Talia, Part 1

(by puffery@prodigy.com (now quin_chris@hotmail.com), 31 May 1996)


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From Puffery@prodigy.com Sun May 26 18:06:53 1996
From: Puffery@prodigy.com
Date: Sun, 26 May 1996 17:54:03, -0500

Talia_1

Watching men watch Talia was often amusing.  Of course they knew she 
was young but they really had no idea.  Nothing about her spoke nine, 
not her five foot one stature, not her hip length blonde hair, not 
her smoothly rounded hips, absolutely nothing.  One of my greatest 
delights was observing their reactions when breaking this news to 
them.  Some of them stuttered, most of them blushed, and nearly all 
squirmed.  Only an occasional few contested the furtiveness of their 
glance and it was only those few who unnerved me.  The others were 
just being men.

Talia you see is my daughter.  Her father ... 'what was his name 
again?' ... disappeared before her first birthday.  While he was a 
big good looking guy, it was no great loss.  We'd never married.  
Hell, we'd hardly dated.  Heíd been a casual friend of my deadbeat 
cousin who thought he'd do me this big favor by referring my first 
divorce client.  As it turned out, my 'just having passed the bar' 
inexperience was of far less consequence to him than my affordability.
  In a way, his near insolvency was a blessing in disguise.  Even if 
I messed up the whole thing, he had nothing to lose.  Actually, all I 
got out of the case was a deposit which ironically turned out to be 
Talia.

Talia in many ways is far more than just my daughter.  She is also 
pretty much my life partner as well as my best friend.  I've never 
cared particularly for children and she's never particularly cared to 
be one.  It is a most fortunate relationship for both of us.  It's 
not for everyone however.  If you live in debbi-land (Debbie Reynolds,
 Debbie Fields, Debbie Gibson, debutantes, yadda, yadda, yadda), you 
may well find our candor putoff-ish.  Proceed with due caution.

It is my belief that the badge of single mom is often solicitous bait 
for comfort and sympathy.  I don't look at it that way at all.  I'll 
take one dedicated parent over two distracted ones any day of the 
week. I was raised by a single mom and have always been made to feel 
special.  There was no convoluted parental entanglements to digest 
and frankly, it's the only model I know.  Besides, I'm far luckier 
than my mom was.  Talia and I have her as wonderful support.  Mom and 
I had nobody.

Talia's earliest playpen was the space beneath my desk.  Until the 
time that she was two, she came to the office with me daily.  There 
were times when she'd get irritable and fuss but almost never when a 
client was there or a meeting was under way.  It was as if she knew 
the rules.  For the most part, the privacy of my office allowed for 
nursing and playfulness no less intimate than that enjoyed by a stay-
at-home mother.  And with people always in and out of the office, the 
situation demanded that Talia develop socialization skills at an 
unusually early age.  While mommy was still her first word, 
conference and litigation weren't far behind.

One Saturday afternoon, when Talia was just past two, the phone rang 
and it was my mom calling from Charleston.  The department store 
where she'd been a women's wear buyer ever since I was a child was 
being closed.  Even through her obvious hurt and disappointment, her 
toughness showed through. She grabbed this as an opportunity to spend 
some time with her granddaughter before looking for a new job and, to 
my delight, suggested a month long visit.  I could hardly wait.

With my practice beginning to thrive, I had already toyed with the 
idea of inviting her to join us in Atlanta on either a temporary or 
permanent basis, but had felt reluctant to do so what with her 
commitment to her job.  With that bond now broken, I actively 
entertained the possibility that a three person household might 
become a long-term reality.  Mom arrived the next Tuesday for what 
she called a temporary visit and eight years later she's still with 
us.  Without a mention of job hunting in the past five years, you 
could say it's beginning to look permanent.  Besides, there is no way 
we could live without her.  Every working woman needs a wife.   

While I had never thought of myself as particularly encumbered by 
Talia, mom's presence really freed me up.  Traveling assignments 
which I'd been reluctant to take in the past I now accepted.  Talia 
and mom were quite complete without me which thrilled me no end.  
Really!  New neighbors took them to be mother and daughter and me 
maybe a visiting aunt.  This will tell you much about the shape that 
mom kept herself in as she flirted with fifty.

