoal lungs.
I started listening to the Stones when Mom went into the hospital to die. She always said that hospitals should be for dead people and cemeteries should be reserved for the dying. The cancer and collapsed lung killed her quick, but I think the hospital would have done it eventually either way. I was 16 when she went into the little curtain bound room. For the most part, I was able to keep hating her. But Dad still remembers some things right when he drinks, and the way her eyes sunk madly into their sockets made her look like she’d already died, half-crazed on the hospital bed. But she loved the Stones – she saw them in Kansas City, three hours from Abilene, back in ’72. They played that big auditorium, and Mom was all the way in the goddamn back. She says Mick Jagger winked at her, but she wasn’t even close enough to see his face. When she’d jolt out of her morphine plagued sleep, she’d suddenly start singing You Can’t Always Get What You Want and asking whether I thought they’d play Midnight Rambler before the show was over. I wanted to be angry at her then, tell her to fucking snap out of it, that it was 2004 and she already knew they’d play Midnight Rambler right after All Down the Line. But her sunken eyes, wild with excitement for a night thirty years past, made me squeeze the morphine pump and tell her I sure hoped they played it, because it’s my favorite too. She’d sigh dreamily like a lovestruck teenager and close her eyes, mumbling about album covers and band members. I’d stay with her until she fell back asleep, then go to the empty lot behind the hospital and flip open her pack of Marlboro reds.