Growing Up Fast - Becky's Story

(by anonymous, 11 December 1995)


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This is an reformatted version of the original that was sent to me
- lsh

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This is the story about Becky and her sister Lisa as told by Becky.


    Growing up in a small midwest town, I recall vividly watching man walk
on the moon, back in 1969, on my parents black and white Zenith. I recall
the familiar voice of Chronkite announcing the news, the familiar Chevy
Truck and Marlboro cigarette advertisements breaking in on Bonanza and, most
of all, I recall the closeness of our family at that time. Although my dad
travelled often, on business, he always made sure we finished our homework
before watching television and that we made it to church every Sunday
whenever he was in town; Mom was not nearly as strict.  

     Then, one night, my secure and familiar world came crashing down around
me when we learned that dad had died in an automobile accident on his way
home from O'Hare airport. It was a cold and snowy February night in 1970
when we were awakened by the State Trooper at our door; it was 3:07 AM.
Lisa and I peered down from the bannister at Mom and the large, uniformed
man in the living room. She remained quiet for several moments, then burst
into tears as she uncontrollably sobbed and hugged the officer, who gently
sat her down at the dining room table.  Mom began shaking, almost near shock
as Lisa and I rushed down the steps to comfort her.  Mom continued to grip
the officer's arm as he looked to Lisa, just 15 years old at the time, for
some help. 

     Without really thinking, Lisa rushed to the kithen counter where Mom
kept her cigarette case and lighter, shook loose one of Mom's Winston 100's,
and lighted it, something I had seen her do in the alley behind the church
with Veronica several times before but never in front of Mom or Dad. At the
time, it seemed appropriate as she hurriedly placed the now-lit cigarette
between Mom's fingers and Mom instinctively drew it to her mouth.  In just
moments, she had released her tight grip on the poor officer's arm, and had
stopped shaking as she took her third consecutive draw. 

     I thought for a moment that the officer was going to arrest Lisa for
lighting a cigarette at her age but instead he placed his arm on her
shoulder, in
a fatherly way, and asked if she thought she could take care of her mother
that evening.  Lisa, realizing the gravity of the situation responded, "Yes,
I think we can," as she glanced in my direction, assuring the officer that I
would help out as well.  

     As the weeks turned into months, Mom drifted further and further away
from the day-to-day concerns of a parent, and seemed to spend most of her
time sitting at the dining room table, staring distantly out the window and
chain-smoking. Lisa changed too, as she now did most of the cooking,
laundry, and cleaning around the home. She even began smoking openly in the
house.  Not that Mom would realy have noticed, or even cared, at that stage.
I knew Lisa was trying to fill in for Mom, trying to keep the home going,
day by day, as best she could, but she was just 16 years old at that time,
and the additional responsibilty was wearing thin on her.  

     One night, I knew she was still up, folding laundry, so I ventured down
the basement steps to help.  I saw her sillouette in the bright fluorescent
light of the laundry room.  She had the now-familiar Winston 100 dangling
from her mouth as she folded, just like Mom always did, taking drags and
exhaling through her nose without removing the cigarette from her lips.
That is, until the long ash was about to fall. I joined in the folding and
told her I was stressed out too, that I stayed awake late at night,
worrying, too.  I asked her what got her through the long days and even
longer nights, with Dad gone and Mom acting so distant.  She just smiled at
me, the first time in many months, and said in a sisterley way that I might
be surprised if I knew. I asked her again and she said, "Smoking, smoking
gets me through this. I know it sounds dumb but you would be surprised just
how relaxing smoking is.  Maybe that's why Mom does it so much, lately.
Maybe that's why I do, too." 

     I had been thinking about smoking a lot lately.  I knew the only time
Mom seemed to open up to Lisa was when they were enjoying coffee and
cigarettes at the dining room table.  I wanted so much to join them, but
just wasn't sure how to begin, or how awkward it might be at first, or even
if I would like smoking.  I confided in Lisa who, by now, was driving and
doing all of the marketing, including picking up cartons of cigarettes for
Mom and for herself.  She warned me, in that big-sister way, "Are you sure
you want to try it?". I nodded. "Cause once you get started, you'll want to do
it for now on.." I nodded again. She smiled reassuringly, saying, "I was
hoping you were sure.  I know you'll like smoking once you get started; I
know I do." 

