Claire, Part 1

(by, 16 August 1997)

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I glanced up from my newspaper and looked across the room from my position
in my favorite chair in the corner. The chair was the one leftover from my
bachelor days and it represented the one argument I managed to win over my
wife when Judy decided to redecorate the family room. She wanted to send it
to the dump, saying it was filthy, smelled like stale beer and old dogs, a
disgrace. It just didn't fit into things any more but I insisted it remain
-- you need some ties to remind you of the past, I argued. She finally gave
up when I conceded enough to let her hide the old upholstery with a
slipcover, but I was the only person who ever sat in it. It was the one
thing that I could say was truly mine, and no one else really wanted it
anyway. Someday, when we managed to scrape together enough money to add on
to the house, it would go into the games room that I had planned for years,
a place where I could hang out with my buddies, a male hideout. But for
now, it alone would have to do. Sort of a virtual sanctuary.

I had been distracted from my reading by a noise coming from the vicinity
of the sofa. It was a familiar noise, yet my mind told me subconsciously
that it was out of place. It was the sound of a Bic lighter being used, and
I had heard it thousands of times before. But the only one who had ever
caused that sound to be heard in this house was Judy, and she only smoked
in the family room after the kids went to sleep, not in the middle of the
afternoon. When I saw Claire sitting on the sofa lighting a cigarette my
mind took a moment to adjust to the situation. There was a instinctive
impulse for a split-second to scold her. "That's my baby! She shouldn't
smoke! What's going on here?!?" the parental part of my brain screamed
before short-term memory took over and I was reminded of events that
occurred a while back. I hoped it wouldn't be too long before the circuits
in my head connected and I that I wouldn't have these conflicting thoughts
every time I saw Claire smoke. It was just too distracting, and I knew I
had better get used to it. 

I watched her out of the corner of my eye as she lit up. It just looked so
strange to me, and yet somehow it seemed totally normal at the same time.
Claire's cheeks hollowed as she drew a puff of smoke into her mouth, the
action accentuating her high cheekbones even more. I continued to observe
her as she gracefully removed the cigarette from between her lips, opened
her mouth slightly and inhaled as she leaned back on the sofa, returning to
her magazine. After a few moments she raised her chin slightly and slowly
exhaled a stream of smoke from both her mouth and nose. She looked totally
comfortable smoking, as if she had been doing it for years. But then, that
was always the way Claire appeared when she did anything. Judy and I had
always said that when Claire was 6 she was going on 16, and now at 14 she
was more like 21 than most 21-year-olds. 

Claire had always been the most amazing child -- although she had acted
like a child for only a short time, it seemed. Once she learned to read and
was exposed to adult role models, she almost immediately started to emulate
them and acted more like a small adult than a child. When she was younger
she almost never behaved in a childish way, and maintained a measure of
reserve when most kids her age would be throwing tantrums. She loved being
stimulated mentally and would always rather read a book than play with toys
like most of her friends back then, and she seemed to prefer the company of
adults rather than her peers. That eventually manifested itself into grades
in school that almost every year were at the top of her class. But the most
amazing thing about Claire was the air of dignity that always seemed to
surround her, even when she was a small child. She always maintained her
cool, projecting a sense of control regardless of what she was doing, even
if it was new to her. Over the last year or two she had started to mature
physically and had become a remarkable looking young lady, tall, still thin
but with a few soft curves beginning to appear, and her blonde hair being
usually pulled back tight over her head into a short ponytail at the back
of her neck. On the times lately when she put on a little makeup she was
absolutely stunning, and she not only acted 21, she looked pretty close to
it too. In fact, side-by-side with her sister Jennifer, who was 2 years
older, most people would think Claire was the older of the two. She had no
particular interest in modelling, but I'm sure she could if she wanted to.
She just has that look. 

So, I know you're wondering, how did it come to be that such a remarkable
14-year-old would take up smoking in the first place, much less be allowed
to do it openly? To explain that, I guess I need to tell you first about
our family, and then maybe it will make some sense. To be honest, I'm still
trying to figure out how it happened myself. Claire was the last person I
would ever have thought would become a smoker. Well, maybe the second-last.
The first would be her mom.

