Marlboro Country, Part 6: Terri

(by mssmoker@hotmail.com, 24 July 2003)


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Marlboro Country, Part 6:  Terri


"Hold this a sec, would you?"  Robin held out her cigarette for Terri as she 
ran back inside the store.

Terri stood there, stupidly holding the lit and burning cigarette, with no 
idea what to do with it.  All she could think was that if her mother caught 
her even holding it, she'd absolutely kill her.

She and Robin had become good friends since both started working at the 
Broadway Variety store, although they'd never been friends in all the years 
they went to the same schools, and even lived a block apart from each other. 
Truth was, Terri was a bit intimidated by Robin.  The fact that she was 
smoking even before junior high probably had something to do with it, she 
had to admit.

Her mother was one of the most avid and rabid anti-smokers on the planet.  
Years of that had rubbed off on Terri, so she'd never even considered taking 
a puff, not even once.

And yet, here she stood, cigarette in hand.

At first, she held it awkwardly, pinched between her forefinger and thumb.  
Feeling pretty stupid, she moved it to between her first two fingers, just 
as she'd watched Robin do many times.

Terri had often wondered why Robin smoked, but she never actually dared ask 
her.  Truth was, part of her was curious about what the attraction to 
smoking was.  Probably part of that, at least, was due to it being so 
ardently forbidden by her mother.

She stared, transfixed, at the cigarette still burning in her hands.  Robin 
had barely lit it before having to go back into the store to buy another 
pack of cigarettes, so it hadn't burned down all that much.  It wouldn't 
really be any big deal, Terri though, if I tried a puff, would it?  It's 
already in my hand, after all.  Who would know?

Slowly, slowly...she lifted her hand.  She stared at the cigarette, smoke 
slowly drifting into the wind, the black ash slowly burning its way down the 
white paper tube, to the brownish cork-like filter.  She could even make out 
the word Marlboro written on it.

Just a little farther....

"Terri?  Terri!  What the hell are you doing with a cigarette!"

Yep.  It was her mother.

She dropped it in surprise, but, of course, the damage had already been 
done.

"Are you out of your mind!  Smoking!"

"But, mom...." she started.  Then she saw Robin coming out of the store, and 
face her mother.

"It wasn't hers, it was my cigarette. She wasn't smoking it, only holding it 
for me."

"I don't care whose coffin nail it was, my daughter knows better.  Which is 
more, obviously, than I can say for you."

"Now wait just a minute...."

"What is your name?  I'm sure your mother would like to know what you are 
doing, imagine, smoking at your age!"

"My mother already knows, not that it's any of your business." Oh god, Terri 
thought...this is all I need.

"Then I bet she's very proud, raising an addict."

"Mom, please...."

Terri's mother turned her attention back to her daughter, "You just march 
home, right now, I have some choice words for you, young lady."

Terri glanced back to Robin as she left, and mouthed, "Sorry."

*****

Her mother's tirade seemed to go on for hours.  After a while, Terri just 
tuned her out...she kept repeating herself anyway.  Apparently, one single 
puff of a cigarette caused lung cancer immediately, every single time.  
There was no arguing with her of course, because "I'm a nurse, I know these 
things."

Terri tried a couple of times telling her it wasn't her cigarette, that she 
hadn't even taken a single puff but her mother wasn't listening.  After a 
while, she gave up.

Once or twice, she noticed her little sister Katie peeking around down the 
hallway into the kitchen.  No doubt she was watching Terri being yelled at 
with glee.  Terri and her sister hadn't gotten along much the last couple of 
years, ever since Terri had started high school.  It just wasn't cool to 
have your little sister tag along everywhere you went when you were a 
teenager, with teenage friends trying to be cool.  After a while, Katie got 
the message and started hanging out with her own friends, but things were 
never the same after that.  Besides, Katie had turned into quite the 
brown-noser, doing the laundry without being asked and the like.

"Okay, then," her mother said, winding down, "you're grounded for a month.  
And, believe you me, I'll be keeping an eye on you!  And no more working at 
that store, not with that girl there."

She stormed out of the kitchen, barely missing colliding with Katie in the 
hallway.  Katie looked at her sister, a smile on her face.  "Mom caught you 
smoking, huh?"

The last thing Terri needed was her little sister gloating.  Without saying 
a word, she went right to her room and slammed the door behind her.

