a true conversation circa 1988

She wore stonewashed jeans, a long striped shirt, and dirty Keds with no socks. Her hair was moussed, dried, curled and sprayed. She knew just the right way to make her mother crazy with that sassy, all too familiar tone that announced, I am 16 years old, and you know nothing, no matter what she actually said aloud.

It was 1988. And my cousin smoked cigarettes.

The thirteen-year-old version of me was still a little bit in awe of this smooth-talking teenager. My cousin and her parents had come for a short visit. After dinner, we took a walk and stopped to watch cars zoom down the interstate far below my street, which was a hilly dead end road with little traffic. I watched my cousin as she adeptly lit a cigarette and inhaled. Exhaled. Over and over till I got a little dizzy.

“You smoke?” I asked, though the answer was obvious. “For how long?”

“I don’t know. A long time.” she laughed.


We were quiet. It was a warm fall night and the sun was slowly slipping beneath the horizon, casting long shadows across the road.

“Do you want one?” she offered me the pack.

Reluctantly, I declined, and immediately regretted it. She shook her head a little, rolled her eyes. She was kind, but I felt the impact of my decision. I was so not cool.

“You’re so thirteen.” she said.

Before I could respond, she offered something else. “I once told my mom I hated her. But I don’t.”

I didn’t say anything, just nodded soberly. I had smoked before, a couple of years back when instead of throwing my parents’ cigarettes away, I opted to try it out for myself.  After several attempts, I gave it up because it was disgusting and made me cough.

Still, there was the cool factor. My cousin finished her cigarette, and stood up. We began walking back to my house in silence.

The night crept in and the distance between us felt vast.

This post was written in response to a prompt from Write on Edge (http://writeonedge.com/).


6 thoughts on “a true conversation circa 1988

  1. Do you ever think that this moment set you on one path, and a different decision would have sent you down another? I think you do, based on the closing statements…

    I was working at Taco Bell, little miss perfect, surrounded by lots of rough-talking, drug-and-alochol-using, very exciting people, totally unlike those I’d ever been around before. One night a guy asked me to hold his lit cigarette while he changed a trash can (after close). I sat there staring at it, trying to decide whether to try it. I couldn’t make up my mind. And then he took it back from me and said, “What’re you holding that for? You don’t smoke.” I often wonder what other decisions might have gone differently if I had chosen to take a drag…

  2. Nancy C says:

    I adore that ending. Oh my word, it is a good. You’ve distilled this moment perfectly…the questioning, the trying on of roles, the confusion, the hopes.

    And that line about the mother slayed me.

  3. angela says:

    My favorite part of this is the contrast between the smoking and the admission that your cousin doesn’t, in fact, hate her mom. For a sixteen year old, so concerned with coolness and image, to admit something like that is really something.

  4. Galit Breen says:

    I love how much you conveyed by describing your cousin, her choices, and your reactions to them. I agree with you- a lot of paths change through single moments.

    As a teen, these pass quickly. As a mom, they scare me so very much!

    I love how thought provoking your post is!

  5. What a great conversation. I love how you captured the gulf between you–I could feel it. And be glad you didn’t take the cigarette. I did, and it took me forever to quit.

  6. Great job! The enormous gap between you and your cousin was very evident in your words.

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