I met Judy just after I graduated from university. I think one of the
reasons I first noticed her was the same elegant way she carried herself
that I described in Claire earlier. There's no doubt that Claire is very
much her mother's daughter in that respect. Judy was (and still is) a very
attractive lady, and while both of our daughters resemble their mom more
than me, only Jennifer inherited her dark-brown hair. Claire's blonde locks
come from my side of the family. Judy was the youngest of 4 daughters in
her family, and when I met her I was attracted to her immediately. It
wasn't just the way she looked that caused that, although that was what
started it. Once I talked to her I realized that she was a genuine person,
and the more I got to know her the more I was attracted to her. At the time
she had just begun working for Southern Trust in their investments
department, a wise career choice as it turned out. Unlike most of the girls
I had met previously, she was really the first one that I felt truly
comfortable with, almost like we had known each other all our lives. I
think I realized I was in love with her after maybe our second date. I had
never felt such a feeling of contentment before and I remember thinking
about spending the rest of my life with her after I got home after that
night. Foolish, I know, but I was only 22. 

Of course, there was plenty that I didn't know about her at that point. One
of those things was revealed to me the next time we went out and had
dinner. After we ate and had sat around for a few minutes chatting over
coffee, Judy pulled out a pack of cigarettes. I had no idea that she smoked
since she had never done so in my presence previously, nor had she smelled
of smoke. Of course, we had only been out twice before. I guess she figured
it was time for me to know if we were going to be spending time together. I
didn't smoke myself, nor did anyone else in my family. I didn't really have
any strong feelings against it, but it was just something we didn't do. 

"Frank, would it bother you if I smoked?," she asked me. She smiled shyly
and raised the pack of cigarettes for me to see. I wasn't much of an expert
on brands but I was able to see that they were Parliament 100s. I must have
looked slightly flabbergasted, because before I could answer, Judy
continued with her explanation. "I suppose I should have told you sooner.
I'm sorry, but I guess I was afraid you might be turned off if you knew I
smoked," she said. "Everyone in my family smokes, and I'm no exception. I
hope you don't mind," she smiled.

"No, I guess not," I finally answered. "Go right ahead. I'm sorry if I
seemed a little surprised. I just never figured you for a smoker." To tell
the truth I had always thought of girls who smoked in an unfavorable way --
sort of coarse, unattractive, maybe even slightly slutty. None of these
described Judy, or at least the Judy I thought I knew. I began to
reconsider my opinion of her based on my preconceptions as I watched her
slide one of her long cigarettes out of the pack and hold it between her
fingertips as she brought it to her lips. In a flash, she ignited it with
her disposable lighter and blew out a quick puff, away from me.

"That's what almost everyone says about me when they find out I smoke," she
smiled. "I don't know why that is. I guess I just don't look like someone
who should smoke, for some reason. Why, even when I told daddy about it a
few years ago, he said something to the effect that he thought I might be
the exception in the family and be the one who would never smoke. I guess
it's a burden I'll just have to carry as long as I do this," she
complained. She moved her cigarette to her mouth and I watched as she drew
on it. After a couple of seconds she removed it from her lips and breathed
in. She blinked as she inhaled and I could hear the sound of her intake of
smoke and air as she drew it in. Finally she turned slightly to one side
and blew out a long narrow stream of smoke. 

"How long have you smoked?," I asked as I watched this display. My feelings
were still slightly confused, but I found her smoking not to be the
turn-off that I had first feared.

"Oh, ever since I got out of junior high school," she answered. "My sister
Christine convinced me that once I got to high school I would need to know
how to smoke. Sounds silly, I know, but it seemed important at the time. I
let her show me and I gradually took it up over that summer. No one seemed
to mind when they found out. Chris is two years older than me. Her and I
are pretty good friends and she had been smoking for a couple of years
herself at that point. She said it made a big difference when she went into
high school in terms of meeting guys and so on, so I finally decided to let
her show me how. I really didn't like it very much at first, but I acquired
a taste for it pretty quickly. Since everyone in our house smoked I suppose
I was already kind of used to it. It was almost expected of me, I guess,"
she laughed. 

