Shape of a Lie, Part 1

(by, 29 October 2001)

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Shape of a Lie
Part 1 of 2

    Alyssa remembered the first time her mother had seen her smoking. It was 
the second week of her junior year of high school. She'd stayed late, for 
Math Club, of all things. She was standing outside one of the side entrances 
with Gina and Verna,All three of them were smoking when her mother pulled up 
in the brand new Saab.
    Mom didn't say anything to her there. She just smiled and waved, waited 
for Alyssa to say her goodbyes, and then pulled away from the curb. She 
worked her own cigarette as they drove out of the school grounds.
    As soon as they were on the main roads, though, she looked at her 
daughter and said 'Put that out, young lady.'
    Alyssa had planned the encounter perfectly.
    'Please, Mom. You smoke, Daddy smokes, Crystal smokes.'
    'Crystal is in college. She's old enough to do what she wants.'
    'Crystal has been smoking since she was fifteen, Mom.'
    Dorothy groaned. She knew this was coming- she'd heard rumours that 
Alyssa was smoking from friends. Alyssa knew this as well.
    'Crystal was- and is- a straight A student.'
    'So you're saying that it's okay that I smoke if I get straight As like 
Crystal did. If that's all it takes-'
    In the end, Alyssa talked her mother into a deal. She would shoot for 
straight As in exchange for the right to smoke openly. If she got them, she 
got to keep smoking. 
    Of course, it was a fool's bet. Alyssa knew once Pandora's box was open, 
there would be no closing it.
    In the end, she'd gotten straight A minuses and the smoking issue was 
never brought up again.
    She poured herself a steaming hot cup of coffee and lit the first 
cigarette of the day. She had always known how to get exactly what she 
wanted. She thought back to that day with a smile, but the smile didn't last. 
Why couldn't things be as easy now as they had been then ?

    'What's wrong, Faith ? You're clearly depressed.'
    'It's these new smoking rules, Alyssa.'
'Tell me more,' Alyssa said, but the truth was, she didn't want to hear 
about the new smoking rules. She'd come here to Barlingham because private 
schools were generally more relaxed places to work. There were higher 
standards, better students, and an environment that allowed you to be an 
adult. Except that a new Headmistress had swept in over the summer- on a 
broom, the joke went. Among her innovations was the institution of no smoking 
zones. Faculty and staff were limited to two small areas tucked away in 
remote corners of the 30 acre campus were they could smoke- areas too far 
away to get to between classes. Last year, Alyssa had been permitted to smoke 
in her office except when she was with a student and now- these days she was 
lucky if her lunch was long enough to allow her the chance to smoke two or 
three cigarettes in peace- usually off-campus.
    'Well, Mom and dad won't give me permission to smoke on campus, so I've 
been moved into a room with a non-smoker- and our room is right around the 
corner from the smoking hall I lived on before. I can smell smoke all night.'
    'Well, can't you go visit your old roommate- Candy, wasn't it ?'
    'I got caught last week by the hall monitor and Ms. Bust My Ass gave me 
five days of kitchen duty.'
    It was actually Ms. Busmias, but Alyssa laughed.
    'You think that's funny ?' Faith asked.
    'Yes- I mean, no. Have you talked to your parents ?'
    'Yes. They won't help me. They say if I want to smoke when I'm home, 
that's fine, but they think maybe if they don't let me smoke here, I'll grow 
out of the habit.'
    'They let you smoke when you're home ?'
    'Yes. I can't understand it.'
    'That is evil,' Alyssa said, but then she smiled. 'They are just trying 
to do what's right for you.'
    'I know,' Faith said. 'But I hate it. I'm dying for a cigarette. I 
don't have another class for an hour and I can't even light up. At least you 
can go off to one of the smoking areas.'
    'Well,' Alyssa said, 'maybe our therapy session would go better over 
lunch. I have my lunch next period. Do you want to go off campus and-'
    Faith's answer was to grab Alyssa by the hand and start pulling her 
towards the door.

