Sitting in the van before the trip down to Columbus, our driver asks us if anyone in the van smokes. We all give the same response, or at least the same meaning.

"Maybe it's time you quit!" the girl on my right says jokingly. That's got to piss off smokers every time someone says it. How many times do you hear that in a day, anyway? It either came off very well or the driver took it very well. Maybe I'm just wrong.

"Yeah, or maybe it's just time for you guys to pick up a new habit?" he replies. It's halfway phrased as a question. It's not just me using a question mark incorrectly.

I laugh. I start thinking about all my friends that smoke. I had this discussion with Bill before.

I never understood why people smoke. . .

Wait. Not quite. I know why they smoke. It's addictive. We know this. There's a a node floating around somewhere about that. It says that people smoke because of the primal connection to fire. That every time you light up, you're like a little prometheus, stealing fire from the gods. That makes sense, too. In a Fight Club kind of way.

Sorry for stealing your metaphor. It's good. If I ever get votes you'll get paid. I think it explains where I'm actually trying to go with this as well as it does where I've already been.

So I had a while to think about it. I forgot in about 5 minutes.

Later, and now we're into the party. A couple days in, actually. I've been sitting around moping and ignoring for most of the rest of it. I don't do well in a crowd. Sitting around the firepit, I see that someone has brought one of my favorite brands of liquid courage -- Ketel One Citroen. I turn into a herd animal for a minute. Follow, consume. It'll be a while yet before I return to humanity by adding regret to that list. Right now I'm tired of the way things have been going. I figure some chemical induced social prowess is just what I need right now.

It takes a a few minutes for that neural turbocharger to kick in. The fuzziness comes; The caring goes away. I can talk now. I can interact again. The group fades away into the periphery of my vision. Individuals become glowing targets locked in with an almost scary hyper-focus. The fear or whatever that terrible feeling is goes away, and all can do now is go with it. We'll burn that bridge when we get to it.

Move. Introduce. Converse. Move. Introduce. Apologize.

One girl in particular lights up now. She's sitting at the table on the deck. I know there are other people around, but right now I don't even see them. Everyone else is gone, already beyond that little event horizon of awareness. She glows. X-Rays from the black hole.

I sit down and talk. She was from one of the other Michigan crews. The driver for them, I think. I can't even remember what was said now, but somehow I did it. That thing I can never do. I started the conversation. I stayed in it. Kept it going, even. It was glorious.

As we danced through the dialogue my mind started to drift elsewhere. She was still there, but I saw a new glow now. The cigarette, half burned away. Smoldering in her hand. Beautiful.

X-rays from a black hole, maybe. Maybe infrared and the visible spectrum from the sun. Pure, powerful, life-giving light. The ether itself.

I don't even want a cigarette now. I still don't really understand it. I did for those moments though. There were millions of them in those seconds that seemed like days. All I wanted to do was ask for that cigarette. Just a single drag. I wanted to suck down the essence of life itself and just hold it inside and keep it for myself. Fire and light and smoke and heat. Everything that life requires, all wrapped up in a piece of paper. Man had tapped his creator and distilled his essence into that tube. I wanted to hold life in my lungs. I wanted to breathe smoke. I wanted to be god in that moment.

If I could fix myself I'd. . .

And then the human part of the equation came. Not covering the rest of it, but becoming one with it. That cigarette wasn't just the key to becoming god, it was the key to embracing the very best of humanity. To embrace myself and the girl holding it all at once. To breathe that stick full of life was to be connected with another human being in a way that nothing else can give. And she was beautiful. And I wanted it. I had to have it. It was mine for the taking goddamnit, and it was right there in front of me.

Perhaps the saddest part is that I actually thought about it. Not the smoking itself, but about all of this. In the midst of god I decided to analyze instead of act. And like always, the thoughts last just a little to long, and then the moment is gone. The magic dissipates back into the air, and that smoke is just smoke again, no longer the swirling fibonacci embodiment of the hammer of god itself. I let it go. Let it slide up into the atmosphere past me. At least I had a taste.

And I just let it pass. Let it go. It faded away and the girl came back. It was a wonderful time and a beautiful conversation. And while it lasted I knew. I understood exactly why people start, and at least I feel like I understood something else that I'll probably never get again.

This would probably be a better story if I had started smoking now. It would certainly be consistent, and it would have all those neat little relationships and self-references of Nathaniel Hawthorne. It would certainly ring truer, right? But I didn't, and life is like that. Even something that's perfect ends in flaw. After all, you can only expect perfection for a moment, right? I'm happy that I had it, however fleeting.

I skipped the names, but I'm sure everyone involved will know what I'm talking about.

No shit, there I was. . .