Smoking in a Homely Environment
By Jax Garcia, Madera High School Student
“Stay inside,” My grandmother calls, her voice echoes in the now empty house. I peer around the corner and watch her shaky fingers slide the screen-door shut. My family is outside (grandpa, uncle, grandma, and my dad), sitting around the wooden table and passing the single lighter that had yet to be lost. I watch from the door. They bring the white stick stuck between their index and middle finger to their lips, inhaling slowly and exhaling a white cloud. Sometimes the white cloud blocked their faces, momentarily blinding young me. I thought it was beautiful. The way the smoke caught in the light, slowly changing from cumulus to cirrus (words I learned in elementary science).
But why was I not allowed to be outside with the adults? Why couldn’t I sit at the table and join in their conversation?
Occasionally, my breath felt trapped in my lungs. I couldn’t always get enough oxygen in, and it would cause coughing fits. I had to travel with a nebulizer packed amongst my clothes and toys like another item meant to play. My mother told me to use it only when necessary. She taught me how to turn it on and when to breathe in and out. In those moments, I felt like my family. I would imagine being with them, outside with my stick. Clouds would be dancing around me, blocking someone else’s vision.
I believe my grandma told me to stay inside because she thought she was making a difference. Like the screen door filled with hundreds of holes could block out the snakey trail of clouds that beckoned me over. Like with each shaky breath, I couldn’t smell the smoke that laced her clothes, furniture, and house. It stuck to me like glue, following me home in wafts of coughing fits.
Eventually, the smokers did follow me inside. I stopped using my nebulizer, somehow outgrowing my asthma. Of course, this took years. Young me stood in a sea of clouds for almost a decade, struggling to survive. I inhaled the smell of smoke, familiarizing my brain with the scent of nicotine, and exhaled out the signs of addiction.
Once that blockage disappeared, people started to light one in the house.
From the opening in the living room, if I stood on the couch, I could see my grandparents placing their shaky hands on the box from my favorite store. That’s where my family often went, every week probably. At least every weekend.
My grandparents were smokers before I was born. Cigarettes were normalized then.
Cigarettes are normalized for me now too. I figured everyone smoked at some point. They had to since it was a part of getting older.
My dad’s family weren’t the only smokers I knew. My mom and stepdad preferred cigars, but they still lit up the garage and dragged the smoke in with them. I periodically stuck my head out to see my mom with one between her lips, flipping her novel to the next page. I would wait until she spotted me, snapping her hand to shoo me away. In those moments, I can remember my mom being a hypocrite. She would speak angrily about my grandparents smoking around me, but the smoke she hugged me with was no better.
Cigars and cigarettes, what’s the difference? A child should see nor smell neither.
My nana, my mom’s stepmom, hid the fact she smoked from her husband. I visit her every summer, and every summer, she either has tobacco gum or little cherry cigars. These had to be my favorite. They smelt sweet, mature even, like a treat made for adults only, wrapped in a simple brown paper.
My nana hid them in the same spot. Her purse had a pocket inside, almost unseen. To anyone who didn’t know this, they would miss it. Their hands would scrape along the sides, feeling for something but touching nothing.
Of course, I knew of the secret pocket. I watched my nana place her box inside countless times over the years. I also knew her sleeping schedule.
One summer, when I was maybe sixteen, I decided to try out what all of my family seemed to crave. I watched them for years. I’ve seen how they changed after each cig.
Everyone was doing it, and I decided to take the next step.
I remember waiting for everyone to go to bed. At the time, three people were living in the house. All of them had different schedules due to work. If I was fast enough, I could do it before the last person came home.
I snuck over to the table containing the purse. My hands crept inside. My heart raced as I pictured the consequences of being found out. I traced the pocket, trying to find the opening. My finger slipped in, poking the box. Soon enough, my hand wrapped around the container.
I took one out, afraid my nana would notice if I grabbed anymore. I tried to place it back in the same position, probably failing with how nervous I was. Then, I quickened my steps back into my nana’s room, hiding it under the bed frame.
That was my first successful steal. I didn’t stop there. I wasn’t alone often in the house, so I took to grabbing more. I noticed I could take two at a time. Three is when she started to question. I dialed it back, giving her a week to finish one box before swiping another.
By the end of the summer, I had about a handful. No one spotted me or stopped me. I took them back home with me, stuffed in my glasses case.
I tried a few times to light them. I would place them in the same manner as my family. My excitement would bubble, and then fear came. While no one had suffered the consequences yet, I knew problems came from smoking.
I could end up with cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and immune system problems. I could become an outlier, smoking at barely sixteen.
It turned out that my family wasn’t different. On February 6th, 2022, my grandfather suddenly passed away from lung cancer. It came out of nowhere. I was not allowed to see him in his final hours as I was sick and could’ve made it worse.
Tobacco took my childhood away. It covered it in the stench, lacing around the only moments I had with my family. Tobacco almost took my teen years away. I almost ruined the rest of my life for a few moments to be like my family. Tobacco took my grandfather away. He helped raise me, and now I no longer can see him.
In my family, the next generation always follows the previous. For once, I want to be different. I want to live long enough to see what becomes of the next generation. Tobacco is dangerous, and I’m afraid to see what it will do next to my family.