    Alyssa walked down the hall towards Ms. Busmias's office.
    The administrative assistant led her in and left quickly as if to avoid 
the impending explosion.
    'You know why you're here ?'
    Alyssa looked at her- boss was the word. It was an ugly word, and it 
would have been ill-suited to such an attractive woman if looks were the sole 
arbiter of impression. Busmias was just 29, a  year older than Alyssa, with 
long curly blonde hair, beautiful slate grey eyes and a face that would stop 
traffic- in awe. Her breasts jutted out from a slim, well-kept body that 
could have broken hearts from Bangor to Sacramento.
    'Good. I trust we won't be taking students off-campus to indulge their 
smoking habit anymore ?'
    'Excellent. But I'm glad you did, actually. And please don't be mad at 
Ms. Janus for telling me. That's for the best.'
    'So what happens now ?'
    'I think that what happened highlights the need to offer our staff and 
students an opportunity for smoking cessation classes. Don't you agree ?'
    Alyssa did not agree.
    'I'll take your silence as acquiescence. You're our psychology expert. I 
want you to lead to classes. As you may have heard, next year I plan to make 
Barlingham a smoke-free institution. This isn't going to be easy. You're 
going to champion that effort.'
    'But I smoke,' Alyssa said, 'and I was hired to teach psychology. I 
offered to counsel as a benefit to the school because Ms. Danthfor left 
unexpectedly last spring.'
    'Yes, and you were made head of your department for your efforts. Believe 
it or not, both of those things make you the logical choice. And I'm not 
offering you an option.'
    Alyssa had always prided herself on her ability to think fast- and 
Busmias didn't know it but she was delving into an area of specialty of 
    'Fine, but you have to let me select the curriculum for this program and 
institute it as I see fit.'
    'I have a program I want you to follow.'
    'Fine. If you want this to just be an exercise, that's fine. If  you 
want a successful program, you'll draw on my experience. I wrote my senior 
research paper in clinical psychology on smoking cessation programs.'
    'Apparently it didn't work. You're still a smoker.'
    'I didn't take on the research with the goal of quitting. I took it on 
as a comparison study as to why most smoking cessation programs have an high 
rate of relapse.'
    'And what did you discover ?'
    'That most smoking cessation programs use the same basic theory as 
alcohol treatment programs and that's why they fail.'
    'Meaning ?'
    'Everyone who goes into an alcohol treatment program is an addict. An 
alcoholic- well that's not entirely true because occasionally you get people 
who made a mistake and drove while under the influence- people who aren't 
alcoholics but enter treatment as a judicial remedy, but they aren't good 
targets for treatment programs anyway, so we have to discount them as not 
being part of the appropriate target audience. And that's what made me think 
that many people who enter into a smoking cessation program aren't addicted 
to smoking.' Alyssa paused, thought carefully about how to explain. 'I 
imagine you're going to require every one of the girls who smoke to 
participate, right ?'
    'Well, only a small fraction of them are addicted to nicotine,' Alyssa 
    'I have my doubts about that.'
    'All right, let's use me as an example. How much do you think I smoke ?'
    'At least a pack a day.'
