I recently tweeted about the biggest influences on my writing and thinking back, it occurred to me that I started writing poetry and took up smoking around the same time–when I was 15–and for just about the same reason: To be cool.
The cool girls had a sophistication, I thought, that culminated with the swirling smoke wafting around their fingers, wrists bent at 45 degrees. Inscrutable faces, bored eyes: They belonged to a club into which only those who carried matches for a purpose were allowed.
I studied them closely and practiced smoking in secret, until I had perfected the look and the tolerance. I remember my debut when I opened a pack of cigarettes and lit up in plain sight of my peers; me, a heretofore corny, quiet girl. Skeptical eyes blazed as bright as the tip of my Kool (c’mon, what other brand would I be smoking) as they watched me take a drag.
I didn’t cough and I must have looked good doing it because no one laughed. I could see surprise register across some faces, across some, a twinge of approval. But seriously, in the long run, whoever didn’t like me before that day didn’t like me any better afterward, and I still was not considered cool–unless someone needed a light.
Ten years later, I tried to quit and I did … 20 years after that. I had my last cigarette 4 years ago.
By the same token, I started writing poetry to impress the new kid on the block, a gorgeous, older (cooler) boy named Tre. I’m not sure which came first, my first real kiss or my first poem, but I do remember him telling me that he liked to draw and write poetry. Since I could only draw stick figures, I told him I wrote poetry, too, although before then I did nothing of the sort.
I found that I liked it right away, that it felt natural, and that I was transported while I was doing it. Even before poetry ceased to be a topic of discussion between Tre and me, I realized that’s what I wanted to do.
One summer night, sitting on the steps of my porch talking, Tre leans in, takes my face in his hands, and kisses me with no warning. It is not tentative but rather assured, bold, and sincere. He does not involve his tongue. His full lips are soft, supple, and perfectly moist; they could not be more expressive.
Although I would have agreed to it gladly, we never had sex. He said he did not want to take my innocence. A couple of years later, I gave that away to someone not even close to being as worthy.
© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2009.