The first few months, mom incessantly talked about needing to find a 
job but what with her caring for Talia and dinner on the table every 
evening I wasn't about to encourage her.  Our evenings, particularly 
those during the onset of the warm weather, were becoming something 
very special.  I'd get home just after six and she'd already have a 
pitcher of chilled Margaritas or mint juleps waiting on the verandah. 
 Three year old Talia would, of course, enjoy the Shirley Temple 
equivalent but even then would share the same glassware.  Over 
mellowing drinks and a few relaxing cigarettes, we'd share our day 
and Talia, even then, was more likely to sit quietly and listen to us 
than to go off and play on her own.

Talia's ability to follow our conversations, as well as a curiosity 
that led her to often interrupt with unusually astute questions, 
turned our thoughts early to home schooling.  Mom was as anxious to 
do so as I was which was good because no small amount of the burden 
would fall upon her shoulders.  There was no question in my mind that 
we would do a vastly superior job than our ever deteriorating public 
school system.

There also seemed to be absolutely no reason for us to wait until 
Talia reached five or six to begin.  She'd never be more ready than 
this moment.  Over the remainder of that summer, mom undertook 
researching the requirements and intricacies of home schooling.  Even 
though they wouldn't directly apply until Talia reached school age, 
we wanted to proceed impeccably.  In September, yet two years too 
young for Kindergarten, Talia's formal education began.    

The first year core curriculum was essentially reading intensive with 
occasional sojourns into simple arithmetic.  We augmented the 
academics with some more conventionally pleasurable activities like 
finger paints, clay, and nature walks.  Interestingly, it was we who 
enjoyed the diversions and Talia who concentrated most passionately 
on mastering the reading basics.  That spring, just shy of her fourth 
birthday, she was enthusiastically reading Dr. Zuess to us.  Yes, we 
were quite amazed.

By the fall two years later when her peers were entering first grade, 
Talia was deeply into studying the fallen native cultures of the 
Americas and was learning to deal with fractions.  She was no 
stranger to the library where Willa Cather was fast becoming her 
favorite author.  And at the Science Museum, looking so mature and 
professional in her standard but undersized uniform, she was the 
youngest docent by fifteen years for the Indian artifacts exhibit.  
Only in the realm of sports did she languish and admittedly no more 
so than mom and I.  One remnant of southern posterity selectively 
preserved was our antipathy for exhaustive physical activity.  Any 
rationale for avoiding perspiration was appropriate rationale.

That fall and winter much of the educational burden fell upon mom.  
In that we both thought of it mostly as a privilege, I seriously 
missed my participation.  I was working on a case in Dallas and what 
with discovery and all, much of my time needed to be spent there.  
I'd get home only on weekends and seeing Talia from that more 
infrequent vantage point, her progress was even more apparent. 

The most serious problem that my absence created was that Talia was 
already testing mom's math and science limits.  I did what I could 
over the phone for an hour each night but it just wasn't the same.  I 
began finding myself cursing my bloody travel schedule but figured 
that it would be necessary for yet another year or two.  And then the 
phone call came.  Directly from DC.  "Would I be interested in 
joining the administrationís private litigation team?" the recruiter 
asked.  

Our arrival was amid the last of the lingering cherry blossoms.  The 
Atlanta market had been good to me, our home appreciating 
sufficiently for a modest Chevy Chase residence to not be out of the 
question.  Our new house wasn't a carbon copy of the one we'd left 
but on the other hand there's no question that it was kin.  Our new 
verandah however was the biggest plus.  It's view from just a block 
off the lake significantly outclassed the ocean of peach trees we'd 
overlooked before.  Watching from a distance the early season sailors 
every evening, I even gave thought to taking lessons.  One day 
however, when we walked down to the lake and I was able to take a 
good hard look at the actual exertion required, its physical demands 
brought me back to my good senses.  It didn't dampen my enthusiasm 
for the sailors though.