     With that, Lisa lit a cigarette and gave me my first drag, instructing
me to suck it into my mouth first, then open slightly, then inhale. I will
never forget those first few drags. It was as if I had come home. As if my
body had wanted this for so long and that the smoke was what was missing,
maybe from living in a home where everyone else had smoked for so long, I
don't know. Within a week I was inhaling somewhat deeply, and felt
comfortable smoking in my bedroom. About six months had passed when I told
Lisa that I wanted Mom to know. I didn't want to sneak around anymore, but I
just didn't know how to break it to her. Lisa suggested the next time Mom
was painting her nails (something Mom seemed to do alot of lately, and she
always has Lisa light her cigarettes for her) would be a
good time.

      "Only this time" Lisa went on " I won't be there.  You will. Just get
a cigarette out, light it, take a drag, and give it to Mom. She can't help
but notice you're smoking and, if she asks or gets mad, you were just
lighting hers for her, get it?" 

     That night, like clockwork, Mom brought out her cotton balls, files,
and nail polish, and sat down in the recliner. Lisa made herself scarce,
knowing that Mom would soon be asking for a cigarette. Not five minutes into
her pedicure, she shouted for Lisa. There was no reply. Then Mom turned to
me and smiled, saying, "Becky, could you get me a cigarette please?  My case
is in on the counter."

     My heart raced as I slowly walked into the kithchen, reached for the
case and shook one loose, and then hesitated for just a moment.  Should I
light it, or just give it to Mom unlit and let her try with wet nails?  Oh,
what the hell, I thought, and flicked the lighter, bringing the flame to the
end of the long cigarette, getting an even light, something I had done a
thousand times before in the privacy of my room. Feeling somewhat proud of
myself for having had the courage to light it, I causualy walked back into
the living room in plain sight of Mom and then, in a moment, decided to take
a second drag. It was a long, deep drag this time, planned to leave no doubt
in her mind that I was smoking and not just lighting her cigarette for her. 

     I carefully placed my hand with the cigarette on top of hers, so she
could take it between her fingers without smearing the wet polish.  She
looked at me with a big grin, one I had not seen in many months, as I
exhaled the last of the long stream of smoke toward the ceiling. She said
nothing, but took a long drag from the cigarette and blew the smoke on her
wet nails to dry them.  Frustrated at the lack of response, I sat down for a
moment thinking, "she can't be that out of touch, not to know I was smoking
just then". If she knew, then her silence was a tacit approval. If she
didn't know, why not smoke in front of her, anyway?

     Without deliberating another moment, I walked back into the kitchen,
retrieved the cigarette case and sat it on the table beside the couch. Still
she did not notice. After several more minutes, I deliberately reached for
the cigarette case, took one out, and in one fluid motion, flicked the
lighter and lit the cigarette. Taking a long second drag, I expelled the
smoke with an almost audible hiss, as I had heard Lisa do when she was
especially tired and haggard from the stress of the day. I was content to
finish the cigarette without a word spoken when I decided to ask Mom when
Lisa was going to the market again.  She swiveled her chair slightly in my
direction, now looking right at me as I held my cigarette with my wrist
noticeably bent and said, "Why, honey?  Are we almost out of cigarettes?".   

     The implication was clear, she now included me, along with her and
Lisa, as a smoker! I will never forget that phrase "Are WE almost out of
cigarettes." I was about to explode inside, but managed a sedate response,
saying, "I think there are three packs left in the carton Mom, last time I
looked anyway."  Mom laughed and said, "Then we're almost out honey,
especialy if you are smoking now, too.  And it clearly looks to me like you
are smoking. When did you start, anyway?  Did Lisa get you started ,or one
of your girlfriends?". I took another, even deeper drag, now suddenly very
confident smoking in front of Mom, and told her "I had wanted to try it for
some time, and Lisa showed me how.  I've been smoking for the past six
months or so regularly, maybe a pack a day lately, mostly in my room or with
Lisa in the car, or after school with girlfriends, you know." I rambled on
as if a dam had been released, just talking and smoking, and truly enjoying
Mom's company and my new sense of myself as a smoker.  

     I took a final drag and was just about to extinguish my cigarette, when
I remembered Mom's smoking style, and took one final drag while the previous
drag's smoke was still escaping my nostrils, then crushed it out. Mom's
response was "Smoking agrees with you honey.  You definately have a sense of
style and poise when you smoke. I remember how awkward Lisa was, at first.
I had to teach her quite a bit, but you are a natural, and at just 13!  My,
my, how fast you're growing up. I'm very proud of you honey.  I have been
hoping you would start, you know, to help you get through this difficult
time, and all." 

     She then asked if I wouldn't mind lighting her another as she motioned
toward the pack on the table beside the couch.  I lit one for her, and that
was the new beginning.  This was the first heart-to-heart talk between Mom
and me since Dad died. 

     But it wasn't the last.


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