    'How long do you think I've been smoking ? I'm twenty-eight.'
    'At least ten years.'
    'Okay, you're one for two. I have been smoking since I was sixteen, but 
I rarely smoke a whole pack in a day. Maybe on Friday night once in a while 
if I'm out late.'
    'How much do you smoke ?'
    'Maybe fifteen cigarettes in day- about one an hour while I'm awake, as 
an average.'
    'Really ? Maybe that's just because I've made it more difficult to smoke 
during the day.'
    'Well, that's a valid assumption- and it's incorrect. Last year I was 
allowed to smoke in my office when I wasn't with a student. A typical day 
would go like this. I would get up, smoke a cigarette before leaving the 
house, smoke another one on the short drive in, then smoke 5-6 cigarettes 
during the day. Another one on the way home. Then 5-6 more at night. That's 
13-15 cigarettes. Now, I smoke one in the morning when I get up, one on the 
way to work, 3-4 at lunch, one on the way home, and 7-8 at night. That's the 
same 13-15 cigarettes. Your new rules have modified my behaviour slightly, 
that's all.'
    'That's still a lot of smoking.'
    'Is it ? Maybe. But a lot of the girls at the school smoke 4-5 cigarettes 
a day. I guarantee you no one is addicted to nicotine at that rate. So you 
can't treat them as addicts. Smoking is a learned behaviour, and you have to 
treat the behaviour.'
    'Well,' Ms, Busmias said, smiling- and Alyssa thought it was a gorgeous 
smile, bitch or no bitch- 'how do you do that ?'
    'First, you identify the positive aspects of the behaviour. You can't 
change a behaviour without acknowledging why that behaviour happens.'
    'I'm not sure I like that idea.'
    'Again- do you want a programme that you can like or one that can work ?'
    'I'd prefer both.'
    'Well, you see, that's my point. Most of the girl who smoke probably 
like to smoke- and don't smoke that much. Would you say a man- or woman- who 
smokes a few cigars a week needs to quit smoking ?'
    'Not necessarily.'
    'Well, then why does say, a seventeen year old girl who smokes four or 
five cigarettes a day and enjoys it have to quit ?'
    'They aren't old enough to smoke. It's not even legal.'
    'Did your parents let you have the occasional glass of wine with dinner 
when you growing up ?'
    'Well, the drinking age is 21, so isn't that even worse ?'
    'I don't think the two things are the same.'
    'That's your preconceived notion. Have you ever smoked ?'
    'Of course,' Busmias said petulantly.
    'You shouldn't say it like that. Do you know that on average, forty 
percent of teenage girls never try smoking- but close to forty percent of 
senior girls smoke either occasionally or frequently ? That means that two 
thirds of the girls who try smoking like it enough to keep doing it.'
    'What's your point, Alyssa ?'
    'Well, you want to eliminate smoking on this campus, right ? That is the 
goal ?'
    'I don't think that's relevant.'
    'But of course it is. And you're not going to do it with rules and 
regulations and smoking cessation classes that stigmatise smoking and 
smokers. You have to let them think themselves through a process that allows 
them to acknowledge both plusses and minuses of their smoking. Start out with 
something at least a little fun.'
    'Well, I'll extend a leash, but it's a short one. I expect this 
programme to be a successful one. You do understand that.'
    'Of course.' But Alyssa had a much different view of what success would 

