I knew it’d be the cigarettes. I went from 2 a-day, to 10—to 20 to 40—
I knew it’d be the cigarettes. Everyone warned me. I didn’t care. I enjoyed them. Savored them. Used them to relax and remind myself of my to-do lists.
It was a beautiful life with those cigarettes. They provided me with a sense of nostalgia. A sense of meaning. But at 40 years-old, I gave them up.
I had had a dream that consisted of my lungs hanging from a tree. They swung, charred and dripping. They oozed with all the money I had spent on them. They’d grown mouths, and yelled profanities at me. Evil lungs, demon lungs DAMNING me for how they withered.
I kissed them and insisted they look me in the eye. They spat at me instead, and all I could taste was that old tar smell that lingered after smoking a cigarette indoors. I tried to apologize to them but they wouldn’t hear it.
They mocked my hair and my outfit. They called me ugly and fat. They hated me. They growled that all they had ever wanted was to have enough capacity and oxygen to climb Machu Picchu.They longed to enjoy the simplicity of looking pink & healthy. Instead, I made jerky of them.
Right when I was about to lay it on thick, I woke up.
I knew I had to quit.
Now, on my death bed, as I reminisce about all the times I had had a cigarette with my husband inside our old apartment on Alvarado Street, I wonder if this redundant feeling of drowning was worth the thousands of cigarettes I inhaled.
I’m fading. My husband died 9 months ago and today is our anniversary.
“What a circus,” I thought.
How appropriate to die from something I had stopped doing years ago, yet had somehow managed to make its way into my bones.
Is this it?
This rattle turns me into a snake.
I am coiled and savoring these last moments.
I miss my husband’s strong hot hands. I miss his limbs wrapped hard around me.
I remember the hot sun, the warm breeze, the way certain parts of Los Angeles glowed come sunset.
I remember the first time I fell in love.
I remember the last.
I feel tunnels in my corneas and a tug at my wrist.
“Is that you God?”
“Is it finally you?”
“Have you come to save me from myself?”
“No more sleep paralysis—instead, will you make this body disappear and have me shine instead?”
“What was that, God?”
“I’m gonna be turned into the sun’s core?” How fitting.
A burning core, a concentric circle that feeds.
But then—after this beautiful chaos—silence
A silence that sounds like every song I’ve ever cried over. And suddenly, as if floating, I am gently shoved into a bar decorated in lush red-velvet. Music plays and bounces; cotton notes chime in my ear.
I look down at my body, and I am the version of me I had always envisioned.
I touch my breasts. I pull on my shirt.
I find a mirror and stare at the vastness of my own existence.
I am EVERYTHING!
I hear ‘Boogie Shoes‘ playing in the background of this moment.
I begin to sway.
“Our wedding song!” I say out-loud.
I feel familiar hands on my hips, a hot mouth on my neck. I smell the sweet sweat that I had drank of insatiably.
“Hi my love.” he says.
My sweet husband.
Dressed just like I remember him.
Pants splattered with paint. His long hair in a tight braid down his back. A shabby flannel I’d given him one Christmas. The wedding ring we’d purchased on ETSY. Scuffed boots. Hands sullied with pastels. He kept true to his passion, even in Heaven.
I kissed him and remembered how perfectly we fit together.
I felt his hot hands grabbing at my ass.
He reaches into his coat pocket, a coat he had purchased at a second-hand store one Sunday as we waited for our laundry to finish, and takes out a lighter. A White Sox lighter he’d gotten when we’d visited Chicago together for the first time.
The room was plush and empty.
Only the bartender, who resembled Chris Farley, remained.
My husband beckons me to the dance-floor, lighter in hand. I smile at him and he tugs lovingly at my lips, parts them with his warm fingers and like an optical illusion, I feel the tip of a cigarette between them.
I bite down to secure it. To bring some of it deeper into my mouth. He flicks at the lighter, the sound resembles stones being struck.
The flame flickers and small shadows of his knobby hands dance across our faces.
In the moment between him putting a cigarette in my mouth and my being mesmerized by the dancing shadows, a cigarette had magically come out of his throat and into his smiling mouth.
He brings his face closer to mine and flicks at the lighter again.
We both move into the flame to light our cigarettes and look into each other’s eyes,
and realize that Heaven looks a lot like how home used to look— before he died, and before I gave up cigarettes.
(This piece was inspired by the prompt that read: You have died and gone to Heaven. Discuss.)