Andy was a Sophomore transfer student from the Wharton School of Finance at Penn. Not the Wharton School of Business, because that is a graduate program, of course, though to this day Donald Trump seems to confuse the two when speaking of his daughter’s accomplishments. Or perhaps he just hopes that not enough people know the difference, and will assume that Ivanka has an MBA already, which she kind of does, if you think about it, since what better Masters in Business Administration program could there be than growing up with The Donald in the next bedroom?
When you first met him, Andy still oozed that frenetic energy that he attributed to his PTSD from living in Philadelphia. And since you had never been to Philadelphia, you figured this was as reasonable of an explanation as any other. Every afternoon, he would pace back and forth on the brand new industrial carpet of your freshman dorm room, offering observations about the differences between living in Shallow Alto and Philadelphia, talking about Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions (which he thought of as some kind of Bible), or relating whatever had happened that morning in his macroeconomics lecture. This was back when Andy went to class, when you both did, and when the extent of your adventures consisted of his tales from the Philly days, where he had procured for himself a switchblade, and where he had met a man who could help him, should he ever need to have someone killed. When Andy brought out his switchblade, you found it peculiar that a 20-year-old from Scottsdale would risk bringing a weapon through airport security at SFO, when you might have been attending school in the safest place in the entire world, provided you weren’t afraid of quadratic equations and all-male a capella groups.
But Andy was different, and over the course of those months, he paced his way into your life, in spite of any objections you might have initially had. Andy smoked Camel Lights, and he did so ostentatiously, out on the sun porch at the end of your hall in Kimball, for everyone entering and leaving the dorm to see. And though you had been smoking more or less regularly since returning from Paris the summer after your Junior year in high school, you never joined him out there. Yours was a very quiet, if not reliably odorless rebellion. It was a war you raged against yourself during early mornings by the beach before going to school or, now that you were in college, over by the Slavic Studies department, where you never saw anyone go, though you assumed they must go, since why have a Slavic Studies department building if nobody ever majored in it?
Andy knew you smoked because you reeked of smoke. It was a tough habit to hide, and other people were confused and annoyed by your efforts to hid the stench. Once, Denise Kahn asked, loudly, in the middle of a French seminar, “Is your perfume like, uh, JUST REALLY STRONG, or something?” And you, humiliated, nodded, even though you had only sprayed the perfume to make it seem less stinky. There was a dirtiness about smoking, and it embarrassed you at the same time as it sucked you in. That was why you did it, and that was why you hid it. You smoked, because you hoped for an early death, and you needed to cling to something, as the song said. These were the days when you went around telling people of your plans to kill yourself once you hit thirty, because you hated life, and why hate life AND be old at the same time?
“Why won’t you come out to the sunporch and have a cigarette with me?” Andy asked you, for the eighty thousandth time. It was an adjustment, smoking had been something you hid the entire time you had done it. Was it something that could or should be shared? You had objected to Andy’s invitations for so long, knowing that he had some kind of a crush on you, and really not wanting to pursue that story arc any further than need be, since he was most definitely not your type and though he made you laugh, you didn’t want him to have any expectations.
But Andy had a way of inserting himself into your life in such a way that after a while you started to wonder what had held his place before he had gotten there. He introduced you to things like putting relish in egg salad, and tabasco sauce on pizza, and smoking because you felt like it, and because that’s what people did. That’s what adult smokers did.
So when you had that first Marlboro Light on the sunporch–because that was what you were smoking back then, before you realized that all Marlboro Lights do is give you a sore throat–when you had that first public cigarette, it probably didn’t seem like a big deal to anybody else. It probably didn’t seem like an earth shattering experience to people walking by, and if they noticed, it would only have been to say, “Huh. I didn’t know she smoked.” But for you, it might have been a little something else. It might have been the first step on a path that was windy, messy, dirty, riddled with stones. And tough, but maybe for the first time ever, the path that was uniquely yours.
And that’s why when Tad, your childhood friend who had attended all of the same schools with you–almost miraculously, really–since Kindergarten, continuing on now, through college, when Tad came over and you told him you wanted to have a cigarette on the sunporch, Andy wasn’t there but he was in a sense. And when Tad said, “You know, the changes I see are interesting. Really. But the smoking, is a little much.”
And you smiled and said, “Tad, I’ve been smoking for 3 years. Where have you been?”