    Alyssa looked out on the audience. There was about one hundred girls in 
the audience and a dozen faculty members and staff. For the last forty-five 
minutes they had been sharing the reasons why they smoked, what they liked- 
and didn't like- about it. Why they had come here- the most frequent answer 
being because they had to- and what that meant to them.
    It had gone well so far. Alyssa was making the progress that she wanted 
to make. There was no question that she was undermining all of Busmias's 
intentions, and after listening to these girls talk about why they smoked- 
why they liked it, now came the part that was the most risky- and Alyssa just 
smiled out at the audience.
    'Ms. Busmias has agreed to lift the smoking ban outside the auditorium 
tonight. We've been at this for forty-five minutes, so let's take a short 
ten minute break and then get going again.'
    Busmias managed to avoid looking like she wanted to gut Alyssa where she 
stood as the auditorium cleared faster than if there had been a fire drill.
    Alyssa walked out herself, took one step outside the building, and lit a 
VS 120. She exhaled into the night air and looked out on the sea of smokers. 
Tall and short, attractive and- less attractive.
    A voice by her ear startled her.
    'Going well ?'
    'Henry. What the devil brings you here ?'
    He thumbed his lighter and lit a thin cigar.
    'Whatever do you mean ?' he asked.  
    'You are not here to learn how to quit smoking.'
    'Of course not. You should be selling fucking admission to this !'
    'That would really get Busmias's shorts in a serious starch. But I know 
what you mean. I'm getting hot watching all this smoking myself.'
    A layer of smoke hung over the area outside the auditorium. Orange glows 
lit the darkness as an hundred women got down to some serious smoking.
    Henry was about to crack a joke about filming this when Busmias walked 
right by them and up to the Student Body President, Buffy MacAllister.
    They decided to watch the exchange.
    'What are you doing here Buffy ?'
    'What do you mean, Ms. Busmias ?'
    'Well, you don't smoke,' Busmias said, confident.
    'No, I don't, although after listening to all my classmates talk about 
why they do has me interested. But that's not why I came here. The student 
government did a survey in preparation for this meeting. It turns out that 36 
percent of our student body considers themselves smokers. They deserve 
representation, especially when one considers that the rumour is that you 
want to ban all smoking on campus next year.'
    'Well, if I do make that policy change,' Busmias said haughtily, 
'student opinion would not play a factor in the decision.'
    Alyssa wandered over to the pair.
    'What did you think, Buffy ?'
    'Well, my mom, dad, older brother and younger sister all smoke and I 
always wondered why. Now I feel like I understand a little of it. In fact, 
I'm actually think I'll give it a try. I don't suppose you'd like to offer 
me one ?'
    Busmias rolled her eyes but decided not to fight it. That surprised her, 
but since there was no objection, she extracted a cigarette from the pack and 
handed it to Buffy, who placed the long, slim cigarette between her lips. 
Alyssa lit it for her eagerly.
    She couldn't help but smile as Buffy drew on it and exhaled.
    Things were going better than expected.
    Busmias walked away without further comment.
    Drawing deeply on the cigarette, Buffy arched her head back and exhaled a 
tight stream of smoke.
    'This isn't exactly your first cigarette, is it, young lady ?'
    Buffy trimmed, smiled, inhaled, and then gave out the sort of nose exhale 
that made Henry's knees weak.
    'Are you kidding ? Once my fifteen year old sister started smoking, the 
pressure on me to pick up the habit at home- even Mom and Dad were teasing me 
about being uptight and silly. I smoked all last summer, and I've sneaking 
them here all marking period. But I've always wanted to try one of these 
long, elegant cigarettes.'
    'A wise choice,' Henry said, and then he wandered into the crowd of 
    'Well then, your parents must have signed your-' permission slip sounded 
silly, Alyssa thought, but that was what Busmias called them.
    'Yeah, but you know, in a way, with Mom and Dad pressuring me to start 
smoking- well, at least to try it- that took some of the fun out of it.'
    'Fun ?'
    'Didn't you ever sneak around ?'
    Alyssa smiled. 'For about a week, and then I confronted my Mom. So you 
decided to sneak around when you got here. How's that going ?'
    'Well, I guess it's over now. It wasn't as much fun as I had hoped. My 
hall monitor refuses to enforcing the smoking rules, so except for sneaking a 
few cigarettes between classes now and then, I have had many opportunities to 
get caught.'
    'You really want a week of kitchen duty ?'
    Alyssa took a pull on her cigarette, pursed her lips, exhaled. The smoke 
drifted directly at Buffy, who leaned into it.
    'No. But I wanted the thrill of thinking it might happen. I suppose 
that's a little childish.'
    'No, we all want to be rebels.'
    'You certainly have been so far tonight,' Buffy said, bringing the 
cigarette up to her mouth and inhaling. She followed the inhale with a 
perfect hold, cigarette held up by her pretty face, angled slightly away, 
smoke curling off the tip and over head, where it hung like a wreath in the 
heavy moist air.
    'What do you mean ?'
    Buffy showed a smoker's patience, inhaling and returning to the hold, 
exhaling before she answered.
    'Well, tonight's little assembly has been basically an ode to smoking. 
You haven't so much as touched on any anti-smoking propaganda. None of that 
we're too young, we don't understand the implications shit.'
    'Well, I can't say-' Alyssa paused to smoke. 'I can't say that I really 
have the heart for that.'
    'But you weren't hoping that Busmias might actually change her mind, 
were you ?'
    'I had to try. It was all about getting to this moment. As you said, 
about forty percent of the women here smoke- you know that if anything the 
numbers you got were low-'
    'Tell me about it- I watched girls I know smoke check the 'śnever tried 
smoking' box on that survey.'
    'What box did you check ?'
    'Smoke 6-10 cigarettes a day. It was an anonymous survey. But you think 
Busmias might be affected by this smoking display ?'
    'Anything's possible,' Alyssa said, but she had no idea what the 
possibility that would happen was.

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