Rebel Without a Cause

My left hand on the steering wheel, I shifted gears with my right then reached past the gear shift and pushed in the cigarette lighter. I could feel my little sister watching me from the passenger seat, but I didn’t look over at her and risk losing my nerve. I opened the glove box at her knees and pulled out a pilfered pack of Marlboro Lights 100’s, from which I shook one cigarette.

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I stuck the smoke between my lips as the lighter popped.

What are you doing?” my sister asked, incredulous.

Steering with one hand, I lit the cigarette.

“Smoking,” I answered, exhaling smoke to emphasize my point.

“Do Mom and Dad know?” she asked. She was eleven and concerned about our parents’ approval. I was sixteen and pretending unconcern.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“I swiped these from the freezer,” I added. I had been cadging smokes from my parents’ stash in the freezer for the past year. I’d tried buying my own. There was one cashier at the 7-11 near the high school who wouldn’t card for cigarettes, but when I went in there, I got so nervous, I ordered unfiltered Camels. Although I felt kind of like a badass when I smoked those, they burned my throat and left bits of tobacco on my tongue. It was less unpleasant to just take a pack from whichever parent had more on the door of the freezer.

The strange thing about me and smoking back then was that I didn’t even like it. Even though I’d grown up with two smokers from before I was born, those first several cigarettes left me feeling lightheaded and nauseated. I really had to work to start smoking.

It wasn’t peer pressure that started me smoking. My peer group were so anti-smoking, I made a point of keeping it a secret from both my parents and my friends. Before I got my driver’s license, I would only smoke after my parents were in bed or when I would walk alone after dark to the park across the street from our house. Once I was legal to drive alone, I traded my late-night walks for late-night drives, blasting Gin Blossoms and Tori Amos and puffing away behind the wheel.

I only had one friend who smoked. One night, she picked me up at my house and we drove around the block to the park. We sat in the car and smoked and shared a half-can of beer and then worried that we were too wasted to drive back to my house safely.

Ah, yes. We were rebels.

I quit smoking when I was 21, and those days are far, far behind me now.

When I was a teenager, I was lucky enough to have smoker parents from whom I could steal cigarettes to feel like a rebel. With the life I lead now, what will my kids be forced to steal from me? I’d best keep a close eye on my cod liver oil capsules and my homemade deodorant.

Written for this week’s Remember the Time Blog Hop.

Possession Identity

“Between what a man calls me and what he simply calls mine the line is difficult to draw. We feel and act about certain things that are ours very much as we feel and act about ourselves.”

 William James

This is today’s Moment of Happiness from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.

I remember times in my life when my sense of identity was very much tied up with objects.

My first car was a 1983 Volvo 240DL wagon. My parents had bought it new when I was 6 years old and I remembered how huge the backseat had seemed and how smooth the vinyl upholstery was under my legs. I learned to drive on that car (and I taught my husband how to drive stick on it) and it just kind of became mine during my sophomore year of college. That car was blue, and she was boxy. She handled like crap in the snow (rear-wheel drive), and I could fit an entire full-size mattress in the trunk if I put the back seat down. Two friends and I slept in the back when we went to Halloween at Ohio University one year because we were afraid we’d be puked on if we slept in the house where we were staying.  When I sold that car, I cried.

In college, there was a professor who was trying to quit smoking by only buying cigarettes one at a time for a quarter each from the smokers clustered outside the academic buildings before and after classes. One day, I was smoking with a couple of other people before Brit Lit when this professor came out of the building, surveying the scene.

“Ah!” he said when he saw me. “A Camel smoker!”

I traded him a smoke for a quarter and thought to myself, “A Camel smoker…yes, that’s what I am.”

I’ve not smoked in 15 years and it’s been nearly 10 years since I said farewell to that Volvo. I think I’ve loosened my attachment to things in the intervening years, but when I give up clothes or when I consider buying a different car (I’m still driving the car that replaced the Volvo, by the way), I still think, “Who am I if I don’t wear this item, if I don’t drive this car?”

In a slight shift from that, as a mother, I realize I’ve begun to base my identity on my relationship with my children. While one could argue that defining oneself by one’s relationships to living people is perhaps a little healthier than defining oneself by the brand of cigarettes one smokes (for more reasons than one), it still doesn’t take into account who I am on my own (or, for that matter, who my children are separate from me).

Who are we on our own, unattached to people or things? Is this why we cling so tenaciously to possessions and people and social media? Are we afraid of who we’ll meet when we’re all alone in the quiet? Is that what I’m afraid of?