The Esrever Psychology

(by, 24 August 1997)

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The Esrever Psychology

   When the phone rang, Teresa knew it was Joyce.
   "Terry ?"
   Teresa had no choice but to hate Joyce. That she called her Terry and her
ex-husband William Bill made it easier.
   "We're getting Melissa ready to come over for the week, and there's
something we wanted to talk to you about."
   Teresa frowned. William was certainly not on the phone right now. In fact,
he wasn't even in the country, which made Joyce's spurious use of the word we
annoying. But typical. Teresa knew that jealousy was a component of that-
many of 'their' decisions started out as strictly Joyce's, something Teresa
had rarely managed in their eleven years of marriage.
   "What would that be, Joyce ? Fashion pointers ?"
   "This is serious, Terry."
   Of course it was. Everything with Joyce was serious. 
   "I'm listening."
   "Melissa came to us recently and asked us if it would be all right if she
started smoking. We thought about that long and hard and finally, we decided
to allow it. I want you to know that it wasn't an easy decision, and-"
   There was a brief hesitation. Teresa, a clinical psychologist, called it
Joyce's 'lie avoidance hitch'. Not that she would actually avoid the lie. She
never did. But she tried to, which was what caused the pause.
   "-we would have involved you in the decision if we could have, but that just
wasn't practical. It was so hard for just the two of us to come to terms with
Melissa's request that we didn't think adding a third person to the mix would
solve anything."
   "Well, Joyce, how do I figure into this then ?"
   "We'd prefer you honoured our wishes about this- which means that we'd
really appreciate it if you would let her smoke while she's staying with
   There were times, like now, when Teresa regretted not having gone into the
legal arena to hash out the custody arrangements. She'd had the money for it,
but the surety that she would be fighting an uphill battle as a single parent
had swayed her into accepting a one week a month arrangement. It was an easy
enough way to do things, what with William and Joyce living just ten miles
   But there were times when she regretted giving up anything more than token
input into the way Melissa was raised.
   Still, there was nothing she could do about it.
   "It's a strange request, Joyce. She is only fifteen."
   "Nevertheless, if you could see your way clear on this, it would make all
three of us happier."
   Teresa didn't ask which three people that was.
   "I guess that I can do that."
   But she wasn't really so sure.

   The basement was rarely visited these days, except for the obligatory
washing and drying of clothes. Teresa had long ago decided that as a
self-employed provider, she didn't need to dress to success. The dry-clean
only part of her wardrobe was sent to the mothballs, and some days she met
her patients in her jogging suit and beat-up Reeboks.
   They hardly seemed to notice. Steveston, Maine was such a normal place that
66 Exeter Street was always busy, yet hardly anyone knew except Teresa and
her receptionist. It was Maine, after all, not the sort of place where people
crowed about their therapy to anyone who would listen	. People actually
stopped coming to sessions after they'd been helped. It was refreshing, even
   But Teresa wasn't doing a wash right now. Melissa would be dropped off in
half an hour or so- neither Joyce nor William would get out of the car- and
she needed to add something to the house.
   The ashtrays had been boxed up and placed in the mustiest corner of the old
basement. Joyce, after all, had plenty of her own, and she'd drawn a pretty
strict line about not wanting William to cart anything but his clothes into
her palatial estate.
   As if.
   Bill had always been a smoker. When she'd met him he was nineteen, a dashing
young sophomore with a quick wit and a tight, pert ass. He was already into
cigars by then, mixing two or three a day with half a pack of cigarettes. She
hadn't minded. In fact, after a while she accepted it as an important part of
his personality. But despite his efforts, he'd never been able to bring her
into the fold. There had been one or two experimental attempts and a little
after-dinner thing she'd sucessfully forgotten, but except for generating
better than usual sex afterwards, she concluded that hadn't gotten much out
of it and finally he'd given up trying.
   She didn't doubt the fact that Joyce was a smoker had played a part in the
way their lives had unfolded. There'd been a brief interval when he'd been
truly torn between his ex and his wife, and Teresa was certain one of the
deciding factors had been that Joyce not only smoked was incredibly
supportive of William's smoking as well.
   While Teresa was comfortable with it, she could never quite muster Joyce's
easy enthusiasm about her husband's habit.	
   And to be perfectly crude, she knew well enough that William got off on
Joyce's smoking. The psychological component of it was undeniable, if a
little- perhaps- unsavoury.