Judy took another puff on her cigarette. I was finding the contrast between
this lovely young lady and the fact that she smoked to be fascinating. It
added a little bit of spice to the sweet image I had formed of her, and I
realized that I not only didn't mind her smoking, but that maybe it added
to the attraction I felt towards her. But needing to know more before I
reached a conclusion, I asked, "So why didn't you smoke when we were out
before? I don't understand."

She exhaled as best she could before answering. "Well, like I said, I
wasn't sure you'd approve," she said softly, thin puffs of smoke
punctuating her words. "I don't smoke all that much so it's no big deal for
me to go without for a few hours. I don't think I'm addicted to them or
anything, and I know that I'll give it up some day. But for now I just like
to smoke, and if we're going to continue to see each other you needed to
know." She smiled almost shyly as she tapped ash from her cigarette into
the ashtray before raising her arm to hold the it near the side of her
face. There was nothing coarse or unladylike in her smoking, I realized. If
anything, it complemented her appearance. An occasional cigarette for her,
I concluded, might make our relationship even more interesting.  

We continued to see each other with increasing frequency over the next few
months. Judy was truthful in her assessment of her smoking habit, seldom
smoking more than a half-pack a day. This was in sharp contrast to the rest
of her family as I got to meet them during this time. They all smoked, most
of them incessantly it seemed. Until I got used to it I found it
uncomfortable visiting her parent's home due to all of the smoke,
especially when any of her sisters were visiting. When I dropped by after
Christmas to see Judy and her family, the whole house was filled with smoke
from all of the family members who were also visiting  and my eyes stung
for a while. Even though it was cool I had to go out on the deck for a
while to get some air when the smoke got to be too much for me. What a
contrast to my family home!

Still, despite all that, I generally enjoyed Judy's family. Her sisters
were all spaced 2 years apart, with Christine closest in age to her, then
Beth, and finally the eldest, Jackie. It was obvious to anyone that saw
them together that they were sisters. All shared the same dark brown hair
as their mom, and they were all slim, good-looking, and generally easy to
get along with, though Judy still was the neatest of them all in my book.
Their mom, Gail, shared the family look and it was apparent that the girls
took after her. If Judy looked at all like her mom at her age there would
be no hardship in spending the rest of my life with her, I figured. Judy's
dad, Ross, must have been quite the fellow to be able to live in a house
with 5 women, I thought to myself. Maybe that explained his wry sense of
humor, and I liked him right away. More importantly, he seemed to like me

Things between us progressed over the next year or so, and when I finally
got the courage to propose to Judy and she accepted immediately I wondered
why it had taken me so long. We talked about children and the future
beforehand, so it probably wasn't a total surprise to her when I finally
popped the question. Our parents were both pretty pleased, I think. My
folks liked Judy too. We had been going out for months when mom finally
decided to give me the third degree about her one day. I guess she
suspected what might be in the cards. Mom was surprised when I made a
comment about how "even though she smokes...". Whenever Judy had visited
our home she had never smoked, so that was a total shock to mom. Unlike me,
mom had a thing about smoking, and she hated it. I reassured her that Judy
had told me that she planned to quit as soon as she moved away from home,
and that seemed to satisfy her.

Judy had in fact said that, but after we were married she never followed
through on it. Not that mom ever missed a chance to remind her whenever she
visited us. It wasn't a big issue for me one way or the other so I never
pressed the point. And since Judy still never smoked all that much, but
obviously enjoyed it when she did, I never saw any reason to insist. When
she became pregnant with Jennifer, she did quit almost as soon as she found
out she was expecting. I figured that would be the end of it, but about a
month after Jen was born Judy confessed to me that she had begun smoking
again when she would visit her sisters, and before long she started smoking
again on her own and gradually built back up to her regular daily habit.
The same thing happened two years later when she became pregnant with
Claire, only this time it took her two months to succumb to the influence
of her sisters. But one day I noticed a pack of Kool 100s in her purse, and
she confessed guiltily that Jackie had given them to her after Judy had
spent the day at  her place and decided to have a few cigarettes with her.
It seemed to me that she really did try to give it up that time, and she
was quite unhappy with herself for a while when she started puffing away
again even though it was only a few each day at first. But within a day of
finishing the pack of Kools, she started buying her Parliament 100s again
and she has never once tried to quit since then. I think she just enjoys it
too much now to stop. That, plus the stress of her job. Since then she's
gradually let her habit grow to the point where she's been smoking a little
over a pack a day for the last 8 or 9 years. I can't imagine her ever
giving it up now. After all, she's been smoking for about 25 years and the
habit is so ingrained that I guess she would have a very hard time

