Maturity Factor

(by slimv2001@yahoo.com, 20 April 2004)


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MATURITY FACTOR
By slimv

It had been one of those never ending days but the end was slowly
approaching.  Lisa walked to the pantry and took a fresh pack of Benson &
Hedges from the carton.  She counted the packs and noted there were only four
packs left.  It seemed like only yesterday she had gotten a fresh a carton.
She was either smoking more than her usual two packs a day or Billy was
stealing her cigarettes.

She took a can of Diet Pepsi from the fridge and considered the idea of Billy
smoking.  That was insane she thought.  Billy was such a great athlete.  He
played football, wrestled and ran track.  He was the smartest teenager she
knew.  He would never do something as stupid as start smoking.  But then
again he was 16 now.  He was growing up and lately it seemed he was more
infatuated with girls than he was with sports.  

As she walked to the living room she thought about Billy's newest girl
friend.  She had met her only once but remembered thinking the girl looked
like a smoker.  She was pretty good at picking out things like that.

She waved off the thought as she sat down in front of the TV and lit a
cigarette.  Billy wasn't a smoker.  She was just being paranoid.  She kicked
up her feet putting them to rest on the coffee table as she jogged the TV
with the remote.  She paused as an image of a teenage boy, about Billy's age
flashed on the screen.  The boy was sucking on a Marlboro.  A disturbing
picture of a black and white lung X-Ray was super imposed on his chest.  The
caption underneath read, "Four teenagers take up smoking every minute.  The
truth hurts.  Talk to them before its too late".

A chill ran through her as she took a puff and changed the channel.  She
shook her head in disbelief as she held her lit cigarette out in front of
her.  How could she have been so stupid as to get caught in nicotine's
addictive web?  She'd give any thing to take it back.  Tobacco had promised
her instant maturity and adulthood along with pleasure and sophistication.
It promised to be a stress reliever, a little helper and a friend.  And she
needed such a friend after her mother died.

Lisa placed the cigarette to her lips and took a deep drag as she thought
about her mother.  The smell of her cigarette, the smoke in her lungs gave
her comfort as she formed a mental image of her mother.  Her mother had been
a smoker too- like mother like daughter.  She died in a car accident and it
had been up to her to take her mother's place for the sake of the family.
Lisa had stepped into her mother's shoes.  She did the cooking and the
cleaning.  She did almost every thing her mother had done for the family.
That's why she had started smoking.  Her family had needed to see her as
"Mom" and that's why she picked up her mother's Benson & Hedges.  It was only
fair.  She was performing her mother's roles so she might as well smoke like
her mom.

She remembered how easily her family had accepted her as a smoker.  It was as
if they needed her to smoke.  The smell of smoke in the house, the sight of
ashtrays and packs of Benson & Hedges lying around made it seem as if mom was
still with them.  

It had started as a way to connect with her mother but had become a
full-blown addiction.  She trimmed her ash as she remembered those days.  She
had grown up fast out of necessity.  Tobacco had made good on its promise.
It was every thing it claimed to be, but it had lied about the cost.

She took another puff as she considered Billy.  He'd be getting home from
school soon.  She'd never talked to him about smoking.  She just always
assumed he knew better and he probably did.  The missing cigarettes from her
carton had nothing to do with him.  She told her self they were missing
because she her self had smoked them.  It made sense when she thought about
it.  She had been under so much stress lately.  She was probably just smoking
more and if she was, so be it.

When Billy got home from school, Lisa was in the kitchen preparing dinner.
It was too early to eat, but her time was so limited and organization was
key.

She was slicing green peppers as he walked in the kitchen.  She asked him how
his day had gone.  The cigarette clutched between her lips bobbed up and down
as she mumbled her question.  

"It was OK," he said.  "Nothing really happened.  There was this kid, a
freshman I think.  He threw up on the bus, but that was about it.  What's for
dinner?"

"Meat loaf," said Lisa.  She took a deep puff from her cigarette and thought
of how to tell him of her worries.  Lectures weren't her strong point.  She'd
rather his father talk to him but his father wasn't a smoker.  She knew it
would be better if it came from her.  After all, she was a smoker and she
knew what she was taking about.

Billy looked at her.  He could see she was troubled by the way she attacked
her cigarette.  She always smoked aggressively when she was stressed.  "Are
you OK," he asked?  "Is something bothering you?"

Lisa looked at him as she took another deep puff and exhaled her smoke toward
the ceiling.  He towered above her, so strong, and so big.  Football practice
would start next week.  There was no way in the world he could be smoking but
she knew in her heart that she needed to have this conversation with him, if
only for her own peace of mind.