   She hadn't yet decided how she felt about Melissa smoking.
   There was a certainty that Melissa had not come upon this lifestyle change
without some encouragement from her full-time parents.
   Teresa didn't have a plan yet. To say that she wasn't really happy about
Melissa smoking at the age of fifteen was fair enough. But what she would be
able to do about it was another matter entirely.
   If she wanted to do anything at all. The first thing she wanted to see was
whether or not her daughter was really a committed smoker. If she was, if she
enjoyed it, then Teresa imagined she'd end up doing nothing at all. While the
intellectual part of her cried out that her little girl shouldn't be smoking,
the emotional part wanted her to be happy.
   But if this was all just some artificial construct encouraged by her
   That was damage which could easily be undone.
   She pulled three glass ashtrays from the box. One for the living room, one
for Melissa's bedroom, and one for a yet to be determined place.
   Not the dining room, at least not yet. She'd been too fond of the way
William lit a cigar immediately after every dinner. But that had been
forgotten, hadn't it ?
   Melissa walked casually into the house.
   As Teresa had said to one of her friends recently, "At least she hasn't
started ringing the goddamned doorbell."
   As always, her daughter was happy to see her.
   A large hug was exchanged.
   The smell of smoke clung to Melissa, reminding Teresa of William. They had
the same round face and small nose- fortunately, Melissa hadn't inherited her
father's large ears, hands, and feet.
   "How's it going, Mom ?"
   "Not too bad, hon. But I'd like to have a little talk, if you don't mind."
   Melissa tried- and failed- not to roll her large blue eyes. She also tossed
her dark red hair back over her shoulders. She'd been letting it grow out
again and it was long and luxurious, hanging down to her breasts and the
middle of her back in waves. It was remarkable that she was better looking
than either of her parents, yet the evidence was undeniable.
   Certainly Joyce would have already steeled her step-daughter against what
she would expect to be an anti-smoking talk.
   Melissa headed for William's old chair but Teresa asked her to sit down on
the couch because she'd placed the ashtray on the end table.
   Her daughter saw it and couldn't hide a smile.
   "I didn't think you'd be very supportive of my smoking-"
   "Joyce didn't, you mean."
   Oops. Off to a bad start already.
   "Well, neither of us thought that you'd be very supportive. Even Daddy was a
little worried about even telling you."
   "I'm hoping to surprise you. But I do need you to do me a big favour. Why
don't you light one of those cigarettes and we can get started."
   "You really are going to let me smoke ?"
   Teresa smiled. Her daughter was a brilliant young girl, but polite to a
point which made her occasionally seem horridly dense.
   "I didn't put that ashtray there for my benefit. I'd like to see you smoke,
if you don't mind."
   Although Melissa clearly regarded it as a strange request, she did as she
was asked. Opening her purse, she pulled out an unopened pack of Marlboro
Lights 100s and removed the cellophane. Very easily. She then opened the top
of the box, removed the foil, and extracted a cigarette. From the way her
hands were vibrating, she was clearly nervous.
   Teresa had the idea that her opinions about her daughter's smoking would be
formed right now.
   She put the cigarette in her mouth and lit it without any real effort. She
then put the lighter down on the table and pulled once on the cigarette. Only
then did she pull the dangling cigarette from her mouth. The smoke had
disappeared into her lungs but it came back a short time later, its
consistency more milky. Her exhale was forced from tightly pursed lips and
the look in her blue eyes was one of peace and contentment.
   So much for the theory that she was smoking under any sort of duress.
   "I want you to tell me everything about how you got started."
   "Mom !" Melissa objected. "I- I'm a little embarrassed talking about it with
   "Why ?" Teresa asked, unable to avoid slipping into therapist mode.
   "Because there's a part of me that's a little uneasy with my smoking. I am
only fifteen, after all."
   Melissa followed this comment with a sharper, deeper inhale, followed by a
long nose exhale. The smoke drifted around her, settling in her hair briefly
before escaping towards the ceiling. She had an etherial look to her, wrapped
in haze, only her stunning eyes showing clearly. She moved her free hand to
push her tight, wire-thin black framed glasses up the bridge of her perfect
   "You're a very attractive smoker, Melissa."
   "Mom- you're embarrassing me."
   "Don't be. One of the things Joyce had over me is that she's a very enticing
smoker. Your dad has a little bit of a thing for that, you know."
