The Ever Slow and Painful Metamorphosis of Romance

I have a confession. I love smoking. I do not smoke, and I appreciate the laws that keep the rooms I am free of second hand smoke. I would never encourage smoking, and I actively admonish my loved ones when they smoke. Yet, deep down I love smoking. It isn’t the actual act of smoking that tickles me so. I find nothing appealing about the postmodern, Neo liberal form of smoking in-which arguments over personal rights and public space have pushed smokers to frantic, quick puffs. There is no time for indulgence. There is no space for indulgence, and along with the indulgence, the romance of smoking has been squeezed out of public space. I am not saying that before the smoking bans everyone who smoked was leisurely and romantic about it. Nicotine creates habit, and the need for it creates a desperation, which has its own romance, but it just isn’t what I envision when I say, “I love smoking.”
Tonight on our way into town a car cut us off. It was an older, beat-up car very similar to our own, and we were both irritated by the inconsiderate driver. After we passed through the round-about the car slowed again and Nikola prepared to pass him. I turned to my husband and asked if I could flip him off. I know, it is a gross and vulgar action without a lot of real meaning, but every now and then I am irritated enough to consider it. Especially now that I am pregnant, I find myself wanting to flip off the entire world a bit more often than usual. While I was explaining the unfamiliar term to Nikola the anger faded and I decided against it. I still glanced over at the driver of the other car as we passed, just to get the last of my anger out. What I saw was absolutely beautiful. The driver of the other car was an older man, but I wouldn’t call him exactly old. His face had wrinkles, but they were obviously more from a life of hard work and loneliness than age. He was slightly small, and there was a wide space between his thin frame and the steering wheel. He wore a thick, black wool coat with the collar pressed down. With one hand he lightly gripped the steering wheel and with the other he held a cigarette to his lips. I caught him in the moment of exhale. He parted his lips delicately and slowly, with measured precision and years of practice, pushed a long, thick stream of smoke from his lungs. The smoke filled the space between the man and the steering wheel with thick tendrils that hovered for a moment before beginning to fade. By then our car had passed his and as far as I am concerned that man is still frozen in that perfect moment of exhalation, with smoke curling deeply around his face.
My first reaction was a continuation of my irritation. Perhaps if the man concentrated more on his driving and had fewer distractions like his cigarette he would not go around cutting other people off. My anger couldn’t stick though. The image was too perfect. The man seemed so alone, and so distanced from the entire world. He was separate, creating a world of his own in that car. That is the romance of smoking.
You just don’t see that anymore. I thought to myself, and let my mind wander to dirty phrases like, “The death of romance.” Romance has always occurred in dark, smoke-filled bars. It is a lone man who has a story to tell. It is the amber of a glass of whiskey. These moments seem to be pushed back by the demands of society. What are the chances of me finding that perfect moment of exhalation in a bar these days? Very little, almost none, and if not there, where will I see it?
I realize I am being melodramatic. Romance doesn’t die. It quite simply can’t. Romance isn’t dependant on the cigarette, the smoke, the alcohol, or the dive bar. It is any moment of separation. It is any moment when a person is alone, and that loneliness, instead of consuming them, creates a completely consuming reality around them. It is painful to admit that the ‘easy’ catches of romance I have come to depend on for a quick, happy buzz are going to be harder to find, but I will always find romance in new and exciting forms. I can’t wait to see how it shows itself next.

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