Judy was always very careful not to smoke around the kids when they were
younger. She didn't think it was a good thing in general, plus she didn't
want to set a bad example. It wasn't a secret or anything -- once they got
older they knew she smoked, and they would see her smoke when we were
outside and observed her cigarettes around the house -- but generally she
tried to shield them from it as much as possible. Her sisters and her
parents were never quite so accommodating. Whenever they would visit they
would all smoke in front of the kids. Same with her mom and dad. Since all
of them were much heavier smokers than Judy I suppose it was too much to
expect them not to smoke all day long. Whenever they were around it would
be the one time that Judy would smoke in front of the girls also. She
always seemed to smoke more in the company of her family. On holidays
whenever both sides of our family got together somewhere, Judy's relatives
would always end up in one room and mine in another. One would be the
smoking room, the other nonsmoking. Judy and I had to go back and forth
between the two. It wasn't that the two families didn't get along, but
rather that the smokers had to be kept away from the nonsmokers. Too bad,
and I always regretted that, but it's just the way it was. 

The last couple of years, ever since she's been smoking more, she's been a
little less careful around the girls. But the flip side of it is that she's
not around them all that much anyway. She's now an executive at Southern,
and they work her pretty hard. Too hard for my taste, but what can I do?
I've talked to her about it, but she seems to think she needs to put in
those hours to maintain her standing in the company. Like a lot of
companies, they've been through some mergers and downsizing, and a lot of
the folks there are running scared. So 70-hour weeks aren't uncommon at
times, and I know she feels guilty about the fact she can't spend the kind
of time she'd like with the girls. And I think she blames it, along with
her own smoking, for Claire's starting to smoke herself.  

Jennifer may have tried smoking a time or two, I really don't know. I'm
pretty sure that she doesn't smoke right now. I don't know how long that
might last though. I've noticed her watching her sister quite attentively
ever since Claire began smoking around the house, and Judy says she has
been peppering her with questions about it lately. I guess it's only
natural when your kid sister is doing something you don't, to be a little
curious and want to do it yourself. So it wouldn't surprise me if I hear
one day soon that Jen has started smoking too. I assume Judy is feeling bad
enough already over Claire's smoking, so if Jen starts I imagine that will
bring on a whole new case of the guilts. But it really isn't her fault, it
seems to me. 

I don't know exactly when it all started with Claire. It could have been
ages ago. Since Judy and I both work all day, when they were younger our
girls would stay at their Aunt Jackie's house until we picked them up on
the way home. Once Jen got into junior high and changed schools, it was no
longer so convenient for her to travel all the way back across the
neighborhood to Jackie's house, and since she was 14 and reasonably
responsible we figured she could just go back to our place and stay there
on her own. But we wanted Claire to remain at Jackie's for a couple more
years, just to be safe. We just weren't comfortable leaving a 12 and a
14-year-old together without any adult supervision each day. 

So when Claire would get out of school she would head over to Jackie's
place. Since her sister wasn't there any more to entertain her, she spent
more time with Jackie. That was fine with her, since she liked her aunt and
always preferred adults anyway. Jackie would keep her occupied for 2 or 3
hours until one of us came by on the way home from work to pick her up.
Claire would use this time to do her homework and if there was none, she
would generally help Jackie with her chores, help her get dinner ready for
her family, or the two of them would just hang out together. Neither of
them was much for watching the afternoon soaps. Anyway, I'm led to believe
that shortly after the start of the school year, Claire tried smoking for
the first time one afternoon at Jackie's house. Jackie could probably tell
you better exactly how that happened.

End of Part 1

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