   "I don't want to talk-"
   "Neither do I. I just want to hear about how you got started. I can't be
supportive of your smoking unless I can understand it. It's what I do for a
   If there was one thing about Melissa's intelligence which had occasional
drawbacks it was its intuitive nature. Although she had a tendency to be
disorganised, she always overcame that with intuitive leaps of logic.
   "You want to know that I started smoking because I like it as opposed to it
being in response to Joyce marking me with a territorial stamp. You're afraid
that she bullied me into smoking to prove that she has more control over me
than you do."
   "Am I that transparent ?"
   Melissa inhaled as she sat back, lounging now. Despite her intelligence, she
hadn't escaped the current slacker look. Her t-shirt was torn and tattered,
hanging out over her waist and hiding the fact that her baggy jeans, turned
up at the cuff, were anchored to a point on her hips about mid-ass.
   She took her hand entirely off the cigarette for a moment, and with it
sticking out of her mouth she hardly bore any resemblance at all to the
eleven year old girl who'd once been exclusively her daughter.
   The patient way in which she smoked, the casual removal of the cigarette
from her mouth- she looked so comfortable and happy that Teresa immediately
scrapped the so-do-you-know-all-the-health-risk part of the conversation.
   "Well, you're absolutely right about Joyce. Most of us settle for being
passively manipulative, but she has an aggressive, pro-active style. And I'll
tell you a little secret, if you can promise me to keep it to yourself."
   "It dies with me-"
   Melissa paused to inhale again. It was amasing how totally a smoker she'd
become. Certainly Teresa could see why Joyce wanted to make sure that she was
allowed to smoke.
   "On my fifteen birthday, Joyce gave me a pack of cigarettes and a
gold-plated lighter. She told me that I didn't have to pretend that I didn't
want to smoke."
   "Was she right ?"
   Melissa, through with the cigarette, stubbed it out and sat back again. She
thought about the question for a moment.
   "Yes and no. I'd been thinking about trying it for a few months. More and
more of my friends were smoking- they all seemed to be really enjoying it,
too. I felt like I was missing something, you know. I did want to start, but
I also didn't, because of you-"
   "I don't think you and I ever really talked about smoking, did we ?"
   Melissa leaned forward, pulled another cigarette, and lit it casually.
   "No, we didn't. It was a case of me understanding that the only reason Joyce
wanted me to start smoking was because it would indicate her control over me.
I felt like I'd be betraying you."
   "That's silly, honey," Teresa said, although that was a lie.
   "Well, it is now, but it wouldn't have been. If I'd opened those cigarettes
and tried one, I'd have been doing exactly what Joyce wanted me to do. I was
determined not to make it that easy. I had those cigarettes for a month
before I finally tried one. She'd ask me every day if I'd given them a try.
It got to a point where I was looking forward to coming here- aside from the
usual reasons- just so I wouldn't have to deal with that."
   "But you did try it eventually."
   Melissa lifted her head back and rested it against the couch, blowing a long
stream of smoke towards the ceiling.
   "Not exactly. It turns out that Caryn Brown had been bumming cigarettes from
her sister for like the last six months. When I told her that I had an
unopened pack she was delirious. The last night I was here last month she
made me promise I'd get them to her. What are we doing for dinner ?"
   "I was thinking that we'd go out-"
   Blowing another tight stream of smoke, Melissa managed to frown. "Syzygy is
on FX tonight. I was hoping that we'd get a chance to watch it- it's my
favourite X-File. Can we do take out instead ?"
   "Sure. First tell me how it is that Caryn smoking your cigarettes-"
   "I met her- this is embarrassing. I feel like I'm telling you about the
first time I had sex or something."
   "You've-" Teresa started to say, shocked. This wasn't the revelation she was
looking for by a wide margin.
   "No, I haven't- honest. That was a bad example. But this is embarrassing.
Remember that old tree fort she and I used to play in when we were little ?"
   "Behind Alistair Crowley's old abandoned barn ?"
   "Yeah. I met her there. It was about eight in the morning. She brought coffee
 from Chaco's, and I brought the cigarettes. It was like that time we'd found
the Playgirl in the barn- I'm sure you remember that- except that Caryn knew
what she was doing."
   "So what happened then ?"