Fortunately, this new verandah was entirely enclosed.  Unlike Atlanta,
 it otherwise would have been unusable well into May.  Somewhat 
surprisingly, as promised, my White House assignment actually 
returned my schedule to sanity and this near idyllic setting could be 
enjoyed almost every evening.  Sitting well above the street, we 
could unobtrusively watch passerbys when lake activity didn't capture 
our attention.  All and all, a great nightly hangout for the three of 
us.

One night a few weeks after we'd settle in, probably late May, I'd 
taken off from work a bit early and we'd gone out for a quick bite at 
a little seafood restaurant.  Mom needed an occasional break from the 
kitchen after all.  Like so many other places over the past few years,
 the city council had recently passed a no-smoking ordinance for all 
public places.  Those most affected, the business owners association, 
of course had little voice in the matter but many averted the problem 
at least for the season with outdoor seating.  All else being equal, 
as the thermometer cuddled ninety, I would have opted for the more 
gentile air conditioned indoors but with the ordinance, all things 
were not equal.  We cheerfully endured this unusually early summer 
heat by reasoning that at least we were still without the 
accompanying mugginess.

Home still well before sunset, I looked very much forward to some 
extended verandah time chatting with mom and reviewing Talia's 
lessons.  For us, there was no clear demarcation between work and 
play.  Everything was approached with equal enthusiasm.    Talia and 
I staked claim to two of the wrought iron rockers and spread her work 
out all over the table.  Meanwhile mom served as mixologist.
With routine promptness, we had already corrected her elementary 
algebra problems by the time mom returned.  Tonight's seasonal fare 
was Strawberry Daiquiris and which I mouthwateringly ogled.  Pouring 
ours from the large pitcher and Talia's from a smaller one, we 
toasted each other, our new home, and this marvelous evening.  Though 
seldom maudlin by nature, I will admit to a rush of sincere 
gratefulness and even a touch of emotion.  Mom's mistiness was less 
well camouflaged.  We felt very wonderfully blessed.

The academic concentration momentarily broken, I watched mom light a 
cigarette then pavlovianly reached for my purse to get mine.  Years 
ago, when I first began smoking, I would have just taken one of her 
Salems.  I guess that goes without saying since taking her Salems is 
exactly how I started smoking.  Somewhere along the line however, I'd 
lost my taste for menthols.  

I pulled out my Marlboro 100's and fished what was unexpectedly the 
last cigarette out of the softpack. Quickly flicking my lighter, I 
took a series of puffs while wadding up the empty pack with my one 
hand and perusing my purse for a fresh pack with my other.  Cleanly 
sinking the wadded pack into the waste paper basket from about ten 
feet away ... my single most outstanding athletic talent ... I 
eventually removed my dangling cigarette with my right hand, taking 
yet another lung soothing drag, while still rummaging fruitlessly 
through my purse with my left.

My annoyance was superficial but for some reason sufficient for Talia 
to take notice.  She looked at me with some concern and said very 
reassuringly "Don't worry mom, I'm sure you've got more in the 
cupboard.  You always do ... or even if you don't, I'm sure grandma 
won't mind giving you one, would you grandma?"  And then rising, she 
finished with "Here, I'll go check for you."  With that, she was gone.
  In just moments she returned, handing me a pack of my Marlboro's 
which she had already begun to strip open for me.

Until that moment it had never occurred to me what a non-topic 
smoking had been in our household.  I smoked, grandma smoked, and not 
much was ever said.  Unpolluted by classroom moralism, Talia had 
never been programmed with what a bad thing smoking was.  She'd 
simply accepted it without comment.  This was the first time that 
she'd ever so much as even indicated that she recognized our 
individual brands and her adroitness at opening up my pack was also 
quite a surprise.  More testimony to her powers of observation I 
concluded.  None-the-less, questions I presumed were certain to be 
soon percolating.  And it didn't take long.

"Mom why do you and grandma smoke different brands?" she inquired 
almost immediately as I rapped a cigarette out of the pack.  "Are 
they different flavors or something?  I think grandma's package is a 
lot nicer than yours and her cigarettes aren't nearly as smelly as 
yours either.  I think I'll probably smoke her brand when I grow up." 
 And before I could respond she continued "How old do I have to be 
before I can start anyway?  How old were you when you started?"

