It's been said, "I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time." On Tuesday I will be 55. Today I learned how to smoke.
It's not like I woke up this morning and thought, "Hmmm, what vice can I add to my expanding portfolio today?" It just kinda fell into my lap. "Ronda, we're short on care managers, would you take Sue* out for her smoke?"
She's young and she's sick. Right now she's having a difficult time and can't smoke alone. She needs a partner, thus she needs me. Why not? She's one of my million favorites at Sunrise Senior Living at Pinehurst where I serve as the evening concierge. A little one-on-one with her will be great.
I grab the portable phone and wheel her out the door. Once settled on the front porch, I remove a cigarette from her pack and hold it in my hand. I know a lot about a lot of things, but smoking isn't one of them. Now what?
For starters, how does one hold a cigarette? Between the thumb and pointer? Twixt the pointer and the finger? I opt for the latter. Taking lighter in hand, I run my thumb over the little wheel and a flame appears. I let it go out, and do it again. How fun. Actually, I'm stalling. The last time I lit a cigarette for a resident, I lit the wrong end.
So how does one know which end to light? There's a line ¼ of the way up the stick. I touch the flame to the tip farthest from the line and wait. When it turns black, I move it to her lips.
Sue closes her eyes, tips her head back and sucks. And sucks. And sucks. Momentarily she opens her eyes. With careful enunciation, as if speaking to a daft, she says, "You . . . have . . . to . . . light . . . it." Well, hello. No one told me a cigarette could go out. She smiles, I giggle and we do it all over again. This time I wait long enough for a tendril of smoke to drift into the air before placing it between her lips.
I watch in discreet amazement as she puffs and blows. Smoke pours out her nose and from the corner of her lips. It wafts my way and I try not to breathe. If I were going to smoke, it wouldn't be a cigarette, it would be a pipe. A big one. But I digress.
It occurs to me that I should do something with the ash on the end. Pulling the cigarette from her mouth, I knock it against the ash tray. Nothing. Stupid ash. I pop it again, this time a little bit harder. Stupid, stupid, stupid. The cigarette is disappearing while I try to rid it of its ash. I whoop it hard, then drag it across the bottom of the tray. Sue sighs and rolls her eyes. Finally the ash falls off. I put it in her mouth and she does that little sucking thing once more.
Where there's not smoke, there's not fire. Sue looks at me again, then waits patiently while I light the cigarette. "Look at it this way," I quip. "When I take you out to smoke, your cigarette lasts a lot longer."
I know we're getting to the end when my fingers get uncomfortably hot. "Okay, this is it," I say, "One more puff and it's over."
I learned a lot about Sue today. For just a little while, we were partners. While we were, she let me peek inside her heart.
She told me about her family. She told me about her friends. She told me about her fears. I doubt she would have done that had I not joined her on the porch.
It's been said, "I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time." On Tuesday I will be 55. Today I learned how to love.
*not her real name
By Ronda Knuth