*****

The next month went by interminably slow.  Terri was expected home 
immediately after school, and if she was even five minutes late, her mother 
inspected her breath for telltale cigarette smoke odor.  Needless to say, 
she was absolutely forbidden to see Robin any more, outside of class.

All for something I never even did, Terri told herself, often.

But, eventually, the month did end, and her mother did seem to relax a 
little toward the end of it.  On the last day, Terri's mother appeared at 
her door (she wasn't allowed to have it closed any more, not even at night 
when she slept), came in and sat on the end of her bed.

"I know you think I've been overly hard on you this past month, but I hope 
you realize I'm only doing it for your own good."

"I know, Mom."

"Your Aunt Claire started smoking around your age, you know.  And she hasn't 
been able to quit in thirty years."

Aunt Claire was Terri's mother's identical twin sister.  It did lend a 
surreal note to holidays, seeing what looked like her mother smoking 
cigarette after cigarette after Thanksgiving dinner.

"I just don't want you to fall into that trap, Terri."

"I know, Mom."

"Okay, so your grounding is over.  Now, I have to start working the 
overnight shift at the hospital for a couple of weeks.  I hope I can trust 
you to keep an eye on your sister while I'm at work.  If there's an 
emergency, the number to the hospital's on the fridge."

Her mother got up to leave, but turned just as she got to the door.

"Oh, and just so you know, your sister has promised to let me know if you 
sneak out for a cigarette."

Figures, Terri thought.

*****

On the first night of her mother's overnight shift, Terri and Katie were 
watching TV as their mother got ready. She kissed them both, and left.  
After a few minutes, Katie got up and made her way to the window, the one 
facing the front of their building.

"There's Mom," she reported, "crossing the street to the bus stop."

Great, Terri thought, I'm getting a full report from The Snitch.

A few minutes later, she heard the loud sound of the bus going past.  Katie 
shifted position to watch it go down the street. When it was out of sight, 
she looked to Terri, winked, and motioned for her to follow.  Terri followed 
her sister out to the kitchen and out the back door onto the deck.  Spring 
had come since Terri's grounding had begun, and the weather was pretty warm.

The deck faced the back yard of their building.  There were enough trees 
around that the couldn't be seen clearly from the back streets behind them, 
and the other building behind them didn't have any balconies in the back, 
only the front, so it was fairly private.   Not enough to sunbathe or 
anything, but enough that Terri didn't feel on display.

She wondered what Katie wanted to show her out there.  She looked down to 
the street, through the building to the side, and didn't see anyone out 
there at all.  Then she turned as, behind her, she heard a faint "flick" 
sound.

What she saw when she turned around to face her sister she just couldn't 
believe.  There Katie was, lighting a cigarette!

"What the hell are you doing?" she whispered, as if her mother were just 
inside.

"When you were busted for smoking, I couldn't believe it.  I thought I was 
the only one!  It was so cool to know you smoked too!"

Terri started to protest, but was stunned to see her little sister smoking a 
cigarette.  Unlike Robin's Marlboros, Katie's cigarette was all white, and 
longer.  She held it to her mouth and her cheeks hollowed as she drew on it. 
  A little of the smoke trailed out her nose as she exhaled into the wind.

"But-" Terri started, "how long?"

"I started about a year ago," Katie said, smoke punctuating her words as she 
talked.  "my friend Lynn's older sister smokes and she gets cigarettes from 
her sometimes.  Here," she said, holding out the smoldering Marlboro Light 
100, "have a drag."

Terri was transfixed.  It was just too much, the last thing she had 
expected.  Before she could reach out and take one, though, a voice coming 
from the kitchen startled her.

"Forgot my ID badge, of all things," her mother's voice said, "can't get 
into the hospital at night without it."

Katie looked stricken, frozen in place.  The cigarette in her hand glowed 
red in the darkness.  For a fraction of a second, Terri realized that this 
time, it would be Katie who would be grounded for a month.

But, inexplicably, as her mother turned in their direction, Terri reached 
over and took the cigarette from her sister's hand.  Just as her mother 
turned and saw them outside.

"Terri!  My god, I haven't been gone ten minutes and already you're smoking 
again!"  The fury on her face was the worst Terri had ever seen.  She came 
out and grabbed the cigarette from Terri's hand and made a point to take it 
to the bathroom and flush it down the toilet.