This was a conversation that I neither welcomed nor dreaded.  I 
simply was caught off guard.  I just didn't expect it from a seven 
year old.  Rather than having her continue to pellet me with more 
questions though, I grabbed for the reins.  Looking for a good place 
to start, "I was at least ten or eleven before I started asking such 
questions, wasnít I?" I muttered in mom's general direction and she 
nodded agreement with a mischievous smile.  

"Yes dear" she responded.  "You were about eleven as I recall when 
you first started asking me questions about smoking and why I did it, 
but you maligned me for it at a much earlier age.  The PC police got 
to you early on and you did your best to lecture me.  That was about 
the time that television advertising ended and all those horrible 
anti-smoking spots were being aired.  I never fought back.  I just 
smiled and said let's talk again when you're a little older.  And we 
did." she reiterated never foregoing that cheshire grin.

Only infrequently did we edit a conversation that we were having in 
front of Talia but for a moment I considered doing so.  It was 
obvious that my smoking initiation was about to be on the table and I 
was struggling with the appropriateness of that.  My first thought 
was "Would it send the wrong message?" but that was quickly pre-
empted by the recognition that my real reservation was the 
possibility of suffering some personal embarrassment.  With that 
flimsiness, my hesitation evaporated along with thoughts of tabling 
the topic.

"Those are some tough questions, Tally", I finally responded.  "I'll 
give you the best answers I can and maybe grandma can chime in too.  
Much of what I'm about to tell you are the same things she said to me 
nearly twenty years ago.  The right answer as to when will you be old 
enough to start smoking is never.  It smells, it puts off many people,
 and it's pretty certain to damage your health.  And what's more, 
when you start you won't even care for it much.  You won't like the 
taste.  So there's the right answer.  Just say no."  She just 
continued to stare at me expectantly.  She recognized a half answer 
when she heard one.   

And she was right.  Incapable of ending with a Nancy Reagan platitude,
 I continued "If, on the other hand, you at some time decide that you 
do want to smoke, this is what you have to look forward to.  Even 
though you won't realize what's happening, you'll probably get hooked 
in a matter of weeks.  I know I did.  Then smoking will begin to rule 
your life.  It will have a lot to say about the places that you go 
and the people that you hang with.  Two hours at a movie will seem 
uncomfortable without a cigarette and a five hour flight, a living 
hell.  You'll be perpetually short of breath and will hate yourself 
when you have a head cold and still smoke anyway.  You'll frequently 
suggest that you're about to quit but you'll only be fooling yourself.
  There will always be a reason to postpone that decision.  Ten extra 
pounds.  A crisis at work.  Something.  Anything." I added with 
inflection.

Talia retorted with "Are you saying that you couldn't quit smoking 
right now if you wanted to or that you don't want to quit?  I'm 
confused."

"That's your toughest question yet.  I can't really answer it.  Every 
time I think about quitting I get very upset.  I always tell myself 
that I'm not ready to quit but honestly I'm not sure whether that 
means that I really don't want to quit or that I'm afraid I won't be 
able to and I'm embarrassed to admit it ... even to myself.  Right 
here, tonight, quitting is the furthest thing from my mind.  Sitting 
out on the verandah, especially with another smoker, I really do 
enjoy smoking.  If I had to sit here and watch grandma smoke, Iím 
certain that I'd miss it.  I don't even know if I could handle it.  
How about you mom?  Can you answer her questions?"

"No better than you did" she replied.  "I'm sure all smokers go 
through those varying feelings.  The worst I think is to be really 
upset with your smoking and at the same time feel like there's 
nothing that you can do about it.  I resolved a long time ago that 
whether it's pleasure or whether it's habit, I'm not interested in 
quitting.  Therefore I simply don't spend much time beating myself up 
about it."  And in typical mom fashion, exclamatorily she 
theatrically lit a fresh cigarette.

"Talia" I said "were you asking me how I started?  Is that what you 
want to know?"