   "Well, she opened the cigarettes and lit one. I watched her- she was already
inhaling by then. She just put the cigarette in her mouth and she looked so
cool. Then she waited before she exhaled, and the look on her face- I knew
that it must be something special. When she exhaled, I leaned in and smelled
the smoke. It was different- sweeter, less harsh. I really liked it. I never
get that close to Daddy or Joyce when they're smoking so I had no idea. I was
still leaning in when she took the cigarette out of her mouth and put it in
front of my lips. I let her push the filter through my lips and pulled. I
didn't inhale, just let the smoke sit in my mouth. I liked it- a lot. The
taste was different."
   "That's how you started ?"
   "Yeah. We smoked about half the pack before I went back home. I had three of
them on my own. No inhaling. I went home and told Joyce right away that I
needed more. I felt really guilty, like I'd given into the Evil Empire or
something, but I knew right then I wanted to smoke. I've tried a few
different brands and stuff like that, hoping that I'd find something better
than what Joyce smokes-"
   She turned the cigarette in her hand, admiring the long white cleanliness of
its lines. "But these are the ones for me. So at least I didn't really start
because of her."
   "That's fine honey. I feel better about that. It sounds like you made the
decision on your own. How does indian sound for dinner ?"
   "Great." Melissa relaxed visibly. Talk of food meant the discussion was
over, and it had gone better than she could have hoped.

   Special Agent Dana Scully was lying on a motel bed, watching bad television
and taking aggressive, angry pulls on a cigarette while her partner, drunk on
orange juice concentrate and cheap vodka, was contemplating having sex with a
local cop.
   Melissa sat back, pushing her empty plate away, and lit another cigarette.
   "There's nothing like a cigarette after a good meal. It's too bad you don't
   Teresa smiled. Sometimes Melissa didn't give her very much credit.
   "I know. Before you came along, I used to take a few puffs on your father's
cigar every night after dinner. It does an incredible job of settling your
   "Why'd you stop ?"
   "I started to enjoy it too much. It got to a point where I was rushing
through my meals just to get to the cigar at the end. I was afraid I was
going to have to start-"
   "Smoking your own ?"
   "Once or twice I pinched one from your dad. You know how I don't see
patients on Wednesdays. I remember one Wednesday I went for lunch with Mary
after we got through the week's paperwork and after we were finished eating
we split a cigar. She swore she was going to give up cigarettes and take up
cigars. But her girlfriend would have freaked."
   "Yeah. Dad still does the same thing. Every night when dinner is over he
lights a cigar, takes a few puffs and then hands it to Joyce. She takes a few
more and hands it to- back to Daddy."
   Teresa caught the hitch in her daughter's voice. She almost swallowed her
Gulab Jamun whole.
   "No. She hands it to you. So they have you smoking cigars too ?"
   "No," Melissa said, her nose exhale drifting across the space between them.
"I don't smoke cigars. I just have two of three puffs every night at dinner."
   "That's fine, hon. Watching you smoke, I can see that you enjoy it. That's
all I needed to know. Now pour me another glass of Velsage..."
   "It's funny," Mary said, swallowing her last mouthful of salmon even as she
reached for her cigarettes. "I think about that lunch all the time. You know
I have a humidor. I have a cigar two, maybe three times a week. That's about
as often as I can handle it, but I have you to thank for that. If you hadn't
brought that one to lunch-"
   "Great. I hooked you on cigars and I let my fifteen year old daughter smoke
in my house. Maybe I should be getting kickbacks from RJR Reynolds."
   "Teresa- if every parent who allowed their teenage girl to smoke was
arrested, they'd have to build a new jail every ten minutes for six months
just to hold you all."
   "You made that up," Teresa said. She found herself leaning in, rather than
away, from the smoke of Mary's Saratoga. It was interesting, but not as
pleasant as Melissa's Marlboro Lights. Even the second-hand smoke from the
cigarette was a little too strong.
   "Of course. The point is, I think you're one step short of being a closet
smoker yourself. And if there's anyone who understands the damage repressing
latent desires can do, it's you. I mean, how do you feel when you watch
Melissa smoke. Disgusted. Neutral. What is it ?"
   "I don't-"
   Mary, never one to actually wait for an answer, interrupted. "You look at
that gorgeous daughter of yours and wonder what you're missing. You may have
forgotten all those talks we used to have before you had her. About how you
thought you might like to smoke but you didn't want to give into William."
   "He was so fucking kinky about it-"
   Mary, not one to mince words, said "Kinky might have saved your marriage.
And the same thing is about to happen again."
   "What do you mean ?" 
   "I mean that when Melissa turns sixteen, she gets to decide who she wants to
live with and for how much, right ?"
