I never thought that my best friends would have been objects instead of people, but here we are.

I liked to smoke.  I loved to smoke.  My favorite time of the day was early morning, with cup of coffee in hand, pack of cigarettes on the table, and an hour to leisurely peruse Facebook and Twitter before my caregiving responsibilities came into play.

I cherished the twin jolts of caffeine and nicotine, and to a lesser extent, the solitude to indulge in those old friends.  Of course, at night, there was nothing better than a few beers, a lot more smokes, and hitting the hay with a pleasant buzz.

Then, the virus happened.  It started like my usual infection that happens every year at the same time:  sore throat, headache, nasty asthmatic cough.  I took my usual store meds to keep the symptoms to a dull roar and continued to do my usual, albeit with the added stress of Thanksgiving just a couple of days away.  I powered through, prepping for the big day, hacking and blowing my nose, smoking less and drinking more.  Alcohol is a disinfectant.  The logic seemed impeccable, really.

Then, my roommate started sniffling.  Started wheezing.  By Friday, she was puffing like a steam engine.  I was somewhat concerned, but not unduly so.  Although she indulged in the same habits, her smoking took a big hit.  She just couldn’t draw a deep breath.

By Saturday morning, she sounded like Darth Vader and looked like him without the helmet; grey, sickly, weak around the eyes.  Her stubbornness would not let her even touch her rescue inhaler until it was too late to do any good.  Off we go to the ER.  She spent six days in the hospital, struggling to draw a breath, taking breathing treatments and injections every two hours.  I had another day of self-recrimination and smoking, until I gave it up, too.  There was no way I could continue to smoke after what I saw her go through, even though I hadn’t planned to quit, exactly.  It just happened.

So, this Saturday, she will be two weeks smoke-free, on a strict heart-healthy diet, one drink limit, and as much walking as she can handle, which is to say, not much right now.  my drinking is down to one beer a night.  I didn’t plan that, either, but it happened.  Sunday will be two weeks smoke-free for me.

My so-called best friends ended up not being my best friends after all.  They didn’t care about my wellbeing.  They just wanted to kill me.  With friends like that, who needs enemies?  I can live without them and I have more free hours to do what I really want to do.  I thought I would be depressed, but the opposite has happened.  I feel more energetic, more positive, and I cook a whole lot more because I feel like it again.  I’ve noticed that my back no longer aches when I walk a lot.  I don’t get in a hurry to finish something so I can have a cigarette and a beer.

My roommate still has breathing treatments for the next few months, but she sounds better now breathing-wise than she has in years.

As for me, I’m still taking doctor-prescribed meds, still sniffling, still keeping a headache, and still smoke-free.  The gut-punch of wanting a cigarette happens and I let it come and go.  If I could train myself to not smoke in the car or the truck and be happy with it, I can train myself to not smoke anywhere, anytime.  I thoroughly enjoy my one beer and don’t miss the other five or six at all.

I once thought that being an adult meant doing what I want when it turns out that real maturity means doing what is necessary and liking it for the sheer joy of having the choice to make good decisions.

Advertisements

BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, the house vibrated with each beat.

Jane cocked her head, startled.

“What’s that noise?”

I told her it was a car speaker booming somewhere close.

“A CAR SPEAKER!” “WHAT??”

I walked out on to the porch and the next door workers were blasting from a truck as they threw trash into the bed. my triangle neighbors across the street came out, too. Left angle neighbor said that her twin toddlers woke up from their naps. Right angle neighbor came out barefooted, hair all askew, throwing up her hands.

“What the fuck??”

I jerked my thumb over to the offending house. Dude, they shaking the house. She said her windows were rattling. She shouted over in Spanish to cut the music down and they ignored her. We talked for a few minutes and went back in. I texted the PD and said the neighbors were raising the dead over here. I came back outside and the music was turned down enough that all you could hear was quiet little booms, like a cockatoo that’s been told to shut the fuck up but he mumbles just enough to let you know you are not his mother and he doesn’t have to listen to you.