"Sorta.  Ya, I guess I'd like to know." she replied.  "It's difficult 
for me to understand how you can tell me that smoking would be so bad 
for me when you both sit here and have one cigarette after another 
all night long.  And you guys aren't sick or dying.  I don't quite 
get it.  Maybe knowing how you started might help me understand.  
What do you think?"

Noticing that little smile crawling back onto mom's face, I continued.
  "Okay.  It's a fair request.  Here goes.  As you just heard I was 
about eleven when I started becoming curious about smoking.  A few 
girls that I knew were now smoking sometimes and when they did it, it 
didn't seem nearly as nasty and offensive as grandma's smoking.  
Actually it looked kind of cool.  Looking back, I guess the simple 
fact that I was beginning to ask questions probably indicated some 
serious interest on my part.

I tried to maintain my earlier negativity with grandma so that she 
wouldn't suspect that my attitude was changing.  And almost 
immediately after I began asking her about her smoking, I began to 
experiment.  She always worked late on Mondays and Wednesdays so I 
began lifting a cigarette from her pack on the previous evenings.  
There was always at least one open pack sitting around the house 
somewhere. I'd get home from school that spring, the last few months 
of sixth grade to be specific, about three o'clock so there was lots 
of time to air out the house before mom got home.  With her a smoker 
that actually wasn't a very big problem.

For the first several weeks I didn't do a lot more than light the 
cigarette and pose in front of the mirror. I'd take a few puffs but 
the taste didn't thrill me and I looked pretty stupid trying to blow 
out the smoke. Every once in a while I'd suck a little smoke down 
into my lungs ... sometimes intentionally, more often by accident ... 
 and more than likely then start to cough.  When I was with mom I 
began to watch her smoke more carefully and it was evident that she 
sucked in a whole lot of smoke, did so without choking at all, and 
then exhaled out arrows just like your breath on a cold winter day.  
I found that wondrous and it set a clear objective for me.

So then a few weeks have pass and I'm still dashing home to my tiny 
stash twice a week.  Still in front of the mirror, having gone to 
school on mom, I begin to consciously try to inhale.  I surmised 
correctly that very small puffs are the way to start and quickly I'm 
rewarded.  Not only do I now actually inhale a little smoke, I can 
now do it without choking very much.  Even more impressive is that my 
exhales are no longer shapeless.  The spurty clouds are being 
replaced with firm little cream darts.  And within a couple more 
weeks, no longer even so little.  I was smoking solely because it was 
fun.  I honestly have no idea whether I was beginning to enjoy the 
taste or even thought about it.

This is all so exciting that the twice a week regimen is now way too 
infrequent.  There was absolutely no problem hiding a couple now for 
mom's late nights and maybe one for each other day as well.  She 
smoked maybe a pack and a half a day (a fact that she'd recently 
shared with me) so a couple a day would never be missed.  And timing 
was no problem.  Even on her early days mom didn't get home until 
around six and that was plenty of cushion if I was home by three.  
Maybe three months after my first puff, I'd already become a daily, 
tea time smoker.  And what was best was that nobody else knew.  In 
good time they would but for the moment this was my own private 
little time and afternoon secret.

I must have turned twelve about that time because school had just let 
out.  Mom had agreed for the first time to let me stay at home by 
myself that summer and I was pretty hyped.  I had a bunch of 
activities planned and friends to hang out with but now I had even 
one more reason to celebrate my emancipation.  Early on I determined 
that even at her pack and a half a day rate, anything more than two 
or maybe three cigarettes at a time might be detectable so that 
became my daily fix.  

Gearing my day to hers, each morning I would get up early to have 
breakfast with her.  Her ritual included a cup of coffee and a 
cigarette and I began finding a morning cup of coffee enjoyable as 
well but not nearly so enjoyable as my second one.  As soon as I 
could be sure that she was safely out of the house, I would pour 
another cup of coffee and head for the bathroom to have my first 
cigarette of the day.  I'd bring in a chair and place a board over 
the sink to create my own little table.  The other one or two 
cigarettes I would smoke at least three hours before her return 
without nearly so much fanfare.  