She called in sick to work, and spent the rest of the night yelling at Terri 
all over again.  Terri let it wash over her, amazed at the irony.  Here she 
was, getting her second lecture on smoking, and she still hadn't had a 
single puff herself.

Katie was hovering around the kitchen, staying out of the way of their 
mother's wrath.  Terri noticed her starting to say something once, but their 
mother just told her to go to her room and mind her own business.  Silently, 
she mouthed "thank you" to her sister and retreated.

Terri wasn't exactly sure why she'd taken the blame for Katie.  Maybe it was 
a big sister protecting her little sister instinct, or maybe she just didn't 
want her mother to think both of her daughters were smokers.  Or maybe, 
partly, she had hoped to take a puff on the cigarette in the split second 
remaining, to see exactly what it was she had been punished for in the first 
place.

It had been a faint thought, in the back of her head, all during her last 
punishment.  Part of her was still curious; from the first second Robin had 
told her to hold her cigarette for her, about what the appeal of smoking 
was.  But now, as she was blamed for it the second time, she didn't think 
she'd ever get the chance.

*****

This time, she was grounded for three months, and the scrutiny was, if 
anything, more.  If Terri though she was under the microscope before, it 
seemed like a vacation compared to the next three months.  This grounding 
took up most of the summer, which made it worse of course, and even a bit 
into the start of her senior year in high school.  It was also Katie's 
freshman year, so they walked to school together, and often found their 
mother at the school at the end of the day to walk them home.

The funny thing was, the more her mother punished her, the more Terri 
actually wanted to try smoking anyway.  She figured, I may as well do what 
I'm already being punished for.  But, of course, she just didn't have the 
opportunity.

One day, she had spent lunch talking to Robin and walked with her as she 
made her way out to the smoking area.  Terri dared not actually follow her 
out, as her mother would definitely smell the smoke on her when she went 
home.  But she lingered at the window and watched her friend take out the 
red pack of Marlboros, light up, and blow the smoke into the air.  She 
couldn't help but wonder what they tasted like, what the smoke felt like in 
her mouth.

As her eyes moved among the students outside enjoying their smokes, she 
noticed, off to the side, her sister Katie.  Ever since Katie had revealed 
she'd been smoking, Terri wondered how she'd gotten away with it.  Granted, 
partly it was because so much focus was on Terri that her mother didn't 
inspect her sister as much, but she'd been getting away with it a lot longer 
than that.

On the way home (it was a day their mother worked late, so she wasn't there 
when the left school), Terri asked her.  Katie laughed.  "It's not that 
tough, since Mom never expected it.  She did get a little more paranoid when 
she first caught you, but there are ways around that."

"Like what?"

"Well, first of all, have a life saver."  She handed Terri a roll about 
3/4ths finished.  "I suck these down all day, so my breath doesn't smell.  
Also, I make sure to wash my hands with soap before I leave, so the smell 
doesn't linger."

"But, what about your clothes?"

"Why do you think I volunteered to do the laundry?"  She smiled.

Terri smiled back, "I wondered about that.  I figured you were just sucking 
up."

"Nah, just playing mom.  Also, I keep a change of clothes in my locker so I 
can change at the end of the day on the days when she's off early and meets 
us here."

"But where do you hide the packs, in your book bag?"

"Nah, she looks in there sometimes."  She stopped and pulled her pant leg up 
a bit, revealing her socks, with a slight bulge in one of them.  "I keep 
them here," she said, pulling the pack of Marlboro light 100s from inside 
her sock, "and keep them under my bras in the drawer, where mom never 
checks."

"You're good at this," Terri said, with newfound respect for her little 
sister.

Katie beamed, "Thanks.  I'm really sorry you got caught.  I thought about 
going in and telling Mom it was my cigarette, to get you off the hook."

"Nah, it's okay.  I can handle it."

After hearing what Katie had done, and the lengths she had gone to smoke 
over the past year, and an idea was forming in her mind.  All she had to do 
was wait out this punishment.

*****

Her punishment finally ended, again, just a few days before her birthday.  
Robin had offered to throw a party for her, but Terri didn't think it was a 
good idea, given her mother's attitude toward Robin.  She settled for a 
birthday dinner at a restaurant with the family.