   She took a long pull on the Saratoga and bathed her friend in the smoke.
   "That's a gentleperson's agreement-"
   "That you'll live up to. You've always said that you thought the reason
William chose Joyce over you was because she smokes. Joyce knows it too. So
of course she wants Melissa to smoke. She may be a little cold-hearted, but
she really does love Melissa. You've said that yourself."
   "And Melissa loves me. She'd never let something as trivial as smoking come
between us."
   "You forget I've been down this whole divorce path with my parents. When I
was fourteen I forced my dad to let me move in with mom because she let me
smoke without the lectures and the bitching."
   "I'm letting Melissa smoke. In fact, I plan to be very supportive of her
   "You were supportive of William's smoking, too, but he chose Joyce over you
because she smokes and you wouldn't. Even though you wanted to. You know it,
and Joyce knows it, and she'll use that against you."
   "I can't believe-"
   "Look, I'm not telling you how to live your life, but I think the very least
you should do is institute the after-dinner cigar routine in your household."
   "I can't believe that integrating cigars into the evening meal will do
anything more than encourage you to eat over more often."
   "And that's a bad thing ?"
   "No, but-"
   The truth was, Teresa decided, that Mary was right, so she didn't follow the
but with anything.
   Melissa spent the afternoon with Caryn, so Teresa made a trip to a certain
specialty shoppe in the mall. Mr. Singh, the proprietor of the Tobacconaire,
was very happy to recommend a box of mild after-dinner cigars and an humidor.

   The only the strange thing about what Teresa had expected to be an
embarrassing encounter was when Singh had wished her the best of luck and
assured her that her daughter would enjoy the cigars as well. Strange because
she had never mentioned Melissa once during the conversation.
   As Teresa cleared the dishes from the coffee table- glad she'd taken herself
up on a very rare desire to cook- she thought to herself that Melissa seemed
to have developed a second questionable habit. Her daughter had been thrilled
to find out they were having Saturday night dinner in because it meant she
wouldn't miss the Pretender.
   Teresa went to the kitchen, supposedly to fetch desert. But their was no
desert. Melissa turned around as she walked back into the living room and her
eyes nearly popped out of her head as she saw the humidor. It was clear from
that look that the after-dinner cigar was no small thing.
   She handed the box to her daughter, who went to work. She wasn't quite able
to tear the end off the cigar with her teeth in a lady-like fashion, and
Teresa made a mental note to go back to the mall and buy a cigar cutter.
   Melissa lit the cigar and took three short puffs to get it burning. She then
took a longer pull, inhaling some of the smoke, which she eventually exhaled
through her nose. She then handed the cigar to Teresa.
   One puff was enough to make her remember why she'd stopped.
   It was simply too good. These cigars were milder than William's but all that
meant was that Teresa was actually able to inhale. Melissa put her head on
her mother's shoulder and Teresa leaned her own head against her daughter's.
They shared the entire cigar this way and Teresa knew full well that this
would become an integral part of their meals.
   Half an hour later, watching a distraught, smoke-weaving Andrea Parker
pacing across her bedroom floor in nothing but a robe- apparently on
television you wore your vampiric make-up even to bed- Teresa decided to take
Mary's advice to its final fruition.
   Melissa had just picked up her cigarettes, and when Teresa looked at her,
she smiled warmly.
   "Can you light me one of those ?" Teresa asked innocently, feeling much the
same way Melissa must have the day before when she told her about how it was
that she'd started smoking.
   "Sure, Mom." Her daughter pulled two cigarettes from the pack, placed them
both between the first and second fingers of her right hand, and lit them.
She pulled both from her mouth, took one out of her right hand, and placed
the other directly in her mother's mouth. Teresa inhaled. It made her
slightly dizzy but she liked it. The smoke was not as cloying or strong as
the cigar.
   And it was easier to inhale.
   She took several more conservative puffs, then a real one. Melissa heard the
tip of the cigarette hiss and watched in amasement as her mom sucked down a
lungful of smoke. She appeared to hold her breath momentarily, then relaxed
as Teresa exhaled without incident.
   Teresa decided the best place for the third ashtray would be in her bedroom.
   As she inhaled again, she realised that she could get used to more of this-
and that thanks to Mary's advice, she might just get the chance.
   "Have I told you that Caryn's father is thinking about starting to date ?"
Melissa asked, her casualness an act.
   "No, but maybe you should-"
   Melissa did, and that was the start of something really interesting.

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