This pattern worked superbly with but a single problem.  Some days 
she didn't work.  While at first it didn't upset me to just skip 
those days, that became progressively more bothersome.  By late 
summer I was routinely manufacturing little walks for relief.  In 
these instances of some need, for the first time, I was finding 
myself more smoking than playing with the cigarette.  I didn't think 
of it as a habit or an addiction.  The way I looked at it, I was just 
getting to more and more enjoy smoking and I just really wanted to 
have a cigarette.  Now the taste was something I looked forward to.  
Little did I understand that the cravings were just beginning to own 
me.

Seventh grade offered the perfect opportunity to come out of the 
closet but I chose not to.  Mostly I didn't because I wasn't 
particularly interested in the kids who openly smoked and I was 
somewhat concerned about what my close friends would say.  Smoking 
however did remain my number one after school activity.  My friends 
found it kind of weird that suddenly getting home was so important 
but I always credited it to a lot of homework.  Only on those days 
that mom worked late would I hang out with them because I knew I 
still had ample opportunity to smoke provided I wasn't too late.  And 
of course I never was.

With mom continuing to be my sole albeit unwitting (I thought) 
supplier, my smoking was tightly controlled.  There was many an 
afternoon when I'd only stashed one or two where I would have been 
very grateful for a couple more but I always made due.  Shortly after 
Christmas though, on a day following an evening where mom had 
actually had the audacity to run out of cigarettes right at bedtime 
leaving me empty handed, need overpowered caution and I sought out my 
own supply.  

Not far from school there was a little hamburger joint which, 
ditching my friends, I made a bee line for.  Adjacent to the 
restrooms were a couple of phones and a cigarette machine.  I was 
neither the first nor the last to figure out that by feigning a phone 
call and quietly dropping in four quarters, you could snatch a pack 
of cigarettes unnoticed.  In a rush and nervous as all hell, I pulled 
out the lever of the first green pack I saw and stuffed a pack of 
what proved to be Benson and Hedges snugly down the front of my jeans.
  Calmly returning to the counter, I chugged down my Coke and made a 
quick exit, the smooth cellophane locked caressingly against my skin. 


Breathless, I arrived home.  This was the first pack of my very own 
and I stared at them in awe.  It was minutes before I even opened 
them and I did that also in a very reverential way.  Now back in my 
accustom bathroom setting I struck a match, lit up, and inhaled, a 
three step process that was rapidly becoming a single motion.  And 
for the first time I suddenly realized that smoke actually had a 
distinct taste associated with it because these tasted very different 
than mom's Salem Lights.  Not better.  Not worse.  Probably stronger. 
 But certainly different.

Now possessing what seemed like an infinite supply and several more 
hours until mom's return, I settled in for a more extended stay than 
usual.  I chained smoked three cigarettes in maybe half an hour.  
With each puff, I began to decide that maybe I preferred these to 
mom's.  I'm sure the fact that they were mine didn't enter into it at 
all.  By the time mom arrived home, I'd upped the ante to five 
cigarettes and was feeling just a tiny bit queasy.  This was most 
nicotine than my body had ever experienced in a day and I could feel 
the effect.  

Over the next six months I suppose I averaged about one trip a week 
to one cigarette machine or another and I never got caught.  Along 
with a couple a day from mom, I guess five cigarettes a day was now 
more like the average than an exception.  Weekends were no longer a 
matter of choice.  I needed to find cause to leave the house two or 
three times a day.  While I had a very private place to hide out, it 
increasingly seemed like a pain and I really hated being sneaky.  I 
decided that it was about time to tell mom the truth and face the 
music.  She wasn't going to like it on the other hand I didn't think 
that she was likely to toss me out or anything either.  While not 
exactly sure how I would do it, I resolved to talk to her the first 
thing next month right after school would be out.

My birthday fell on Memorial day weekend that year and mom and I had 
planned our usual getaway.  While I'd always looked forward to our 
little trips in the past, smoking threatened to complicate this one.  
Not wanting to risk the possibility that she might go postal though, 
I was reluctant to tell her now and ruin the weekend.  I decided to 
just be uncomfortable if that's what it took and break it to her the 
next weekend.  I kept telling myself that going cold turkey for three 
days wouldn't be any problem.  I must have known better."  





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