Gatekeepers, Part 1

(by, 25 January 2000)

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Gatekeepers (Part 1 of 2)
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    'You lied to me,' Kim said to Starr, looking at her with the worst of 
her sour looks. An open pack of Marlboro Lights 100s sat between them. A 
lighter rested on top of the pack and all Starr could think about was how bad 
she wanted one of those cigarettes right now.
    It was exactly what Kim was thinking as well.
    The two stared silently at one another after this obvious pronouncement.
    'If I had told you the truth, you would have reacted the same way. All 
you've ever talked about is how hard it was for you to quit, how much you 
wished you still smoked, and how disappointed you would be to find out that 
after you quit because of me that I decided to smoke anyway. It's like 
you've forgotten why you ever started smoking.'
    Kim picked up the pack of cigarettes. No, she corrected herself, she was 
picking up Starr's pack of cigarettes.
    There were only two or three missing from the pack. She could tell by how 
tight the pack felt in her hand.
    'Don't tell me I don't know what smoking is all about. I smoked a pack of
 cigarettes a day for eight years. I was just unlucky in not having parents 
who cared enough to make me stop. Grandma was happy when she found out.'
    'And let's not forget she's never forgiven you for quitting,' Starr 
added spitefully. 'And for being such a fascist about it with her around me.'
    'I did what I thought I had to do and you've invalidated fifteen years 
of me trying to be a good mother.'
    'Like you've never had a cigarette in the last fifteen years- or like 
I'm not smart enough to make an informed decision about smoking based on my 
own wants and desires.'
    Kim said nothing.
    'Come on, Mom. Be honest. Last Thursday night when you went to the office 
happy hour, you came home smelling like an ashtray. Tell me you didn't have a 
few cigarettes with Laurie and Gina and Melissa.'
    'It wasn't in front of you. Tell me why you started then, and be honest.'
    'I'll tell you if you tell me.'
    'All right,' Kim said.
    'And can I please have a cigarette, Mom ?'
    'What ?' Kim said incredulously.
    'You know you can't stop me from smoking, don't you ? '
    Kim smiled through her anger. 'There's a difference between me knowing 
you sneak around and letting you smoke in our house, right in front of me.'
    Starr got up, took the ashtray mom kept for company down from the 
cupboard, and put it down on the table.
    'I'm not trying to just be defiant. I really think that it will help you 
to understand that I actually enjoy smoking.'
    'Help you, maybe. But yes, I'd just as soon know what you're really 
doing, because I'm willing to bet I know exactly how and why you started 
    Starr took the cigarettes and lighter and lit one, able to be patient 
because this was already going much better than she had expected. Once she 
had the cigarette lit and had taken that first sweet inhale she pushed the 
pack and the lighter back to her mother. 'Now it's your turn. Go ahead. I 
won't take it to me that you approve of me smoking or that you're planning 
to come out of the closet.'
    Kim looked at the cigarettes sitting by her right hand. She hadn't had a 
cigarette in three days and she wondered what was holding her back here. It 
was that Starr was wrong. Even if her perception of Kim didn't change, the 
truth was that Kim had never smoked in front of her daughter and this would 
be an huge step- and likely one in the wrong direction.
    Failure was what Kim was afraid of.
    She picked up the pack and lit a cigarette anyway, and there was a real 
sense of liberation. She hadn't smoked inside the house in over three weeks, 
the last time she had bought a pack of cigarettes. Starr had been studying at 
Donna Morris's all night and knowing that she wasn't going to be home, she 
indulged herself with five cigarettes, then cleaned up the house so that 
Starr wouldn't know.
    Exhaling, she found herself enjoying this immensely, which was also 
frustrating at the same time.
    'It started the very first day I went over to Donna's. And you'll be 
happy to know that it was peer pressure that got me to start. It had nothing 
to do with you or Grandma or anyone else. You know Donna smokes- her parents 
let her smoke at home. We'd been studying for about forty minutes when her 
Mom came home. Donna was sitting there smoking and she walked into the living 
room and the first thing she said to me was "You're welcome to smoke, 
Starr." I told her thank you but I didn't smoke and she got this big huge 
smile on her face.'
    Kim exhaled, trimmed her ash, drew on the cigarette again. 'It's funny. 
I've asked Tammy why she lets Donna smoke and she just says '˜She's a smoker. 
Why wouldn't I let her smoke ? I'm the one who taught her how, after all.''
    Blowing smoke, Starr smiled. 'Well, she's the one who gave me my first 
cigarette too. She said "Well, you should at least try it if you're going to 
be studying with my daughter on a regular basis."  Before I could say that I 
didn't think I wanted to, she was handing me a lit cigarette. And I could 
tell right away that I was going to like it. I wanted to like it because I 
could tell that- well, this might sound stupid, but I knew that Donna and 
Mrs. Morris would like me better if I smoked. But I did like it. I started 
smoking at Donna's house, which is part of the reason why I've been studying 
at her house three of four times a week-'