Right angle neighbor came back over and we smoked and talked about her casino trip the night before. She said her old man was gonna shit when he pulled up and heard what had happened. Not that he’s a crazy guy or anything, but he is the opposite of little man syndrome. And he’s a short guy. I know good and well he won’t start anything but he will sure finish it. Couple of weeks ago, he was outside raking leaves when he heard another neighbor, elderly, yelling at some dogs that were chasing her out of her backyard. He ran over with his rake and they turned on him. He made them turn around and hop over the back fence to the crackheads’ yard, which is probably where they came from in the first place. He told me to keep an eye out for the dogs when I came outside, and sure enough, as soon as I got back in the house, they came running into my yard and charged at the storm door where the cats were looking out. I yelled so loud that they stopped and ran off. The cops called me that day when they finally had the dogs cornered and I could hear them barking like crazy as the cop told me he thought he had found the right ones.

My neighbor told me she had called the cops earlier, so we watched for them, and sure enough, they came rolling by right after boomer left. They chatted with us for a few minutes and were the epitome of polite and even tweaked me a little on my ballcap.

This neighborhood is small, one way in, one way out. It’s a mixed, diverse neighborhood, with a trump supporter at one end, hispanics at the other end, and every color of the rainbow in the middle. The town itself is small, just a dot on the highway, but less than ten miles from a good sized urban area. Hundreds of brand new neighborhoods are getting thrown together by a builder of dubious reputation, but people don’t care. They are desperate for affordable housing and this is where they will find it. The older neighborhoods here are getting top dollar for shitholes, even though there are no bad neighborhoods to speak of, but Texas is cursed with soil that moves. Foundations crack. They can get so bad that a house can look like it’s broken in half on the inside and still command a premium price because of the location. So, this settled little subdivision is mature, quiet, where little kids ride their scooters and big wheels up and down the street under shade trees big enough to cool the yard but no so big they will send limbs into the neighbor’s roof the next little tornado that skips through.

The cops ride through and don’t mess with anybody. They didn’t say anything when we, four middle-aged adults, sat at the edge of the driveway to watch the fireworks down at the park and smoked a blunt and drank beer. They just waved at us. You know what happens when the Policia roll up on people reliving their bad old days:

“Shhh! Shhh! Be cool! Shnork!”

He kept his eyes averted and fidgeted when he talked but something I said touched something in him because he came alive with words that tumbled out in a halting, insistent rush to tell me a story he had held on to like a talisman for more than thirty years.

“I used to be the head technician for when the cable company first got big in _____

and I, uh, made good money in those days”

Here he paused and looked away, his sad old eyes seeing far beyond our sight. I waited for him to get to whatever point he was trying to make and he apologized for not being able to talk so good, because of botched anesthesia, and another story he needed to tell after this one.

“So I was going home one morning and I was in the right turn lane and this cement truck, this truck turned left and he took the corner too fast and he turned over and all I saw was green, because that was the color of the truck, and he stopped about three feet from a gas pump and all the cement came out and it stopped about an inch in front of my truck, and all I saw was green.”

He stopped and looked away from his feet directly into my eyes. His voice shifted in tone, gained strength.

“So I jumped out and ran around the cement truck and the driver climbed out and stood on top of his truck yelling and beating his chest, ‘Yeah! That was awesome'”

“There was a grandmother, a baby, and uh, the mother underneath that cement truck and you couldn’t even see the car.”

He never looked away from me and I felt the hurt and the guilt hitting me in waves. He had to tell this story, job be damned, stuttering be damned.

He climbed under the truck and a cop pulled him out as he tried to get to the people underneath.

“The cop, he yelled at me and said nobody was underneath that truck but I pointed to the headlight that popped out on the ground and the taillight that was laying there. And the cop said it was done and over with, and they put a big tarp over that cement truck all day.”

“That boy, that 19 year old boy, got eleven years in prison for uh, manslaughter, and I testified and everything.”

His sad old face looked broken, fault lines of grief opening up from hairline to jaw. I said nothing at all, just stayed with him in that place. He refocused on me and touched me on my shoulder. I suppose he was making sure I was real and wouldn’t disappear after the telling.

“I used to skydive, scuba dive, you know, uh, climbed Yellowstone eleven times, and, uh, . . .” He looked outside and squinted, relocating himself again. I felt his confusion. I felt his despair at no longer being the vibrant young man he remembered. And I didn’t move. Not a muscle.