Sarah's Winstons, Part 3

(by, 29 August 2008)

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Sarah's Winstons
by slimv

********* THREE *********

After graduating from high school, I chose to attend a college that was
almost 500 miles away rather than attend the local college.  The local
college was still an hour's drive away, and I would have lived on campus.
But the last thing I wanted was to spend the next four years living with
people I knew and living up to their preconceived notions of who I was.  500
miles affords a lot of room for a fresh start.  I bought a pack of Winstons
and a lighter minutes after getting off the plane.  I was 18 and looking
forward to defining my new self.

Defining myself as a smoker was more challenging than I expected- both
physically and mentally.  I walked around with that pack of cigarettes hidden
in my pocket for two days before I got up the nerve to try one.

My first mistake was not identifying myself as a smoker to my new dormitory
roommate.  If he had been a smoker, I probably would have removed the
cigarettes from my pocket and placed them on my dresser, but he wasn't so I

I don't think anyone smokes their first cigarette in public.  The risk of
coughing one's lungs up and looking like a fool is too much of a risk.  I
smoked my first cigarette in the woods behind our dormitory.  I was excited
and looking forward to it.

I hit my knees on the first puff, thankful that I had the good sense to do it
in the privacy of the woods.  I wouldn't get up the courage to try it again
for another three days.

I did a lot of soul searching during those next three days whenever I wasn't
sitting in class or studying.  Coughing my lungs up in the woods had
intensified my respect for Sarah and the other smokers I knew.  I questioned
both my desires and my determination, but three days later, I was back in the
woods with my battered pack of Winstons.

I'm not sure if it was fear or guilt that kept me from trying another
cigarette.  I can remember looking around the woods and asking myself what I
was doing.  I'm hiding in the woods trying to sneak a cigarette like some
dumb kid.  I'm 18 years old for crying out loud.  I'm in college.  I should
know better than this.  My parents didn't spend good money for me to come all
the way out here just so I could learn how to smoke.  What would Sarah think
if she could see me now?  Would she be proud of me?

I dropped the pack of Winstons on the ground and walked back to the
dormitory.  I kept the lighter though.  I put it in my pocket thinking that I
might actually need it.  I was overcome with guilt as I thought about why I'd
kept the lighter.

Sarah wrote me every day and I wrote her back.  We talked on the phone at
least once a week.  Whenever we talked on the phone, I could hear the sound
of her lighter clicking and her exhales across the telephone's mouthpiece.
She told me she loved me.  I told her I loved her too, and it was the truth.
I missed her badly.

Even though Sarah was waiting for me, I tried to break our bond by dating
other girls.  I didn't waste my time on the non-smokers.  I focused on the
bubbly sorority girls with packs of Virginia Slims Menthol Lights in their
purses.  Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed like every female smoker
on my campus smoked Virginia Slims Menthol Lights.  The other thing I noticed
about these girls was that they rarely smoked unless they were drinking.
Their habits weren't nearly as established as Sarah's and I saw no commitment
in their actions.  They did it because it was cool and stylish.  Sarah smoked
because she was a smoker.

These were the girls I had saved that lighter for.  My intense and perverted
urge to smoke didn't end with me.  It was focused on women.  I was fascinated
by women who smoked.  I wanted to watch them and join in with them but I'd
made up my mind in the woods that I couldn't join them.  But I could do the
next best thing.  I could be close to them while they smoked.  Maybe I could
even light their cigarettes for them.

I'd never lit a girl's cigarette for her.  I'd never even done it for Sarah.
I wanted to, but what if she said no, or what if it had offended her?

I was at one of those open fraternity parties, the kind where everyone on the
campus is invited.  I went with my roommate.  There was a keg on front porch
and people were drinking from it in plastic cups.  I'd never had a beer
before.  I tried a cup.  I'm not an expert on beer but it tasted kind of
bitter and flat, but everyone else seemed to like it, so I finished the cup
and had some more.  It didn't take me long to decide that drinking beer was a
whole lot easier than smoking cigarettes.

The one thing I liked about drinking beer is that it makes it easier for
people to talk to each other.  I'd seen these people on campus and in classes
every day and I hardly talked to them, but now they were talking to me and I
was talking back.

I saw three blondes wearing baby blue sweatshirts standing on the corner of
the porch.  They were Zeta girls.  There was this joke at school about how
all the Zetas looked alike and it was pretty much true.  They all looked like
Barbie dolls.  I quickly noticed that two of the Zeta Barbies were smokers.

I got to admit those girls looked cute when they smoked.  They were just so
dainty and feminine, nothing like Sarah.  The Barbies made it look like a
hobby rather than a habit.

The beer had made me brave so I walked up to them and introduced myself.  I
had my hand in my pocket around the lighter in case one of them needed some
assistance.  The girls smiled and said hi before returning to their
conversation.  When I was sure I had made enough of an idiot of myself by
standing there with my hand in my pocket and nothing to say, I stepped off
the porch and walked back to my dorm.

I wrote Sarah when I got back to my room.  I didn't write anything about the
party or the Zetas or the beer.  I just told her I was studying hard and that
I missed her.

Although my studies were going well, I was very home sick.  Finding a church
helped, but it wasn't the same as the one I'd left behind.  Nothing was the
same and nothing was turning out the way I had hoped it would.  I hadn't
redefined myself.  I was still a small-town boy with small-town values.  I
considered dropping out and not coming back when I went home for Christmas.

Sarah's Christmas kisses were indescribably sexy as well as comforting, even
if it did make me think a little bit about kissing my mother.  Their smells
were identical.  She confessed to smoking more since I'd left.  She blamed it
on missing me, but she wanted me to go back to school for us.  Her heavy
Winston kisses were so unlike the hinted menthol breath of the sorority girls
back at college.


Sarah graduated from high school during my junior year of college.  She had
started working part time for Mr. Rawlings in his convenience store the year
before.  After graduating, Mr. Rawlings gave her a full time position making
$3.35 an hour.  He liked her and wanted to pay more but minimum wage was all
he could afford.  But he did supplement her income by giving her access to
free cigarettes.  That was the biggest perk of being one of Mr. Rawlings full
time employees.  At 75 cents a pack, it was like getting an extra $20 in your
paycheck every two weeks if you were a two pack a day smoker.  

It was an easy job and Sarah loved it.  If she and Mr. Rawlings weren't
waiting on customers or stocking shelves, they were playing cards behind the
counter and smoking cigarettes.  Sarah said that working for Mr. Rawlings was
like getting paid to smoke.

By the time I started my senior year, Sarah was smoking more than three packs
a day- just like Mr. Rawlings.  Her dad used to laugh and say that he was
glad he wasn't having to pay for it.

Sarah's dad started getting sick right about the time I came home for
Christmas.  He thought it was bronchitis but it was much worse than that.  He
was diagnosed with lung cancer two months later.

She called me at college with the news.  She was scared to death, both for
her father and for everyone else who smoked, including herself.

"I'm so glad you don't smoke," she said as as she cried into the phone.

"Me too," I said and I halfway meant it.  

If Mr. Jacobs could get cancer so could Sarah.  The thought of Sarah getting
sick frightened me.  At the same time it made her seem brave for taking such
risks were health.  The good thing was that Mr. Jacobs was a lot older than
both my parents and Mrs. Jacobs.  He'd turned 76 on his last birthday so
maybe it was just nearing his time to go.

I wondered about Mr. Jacobs' sex life with Mrs. Jacobs.  He was so much older
than her.  Maybe they didn't have sex any more and were just satisfied with
being in love and raising their children.

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