The day I inhaled

I was on my way to a counseling appointment, driving seventy miles per hour on the interstate, when I saw the semi truck quickly closing the distance behind me. He drove so close to my back bumper for a while that I was relieved when there was finally an opening for him on the left. He pulled quickly into it and roared past me.

For some reason, I slowed down. Maybe because I knew he was going to jump right back in front of me — and maybe because I suspected he wouldn’t give me enough room before he did.

I slowed down more, and just as I expected, he pulled back into my lane. I was watching the cars behind me but suddenly had to hit the brake to slow down enough so the truck wouldn’t clip the front of the Saturn I was driving as he pulled in front of me.

I just managed to avoid getting hit, and my heart was pounding furiously. It kept pounding for the rest of the drive. It was still racing when I parked at the large office building where I had my appointment.

I stopped for a while and took a few deep breaths, trying to shake it off.

There was a guy standing right outside the front entrance, smoking. As I walked past him to the front door, I quietly inhaled.

I don’t think I consciously intended to do that as I walked up the door. I just did it. I’ve never smoked a thing in my life, but that day . . . that day, I inhaled.

On purpose.

And it helped.

Turns out, it helped more than the actual counseling appointment — which was where the psychiatrist taught me a relaxing exercise he called “kenosis,” so, you know, I could completely relax before I hit the freeway again for the drive home.

He also offered to make me a tape recording of the relaxation exercise, so I could listen to it at home as often as I needed to.

I politely accepted, though I doubted I’d ever use it.

This was after I’d started taking Effexor XR and before I knew I was pregnant with our third child.

When I left the counselor’s office, I looked to see if the smoking guy was still there just outside the door, but he was gone.

And I was disappointed. Not that I blamed him. He probably had a life.

I took some more deep breaths, already bracing for the drive home, offered a quick prayer that I’d get home alive, and headed back to the freeway.

I still wonder why something told me that it might help if I inhaled someone’s second-hand smoke.

Weird, right?

But there’s something familiar and comforting about the smell of cigarette smoke in the outside air. I’m not trying to sell cigarette smoking to anyone. I hope my kids never pick up the habit, and I don’t intend to start smoking myself, either. Too expensive.

But for some reason, when I felt desperately on edge after what seemed to be a near-death experience on the freeway, something made me think — at least on some level — that a lungful of second-hand smoke might actually help me calm down a bit.

And maybe it did.

Or maybe I just made myself think that it did.

But that counseling appointment . . . didn’t.

And I knew it didn’t.

And I distinctly remembered thinking, “To hell with this! Not worth it,” as I drove out of the parking lot to head home.

I’m not saying counseling doesn’t work for anyone. It depends on the counselor. And on the patient.

And on other things, which for now we’ll just call “context.”

Plus, it’s totally different when someone’s talking to you and blowing smoke directly into your face — which happened a lot in Spain and wasn’t at all comforting. But I learned to turn my head and to discreetly avoid inhaling (all of) it.

It’s just one of the things I had to get used to in Spain — like having two people talk to me at the same time in rapid-fire Spanish. And being told very bluntly that my dress makes my rear end look huge.

And being told by my dear hostess, as she’s holding up one of my bras, that I’m deluding myself if I think I need that level of containment.

And learning that an Irish coffee doesn’t get its name from a shot of Irish Cream liqueur. Turns out, the Irish thing in it is whiskey.

Go ahead and laugh at me, if you already knew that.

My hostess did, after I managed to get home without walking into traffic. And then she told me, “Don’t ever do that again. It looks bad” — in Spanish, doing that thing with her arms that’s Spanish sign-language for flipping the middle finger.

She’d heat up a cup of coffee and some bizcochos or magdalenas every morning for me, put it in front me of me at the table and say, “Te vas a matar con tanto café!” and then do the arm flippy thing.

I miss her. When I had to stay there with a cold one day, she came into my room and lovingly shoved a large spoon full of honey down my throat. Then she made a batch of arroz con leche for me, just for a treat. It wasn’t anything like the rice pudding I had in grade school as a kid. This was like creme brulee, only not quite as smooth. But she’d sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar and use her little blowtorch to crisp it up. I loved that stuff.

I don’t really know why the smell of cigarette smoke mixed with outside air smells familiar and comforting to me. Our dad stopped smoking cigarettes when I was just a baby, so I don’t remember him smoking them, though I do remember seeing him with a pipe sometimes, and he did like a good cigar now and then.

The smell of woodsmoke is also familiar and comforting. After we have a fire in the pit out back, and Chris’s shirt smells of woodsmoke, he wants to take a shower, and I just want to keep smelling his shirt.

And he smiles and looks at me weird, because he just wants to go take a shower and get something clean-smelling on.

No one has ever been able to put that smell into a candle. Or a cologne.

It’s a shame, really. No cologne on earth can compete with it.

How about you? Any smells you wish you could put into a teeny bottle to sniff when you need a quick calmer-downer or a quick pick-me-up? Or does that just sound weird?


2 thoughts on “The day I inhaled

  1. It’s a true delight to read your short stories. The style, the humor, the suspense (even in ordinary stories) are so easy to digest. Even for an European like me, stranded on the North American continent and having to deal with English as a Second (or rather fifth) Language .
    Congratulations Sarah. And trust me, I am not “hitting” on you, like the Spaniard who helped you leave that village.


    1. Thank you so much! I’m glad and honored that you’ve enjoyed reading my stories, and I hope to post many more. Thanks, also, for connecting on Twitter and for taking the time to connect here, too. I didn’t know you were from Europe or that English is your fifth language! You must have plenty of stories to tell, too. Your last sentence made me laugh. Thank you again for the kindness and humor in your comment! I hope the rest of your evening passes pleasantly for you. There’s so much chaos and uncertainty in the world beyond my smaller one; this is where I look for clues in my past that I’d failed to notice while living through it. Plus, I just love a good story, and so do my kids. Take care of yourself, and have a good night and a good week! 🙂


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