The day you found me sprawled out on the ground With my sticky back pressed into burning gravel, You told me you were going to quit smoking. Yet somehow, as you absentmindedly flicked your ashes into my hair, I did not believe you. I went home and I did not bathe for weeks – An attempt to keep the tar and soot from your fingers Tangled in my split ends, hoping they would eventually Seep into my pink scalp And crust over my dreams with you. Each night, I missed your slow exhale And wondered if your sleep breath was any different From the way you puffed on your cigarettes. I would stop tossing in my bed and try to listen, Hear you from miles away, and synchronize the expansion of our lungs. I found a half-empty pack of Marlboros on the street, Pocketed them, and kept them in the back of my nightstand drawer. I prayed the scent did not linger too much Because I did not want to explain to my mother That I was not hooked on cigarettes; it was only you. But it was an unhealthy addiction, all the same. By the third week, I had convinced myself That my body would never again fit so perfectly curled Inside of anyone else's. Every morning, I kissed phantom-you awake by smelling the old carton. I did not see until half a year and you were long gone That we had merely carved a pattern With the space in between us. We were never meant to touch. Every time you swore it was over, you bought another pack. Every time I swore it was over, I called you again. I never found out if you kept your promise and quit, But one day, I woke up and dusted every piece of furniture in my house. I did the laundry twice, polished all the silverware, and mopped the floors. I scrubbed every inch of the bathroom with a toothbrush and finally Scraped your nicotine off my skin.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the October 2014 Teen Ink Poetry Contest.