Cigarettes – No I am not smoking them, but I really want them, and I cannot deny their seductive pull. It’s the oddest thing because the more trouble I have been having with my respiratory system, the more I want to handicap it further with smoke inhalation and other irritants. I have debilitating allergies, perhaps because of my adoration of old things, whatever has endured in closets for generations without seeing the light of day. What was your grandfather’s/grandmother’s/ been in your family forever/found in a thrift store/found on the street/don’t know where it came from/5am flea market acquisition. I want the possessions of others and I want them from a long time ago and these objects have always made me breathe poorly, but that never stopped me from doing anything.
It started when I would burrow into the depths of my family’s big closet, where old clothes and blankets and discarded toys and Christmas ornaments were kept, and I would travel back so far I thought Narnia would be imminent and I emerged sneezing and wheezing uncontrollably. There were incredible treasures back there though. Bright green and gold silk shantung suits my mother wore during her trip and on arrival to America in 1964, folded into ill-advised squares so that the silk would never quite shake out the evidence of its entombment, large fake and real fur coats belonging to the matriarchs of the family, long discarded because San Francisco, foggy as it was, would never ever be as cold as it was in Korea, traditional hamboks of all shapes and sizes, some for me, ceremonial garb from my birthday parties starting at age 1, many for others – one for every different size the women in my family inhabited, some switching to larger ones when they gained weight, and then triumphantly returning to the smaller ones when they lost weight.
The bigger hamboks got more airtime, but the smaller ones were certainly a badge of honor and their presence was celebrated with much fervor (eating). These ancient dresses could have been put inside each other like Russian nesting dolls. I still have one in my own adult filled to bursting closet, smelling like moth balls, separated from its kin, surrounded by unfamiliar modern dresses from all parts of the world. It’s one of the larger ones, but it isn’t shamed by the smaller hamboks proximity. It survives in the new world closet I have made for myself as a grown lady.
I love closets but that doesn’t make me tidy, and my lack of folding and hanging skills further threatens the delicate ecosystem of my sinuses and lungs. I cannot breathe at all at times, and my nose runs like you cannot even believe and I must sleep sitting up like the elephant man so that I don’t drown in my own mucus. I know I am allergic to dust mites. And that the tiniest scratch from the allergists pin, filled with dust mite shit, will make huge archipelagoes of angry red welts to form all down my back.
My allergies are somewhat contained by a number of treatments both utilizing modern drugs and old world remedies. I have graduated from a neti pot to a kind of insane nasal jet that blows my entire sinus up with saline solution and drills whatever is in there right out of my head. I was scared at first but now I miss that thing like a lover when I am not home to use it (there’s no portable version). I take a big huff from a purple disc when I get up in the morning. It’s weird and like sucking on a spaceship but somehow it makes my lungs better. There’s pills for different symptoms, which I usually discard after a brief attempt. I’ve never been good at remembering pills.
All this has contained the flood of fluid produced by my overly enthusiastic immune system for now, but the odd thing is lately, I just want to smoke. I really get this from my dad. He kept a pack of Marlboro lights in his drawer in the bedroom he shared with my mother, and after probably 1978 I never saw him smoking, and the pack never really seemed to empty, but those cigarettes were there. They were a symbol of freedom, maybe, for him, I am not sure. They were an open secret as there were ashtrays around the house that would fill and fill but the mystery was “when were they smoked?” I wanted to know – and I wanted to be like my daddy, and I am in many ways, as I am manly and grown up and a writer and a laugher and proud. But like my daddy I also like Marlboro lights and I don’t smoke them but I would like to possess them in my drawer, the tight white sticks pressed against themselves in this cardboard box, the sweet scent of unlit tobacco permeating my clothes like a coarse lavender, showing me every time that I open the drawer that I am grown, I am here, I make my own choices, I am free.