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Swinging and Smoking

It was a nice summer day: just cool enough not to be hot and just hot enough to complain. My family seldom has barbecues; our big fancy grill is mostly for show. Not to mention, Kentucky has awful weather and there was never a good time when all of the friends and the nearby cousins were all in town. This day, though, there was a barbecue with plenty of relatives, family friends, and other adults I didn't, don't, and won't ever know. Everyone mingled on the porch, sighing about how LONG it had been since we last saw you. This always confused me me because most of those people were fairly close friends of my parents who they saw regularly. Still, I suffered through that agonizing period of meeting everyone and hearing "Aren't you the cutest thing? How old are you now?" (as though I had aged five years since the Combs' fourth of July party the month before) a thousand and one times. Finally, the big kids were dismissed and sent to play out of everyone's way. 'Big kids' essentially meant Sarah and I. Conveniently, all of my parents' friends started their families just around the time Olivia was born so she had no shortage of toddlers to play with. They crawled around each other and chased a couple of their chew toys while the dads watched them. The men were all at the grill, flipping burgers and hot dogs and talking about business and basketball, but every few minutes someone would glance at the kids to make sure they had not escaped. Since I had outgrown the play pen stage, I had the honor of trudging over to the play-set (which was handily far enough away that our parents would not be bothered by our noise, but close enough that adults would walk by every few minutes a they went to get a beer or some chips from the table) with Sarah. Sarah has always been that kid who is close to my age so obviously we should be forced to socialize during events. It was always awkward in the beginning until about ten minutes before we had to go home. This is still the routine and this barbecue was no exception. She walked a few steps ahead of me and I was too shy to catch up to her. Naturally, she got to the swings first and so I was stuck with the bird poop covered swing, as though the day was not already uncomfortable enough. We started swinging. She flew high in the air and I only moved a bit, watching her enviously.

"Can't you kick?" she asked, looking back and me.

I was mortified. She always knew so much more than me. I thought about recess at Christ the King; we never swung, only played tag five days a week. How could I not know this important skill?

"No," I muttered, still kicking the dirt.

"I'll push you," offered a relative as she climbed down the porch steps.

I vaguely remembered that she pinched my cheeks earlier. Now, instead of being annoying, she was TERRIFYING.

First, I noticed a puff of smoke over her face. She waved at away and stepped towards me. Her face was dark and sallow, making her look years older. Her hair hung loosely around her face, a few strands catching in her cigarette. Oh, that cigarette! I had learned about them in school, heard my parents talk, and watched the movies. Barney the purple dinosaur was a very convincing teacher. Smoking was something bad guys and evil villains did. The little white and orange cigarette filled my entire vision. I stared at her in terror long enough for her to ask again and walk almost all the way to me. The scent of the disgusting smoke filled my nose and I coughed.

That's when I caught sight of my mom's head on the porch and ran for it. I burst through the ring of chatting women. Nate had already been passed around, fawned over, and settled into yet another stranger's arms so Mom let me climb in her lap and cry on her shoulder. When she asked what the matter was, I stammered something about a scary lady, smoking, and swings. The women laughed. Mom started to explain who the woman was, but I kept crying, unable to get the picture of the scary stranger trying to kidnap me out of my head. For the rest of the night I stayed by Mom's side, even suffering through conversations about furniture, kids, and people I did not know. I made sure to stay as far away as possible from the scary smoker.




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