Faith and Smoke This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

December 29, 2010
The familiar smell of cigarettes drifts to my nose the instant I open the door of the Jeep. The gray-haired driver peers at me from over her bulky spectacles and informs me that she'll be back for me in a little over an hour. I respond with a simple smile and slight nod. I doubt she'll remember – she generally doesn't – but that's all right. The walk back to campus never upsets me, not after going where I'm headed.

I stroll toward the great stone building. A colossal golden cross is suspended over the doors. The structure casts a shadow into the parking lot, which covers me and the two aged gentlemen who stand by the doors, enjoying cigarettes and each other's company. On a cold, starry night like this, there is no place I'd rather be going.

“Hey,” one of the men says, his unkempt beard bouncing as he speaks. “It's the kid.” He takes a drag and lets the smoke trail off, dissolving into nothingness. The man is probably in his late sixties, and though he's scruffy-looking, I know from experience that his heart is in the right place.

The other laughs, his cheeks puffing up as he does. Everyone here has deemed him “Crazy Chris,” and it's fitting; he stutters, rarely makes sense when he talks, and has an extensive and ugly history of alcoholism and substance abuse. But Chris is a dear friend, and when he sees me, he exclaims, “How goes it, bud?”

I extend my hand and shake his. “Everything's just fine, my man,” I reply, with a toothy grin.

The smell of burning tobacco taunts me. The addiction I have to nicotine is unlike all others, and I miss the peace smoking gave me, but people back on campus have put an abundance of faith in me to make the right decisions and exhibit the honesty and trustworthiness that coming here has given me. If that means I have to go without smoking, so be it. So rather than asking either of my friends for a cigarette, I tell them I'll see them inside, and I go in.

Immediately my ears are overwhelmed by all the voices shooting around the large space, and I can almost taste the coffee brewing in the tiny kitchen. The walls are bare, aside from some prayers hanging here and there and a stone fireplace at the back of the room with a painting of Jesus over it. Rows of chairs face the front, where a lone table stands with stacks of ­literature.

All around, there are people – fat, skinny, tall, short, white, black, old, and in my case, young. They all have at least 10 years' seniority over me, but it never ceases to amaze me that our stories are essentially the same. An aura of love and tranquility surrounds each individual in the room, for we all know that what we can't do alone, we do here, together.

A few months ago I was snorting cocaine, a bottle of cheap vodka in one hand and a blazing joint in the other, Eminem's fuming rhymes bursting from my stereo. I completely justified and enjoyed my behavior at the time. I spent nearly every night creeping along the streets, clothed in black, stealing valuables from anyone I could to support my destructive patterns. My head became so twisted in such a short time; I saw jails, institutions, and the tears of loved ones, but nothing swayed me. As far as I was concerned, I was not only addicted to this lifestyle – I felt entitled to it.

Now I sit in a room with others, some who have lied, cheated, stolen, and abused both people and drugs even more than I did, and some who were lucky enough to find this graceful place before they fell that far down the rabbit hole.

As I sip the coffee someone handed me, I turn around and engage a middle-aged woman in delightful conversation. She spent the majority of her life either in prison or hiding from police as she found disturbing ways to scrape together enough heroin to satisfy her addiction. She is now blissful and knows the sweet tastes of freedom and joy.

“You know,” she says, staring into my eyes with her great emerald ones, “you're lucky to be here at such a young age.”

“Yeah,” I say, slurping my coffee and feeling the serenity of the room envelop me. “I know.”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

kmerck said...
Feb. 8, 2011 at 1:24 pm
This article shows the reality of some people's lifes, and it really inspired me. Also, I love some of the word choices that you made for the story. Very good; I loved it!! :)
Tj_McGowens said...
Feb. 7, 2011 at 1:43 pm
I really enjoied reading your story, it really shows how life is and how we overcome problems in life. Keep on at it!.
mrs.T said...
Jan. 14, 2011 at 12:19 pm
I appreciate the narrative voice of this author... and I happen to know that the author worked to craft the narrative.  This author applied lessons on descriptive language, narrative leads, and the use of strong verbs - I know because I had the honor of teaching those lessons in class while this author practiced and applied them.  The author embraced the stages of the writing process to and invited peer and teacher critique.  Congrats to the author!
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