    'And why you never come here to study-'
    'It is convenient that her house is like two minutes from the school, 
although I wondered if you'd really buy that explanation.'
    'Well, I was wondering, although it would be silly for you guys to come 
here and then have Donna walk twenty minutes to get home. So let me guess. 
You started smoking with Donna at lunch, and between classes, and then you 
bought your own cigarettes.'
    'And Donna and Tammy showed me how to hide the smell, and when the good 
times to sneak a cigarette are and all the rest of it, and they're like my 
two best friends. That's really cool, having an adult as a close friend. I'd 
like to feel that way about you-'
    'But to do that, I'm going to have to let you smoke.'
    They finished their cigarettes.
    'No,' Starr replied, 'but it would help.'
    'Why is smoking so important to you, honey ?'
    Starr looked longingly at the pack of cigarettes. Kim understood the 
look. She took the pack herself, extracted a cigarette, and lit it casually.
    She then passed the pack to her daughter, who lit the cigarette with the 
casual ease of a committed smoker, and Kim already knew how this was going to 
work. Instead of waiting for an answer, she walked over to the portable 
phone, picked it up, and speed dialed #3. 
    'Laurie ? Sorry to call you at home, but I need you to do me a favour 
tomorrow. When you get in, call housekeeping and have them send up an ashtray 
for my office.'
    There was a pause.
    'Yes, I'm officially out of the closet. You promised me when the time 
came, you wouldn't give me an hard time.'
    She hung up the phone, and Starr smiled.
    'You knew this time would come, didn't you ?'
    'Of course I did. Especially when you started hanging out with Donna. I 
knew that between her and Tammy, you'd start smoking, and it was just a 
matter of time.'
    'So, how did you start ?'
    Kim smiled.
    'Well, Tammy has had quite an effect on our family, let me tell you.'
    'You mean ?'
    'You know that Tammy and I grew up here in Thorton, and well, Tammy 
started smoking when she was twelve. By the time she was fourteen, her 
parents were resigned to the fact that she was going to smoke no matter what 
they did. They told her they couldn't stop her from smoking, so she might as 
well as her father put it, '˜Do whatever you fucking want to.' Exact quote.'
    'I didn't know you were friends with her, though.'
    'Well, you've might have known if I ever let you see my yearbooks.'
    'Which you didn't. And I'm starting to see why.'
    'Well, we had a "smokers club" in high school. This was the late 
seventies, remember, and the attitudes about smoking were a lot different 
back then. I didn't want you seeing that.'
    'Why ?'
    'Because senior year, I was president of the smoker's club.'
    'You're still not telling me how it was that you started, or how Tammy 
is involved.'
    'Well, I imagine that you can probably guess. Tammy was one of my best 
friends back in high school. She and I spent a lot of time together, and by 
the time I was fourteen, it already seemed like Tammy had always been a 
smoker. She started to get on me about smoking- about why I didn't smoke. Mom 
and dad smoked, most of my friends smoked. But I didn't. She just plain 
thought that was weird. So she didn't let up about it. Every day it was '˜So 
are you going to try smoking today ?' And I was getting closer and closer to 
saying yes,' Kim paused, inhaled and smiled at the pure pleasure of smoking 
in her own house. 'Tammy knew that. I didn't just roll over the first time 
like you did, but-'
    Starr blew smoke across the table, was relieved when her mother made no 
move to bat it away.
    'Like Donna wasn't on me about it. I wouldn't have said yes unless Tammy 
actually handed me a lit cigarette, Mom.'
    'Well, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt there. Do you want to hear 
my story or not ?'
    'Of course I do.'
    Kim trimmed her ash, took another long inhale, and went on. 'Well, it was 
Hallow'een. You know that Hallow'een has always been a big day at Thorton 
High- the big dance and all that. Well, we got all dressed up for Hallow'een, 
so I had my costume and rather than go all the way home, I just went back to 
Tammy's house to hang out, talk about boys, and get all fucking nervous for 
the dance. We had about five hours to kill and well, you can imagine that 
Tammy saw that time as a great chance to get me started.'
    'Anyway, about seven o'clock she had an idea. She can be such a devil 
sometimes. She handed me her cigarettes and lighter and said "If you don't 
smoke a cigarette right now, I'm not going to the dance tonight." I was 
crushed. She was supposed to set me up with Donnie Alcor-'
    'The guy who owns the liquor store ?'
    'Yeah. She'd dated Donnie fore a few weeks over the summer, if you can 
call what fourteen year olds did back then dating- holding hands, a little 
kissing, you know, no condoms required.'
    'Mom !'
    'Well, I know things haven't changed that much, but it's nice to 
pretend. I'm standing there, holding my destiny in my hands. That may sound 
ridiculous, but I knew that starting to smoke was going to be a major 
decision. And if I didn't, I was never going to get anywhere with Donnie. He 
was a junior, so the only way he was going to know I existed was if Tammy 
helped me out.'
    'Mom, I can't believe that as gorgeous as you are, anyone could have 
been unaware that you existed. Come on.'

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