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Friday, November 16, 2012

Smoke Gets In My Eyes (Or Maybe Just My Overactive Imagination)

A haunted house can chill the blood or bring a smirk to the face of any cynic. Me, I just take it all in stride. Oh, I don't have a haunted house. I'm just haunted all by myself.

It began nearly ten years ago, and at first, I thought I must be encountering it naturally. I'd be driving in my car, or walking in a shopping mall or cooking dinner in my house and there it would be: the smell of cigarettes.

I don't smoke. Never have. Neither does anyone in my house.

Then I'd experience it at my desk at work or in the middle of the night when I woke up sometimes. Usually it was faint, like I'd walked into a hotel room that someone had smoked in the stay before. Sometimes it was strong enough to give me a slamming headache, making me rub my nose as if to banish it. I even got myself checked out by a doctor because smelling odd smells can sometimes be a sign of neurological issues. Everything was fine. So why was I smelling cigarettes?

After all, it's not my favorite smell.

My late mother was a three-pack-a-day smoker for most of her greatly shortened life. She tried valiantly to quit on several occasions, and with a lot of self-loathing and persistent heartbreak at her inability to quit the habit. The habit helped kill her ten years ago this Christmas. She was sixty-four.

I finally realized several years back that if my Mom wanted to come through from the great beyond, there could be no stronger signal to me than that smell. I used to have to keep her holiday and birthday gifts out on our screened porch when she mailed them until the cigarette smell dissipated. In college, I never took piles of laundry home like everyone else. I learned my lesson on my first visit home - I ended up unpacking two suitcases full of clean clothes in my dorm room only to have to re-wash them all because they stank so strongly of cigarettes. The smell both permeated and defined her, unfortunately.

Every now and again, I get a faint whiff or strong cigarette odor out of nowhere, and I smile to myself and say softly, "Hi Mom". It's both a comfort, and a curse. I could wish I'd smell the odor of lemons or fresh flowers or clean linens.

Then again, if I had just those things to remember her by, I might still have my mother to hug.

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