"I guess there is something I wanted to talk to you about.  Do you have some
time," she asked?

Billy shrugged and Lisa motioned for him to take a seat at the table.

"Are you thirsty?  Do you want a Pepsi," she asked?  

He told her he was fine so she picked up her cigarettes and ashtray and
joined him at the table.

Billy watched as she sat down and immediately placed another cigarette
between her lips and lit it.  Smoke billowed from her open mouth.  He
couldn't help but think how stressed she looked.  She looked so much older
than she really was and he hoped he wasn't the cause of her problems. 

Lisa trimmed her ash in the ashtray as she thought of how to begin.  She took
another deep puff and decided it would be best to just spill her guts.

"I don't know how to say this so I'm just going to say it.  Are you smoking
Billy?"

The look on Billy's face went cold and she knew she'd made a direct hit.

"No."  He looked away as answered, as if he could hide his thoughts from her.

"Really?" she asked.

"Really", said Billy.  "I promise."

Lisa took another puff from her cigarette and inhaled deeply to settle her
nerves.  "Its just that today I thought I noticed some cigarettes from my
carton were missing and then I saw this anti smoking commercial on TV and
thought of you.  And I thought of me when I started smoking.  And I thought
maybe we should talk about it."

"I'm not smoking," he said.

"I'm glad to hear that," said Lisa.  "Its just that I can remember how I felt
when I started smoking and I just thought that maybe some of the same things
might be going through your head and I just thought maybe we should talk
about it."

"Are any of your friends smoking?" she asked.

"No of course not.  I don't hang out with guys that smoke.  You know that."

"What about girls?  You're dating Kelly now.  She smokes, doesn't she?"

"Well yeah, but that doesn't mean I smoke.  How did you know?"

Lisa smiled and drew on her cigarette.  "I just know.  She kind of looks like
a smoker."

"Are you going to tell Dad?" asked Billy.

"No of course not," said Lisa.  "This is between me and you.  I think Kelly
is nice.  A lot of girls smoke.  It doesn't make her a bad person.  You don't
think I'm a bad person because I smoke, do you?"

"Of course not," said Billy.  "I just know how you feel about it and I
thought it might bother you if you knew I was going out with a girl that
smoked."

Lisa laughed nervously.  "Its OK to date girls that smokes.  I just want you
to know that you don't have to smoke too.  I'm not stupid.  I have eyes.  I
know how many girls smoke now.  I guess its because girls mature faster than
boys."  She paused and took another puff.  She didn't know where she was
going with the conversation.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is that I know it probably looks good to you.
You see me smoke all the time and it wouldn't surprise me if it made you want
to try it.  I bet you think smoking makes a person look really grown up,
don't you?"

Billy blushed.  "Yeah, I guess I do think that.  I'm sorry."

"That's OK," said Lisa.  "You don't have to apologize.  That's the reason a
lot of people start smoking.  It's a big reason why I started.  Smoking is an
adult habit.  It's not a secret.  You know how young I was when I started and
you know why I started.  I needed to grow up fast and smoking helped me do
that.  I bet you think I'm a hypocrite don't you?"

"Of course not," said Billy.  "I'd never think that about you.  I know why
you started smoking.  You had to do it.  And I know you have to keep doing it
and you can't quit cause you're addicted.  I studied all about smoking in
health class."

Billy's look changed from shame to fear.  "You're not thinking about trying
to quit smoking again are you?  The last time you tried to quit you went
crazy and you promised me and Dad that you'd never try to quit again."

Lisa rolled her eyes as she extinguished the remainder of her cigarette in
the ashtray.  "I'm not stupid," she said.  "I remember how hard it was on
everyone when I tried to quit.  I wouldn't do that to you again.  I know I'm
addicted and I'll always be addicted.  I've accepted that I'm a smoker and
I'll always be a smoker.  It just that I love you so much and I don't want to
see the same thing happen to you."

Billy looked at his little sister with love.  It was hard to believe she was
only 10 years old.  She'd grown up so fast when their mother died.  It was
times like this that he realized just how mature and grown up she really was.

"Don't worry," he said as bent over the table and kissed her on the cheek.
With his eyes closed, the smell of smoke in her hair made him feel as if he
were kissing his mom.

"OK," said Lisa victoriously.  "I feel so much better after having this talk.
Now why don't you finish your homework so I can get dinner ready before Dad
gets home."


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