Just a few weeks later came Thanksgiving, the day she'd been looking forward 
to.  As per usual, dinner was at her Uncle Jack's house, with all the 
family.  Including Aunt Claire.  After dinner, as was the usual custom, most 
people left the table and retreated to the living room for football or other 
rooms to catch up.  But the really interesting conversations, Terri felt, 
happened at the dinner table after it was cleared away.

After dinner, the only ones who remained at the dinner table were the few 
remaining relatives who either still smoked, or didn't mind being around it, 
who would discuss the juiciest gossip of all.  Terri had heard bits and 
pieces of it in past years, but had never been allowed to hang around long, 
since her mother didn't like her being around the smoke.

But, this year was going to be different.

After the dishes were cleared away and the ashtrays brought out, Terri's 
mother was leaving the room and turned to notice Terri still seated at the 
table.  "Come on, Terri, you don't want to be here now."

"Actually, Mom," she said, a little nervous despite her resolve, "I do."

"Terri," her mother said, her voice a warning.

"Mom,  I'm 18 now, and legally, I can smoke if I want to."  She took out a 
pack of Marlboros that Robin had given her, and opened it.  "And I want to."

"Theresa Lynn," her mother started, using her full name to show just how 
displeased she was, "I thought we'd been through this."

"We have," Terri said, holding the cigarette in her hand, "and I obeyed your 
punishments.  But I'm 18 now, and can make my own decisions.  And I have 
decided that, despite your obvious objections, I wish to smoke."

She put the cigarette in her mouth, and lit it.  She drew on it very 
carefully, the last thing she wanted to do was cough in front of her mother. 
  She noticed surprised looks on the faces of the other relatives, but what 
also lent her strength was a smile and look of approval on her Aunt Claire's 
face.

Odd, being that it was a mirror image of her mother's face, currently 
frowning with disapproval.  Not saying another word, but her attitude 
promising more to come, Terri's mother turned and left the room.  Katie gave 
her a thumbs up, and followed her.  Now wasn't her time to take a stand, but 
Terri knew it would be some day.

"Good for you," Aunt Claire said, a cigarette in her own hand, "I admire you 
for standing up to her.  Your mother can be a real Nazi sometimes."  The 
rest of her relatives smiled and nodded in agreement. At one time or 
another, they'd all felt the sharpness of Terri's mother's tongue.

Carefully, deliberately, Terri took the cigarette in her hand and moved it 
to her mouth.  The first time had been mostly for the effect, she'd been 
paying more attention to her mother's reaction, but this time, she 
concentrated on the act of smoking itself.  She put the cigarette to her 
lips and drew in the smoke slowly, carefully. She savored the taste of it, 
sweeter than she imagined it would be, and let it out just as slowly, 
feeling it around her mouth.  Part of her was worried that, after taking 
such a stand, she wouldn't even like it-but that worry was gone now.

She drew more smoke in, and blew it out in a thin column toward the ceiling, 
marveling at the fact that it was coming from her mouth.

"Your mother wasn't always like this," Aunt Claire was saying, "she actually 
used to smoke herself, you know."

"No!"  Terri almost choked on her cigarette.

"Yes, true.  She actually started before I did, I caught her smoking out 
back and she got me to agree not to tattle by letting me smoke with her.  We 
were both like chimneys back then."  Aunt Claire blew a few smoke rings and 
smiled.

"Then how did she become such a non-smoking nazi?"  Terri asked.

"Your father," Aunt Claire said.  "He was a militant non-smoker and she was 
in love with him, so she quit.  Never even told him she had smoked in the 
first place, in fact, and I think she's rewritten history so much that she 
actually believes she never did smoke herself."

That did explain a few things, Terri thought.  And the fact that Terri's 
father died of cancer a while back didn't help. Even though he had stomach 
cancer, not lung.

She finished the first cigarette and quickly drew out another, lighting it 
immediately.  She listened to the gossip around her, and savored the 
cigarettes. She knew it would be tough dealing with her mother for a while, 
and she knew her mother would still be on her to quit, and no doubt there 
would be rules to follow, but she was 18 now, and her mother could only do 
so much.

And besides, by this time next year she would be away to college somewhere, 
and on her own.  She'd be free to smoke to her heart's content.

She drew on the Marlboro and glanced over to the mirror over the mantle, and 
watched herself blowing the smoke out. She even tried a smoke ring or two, 
but knew she would have to practice that a little more.  But, she admitted, 
she liked what she saw.


Story continued in Marlboro Country part 7: Katie.


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