The park bench is cold and although the coat wraps me up to my ankles, the November cold still manages to make itself felt through the wool – as it naturally should in this part of the hemisphere. Frankly, I can't understand how people can suffer so much for the seasonal wardrobe rotation, since what we actually do to light fabrics and portions of exposed skin, is just a brief goodbye and not a farewell. There are few certainties in life and until some time ago the change of seasons was one of them; now perhaps we will be left with just its counterpart on our skin, the cycle of life. Whether ways and tools have been created to make each season more comfortable, you can’t really change what is meant by nature - and if so, at what cost? Now that everything is so controllable, customizable, immediate and easily replaceable, when something is out of our control, does not provide the North-Western approved service standards and is out of our power, it ends up automatically labeled as "complainable". It wouldn't surprise me to read somewhere a sensational claim saying "Mother Nature, the latest invention of intersectional feminists" – spoiler: she already joined the club before us – written by some basic white, straight, cis male, too busy staring at a screen while the leaves are falling on this autumn of humanity – whereas, in the puddles on the sides of the road, you can already reflect shreds of hell into which our taken-for-granted Eden will transform thanks to climate change, kindly offered by patriarchal turbo-capitalism.
I cross my legs and reaching into my bag to take the agenda, I hope to enjoy a couple more winters with snow. Checking off the tasks of the day already completed with my pen, the memory of that Christmas in Australia passed through me like a bolt of lightning. It was 1999, thin shoulder straps and mirrored sunglasses were trending, I saw stars the size of grapes and the Southern Cross for the first time, but above all, I tasted for the first and last time ever a hamburger with slices of red beetroot inside (I started eating them again just a couple of years ago for the trauma), while sunbathing over the Pacific. It was bizarre to see the surfers with their boards under their arms and Santa Claus hats on their heads, and honestly, I prefer to associate with exclusivity that unusual hot (literally) Christmas atmosphere to the southern hemisphere.
Meanwhile, "Call the dentist to book a teeth cleaning", done.
"Finalize proposal", I'll give it the final check tonight, so I don't think about it over the weekend.
“Buying a bottle of rosé: six months without smoking!”, I smile. Amid all the life I have gone through in these last six months, amid all the opportunities for leisure, conviviality, stress, tears and torment, I have not given up for a moment. Not even when Anna, while going back to the dancefloor, asked me to keep her cigarette lit since the DJ put Personal Jesus on. Really, I still can’t believe it. Me, the inveterate bohemian smoker, the one who never left home without the emergency package in her purse on the weekend, leaving the toxic ex without second thoughts, after decades of passion and codependency. I pat myself on the back because even just seven months ago all of this wasn't predictable in the slightest. Then “boom”: the most primal instinct of the species knocked at the doors of my throat and so it was that the fear of saying goodbye to this planet before experiencing a fair number of other new adventures, made me stop. Easy. Easier than you might think.
In hindsight, however, I reflect on it and according to a 2000 University of Bristol study, "One cigarette reduces your life by 11 minutes”. It took me a couple of seconds to realize the meaning of that sentence, in the sense that the assimilation of those very simple and elementary words was not at all immediate for me. I flaunt naturalness in reading French literature – despite not being able to order a drink in the language of les Poètes Maudits without turning red in the face for fear of not being able to do so – but I am not able to make mine a concept as simple as a circle drawn with the bottom of a glass. But on the other hand, for almost 17 years any unsolicited but interested data, statistics, study or advice passed by me completely unheard because I was deliberately deaf to any word spent on the subject. Therefore, each cigarette smoked takes 11 minutes off your life. 11 minutes. 11 minutes of laughter, of sunsets by the sea, of crisp post-snow air, of hugs, of love, of the scent of freshly baked goodies. 11 minutes multiplied by another incalculable number. If I think about all the times I spent 11 minutes of my life in unpleasant, if not downright dangerous situations – and above all, especially against my will – well I'd say I have been goddamned lucky to cross the thirty-year mark; but in the case of smoking, I really didn't realize how much I had put the x2 speed into every moment of my life. Every moment of my last ten years ran fast – a forced speed with a totally irregular pace, which if at the beginning thrilled me because it erased from my dictionary such words as "boredom" or "monotony", over time it anesthetized everything, every encounter, every situation, every feeling. And to all this unwanted speed I also unconsciously put on the booster. There was no time to wait, because there was no time to waste. Every moment of life that didn't have something planned or maximized seemed like a waste – and even smoking a cigarette between one life event and another seemed like taking care of myself. A deadly self-love act in a world on a reckless spin cycle. The number of times I have lit a cigarette to think is countless. Snapping the thumb firmly onto the washer of the lighter was a kind of automated ritual to access to an infinite potential of development. Inhaling in carbon monoxide had the characteristics of lucidly accessing a dimension outside the present – and in fact, it was. To smoke was exactly to alienate oneself from the present. A present that is too fast, too evanescent, that slips out of our hands like our life. A present we therefore symbolically try to retain, holding a burning ephemeral representation of it between our fingers. Something you can touch for a few minutes, but that by the moment it meets your lips, it is ready to vanish, and it dissolves, it dissolves, leaving the rubble of what has been between your fingers – like a poisonous lover emerged from a nightmare.
Now that I have abandoned my Lotus-Eater Island, I am learning to appreciate the value of the present. Actually, more precisely, I am learning to realize the present.
More than once, when I was still a smoker, I thought "And what do I do with these hands if I quit? Where do I keep them?"; the actual version of me would behave like an aunt with more life experience, telling firmly to the previous me "There! Where they are attached, you must keep them there!".
I was afraid that by quitting smoking I would do less things, I would be more easily bored, I would be less cool or less interesting. Today I look at the young woman I was with tenderness because I think she didn't think much of herself, of her qualities and her abilities, but I admire her with gratitude for her strong determination. It is thanks to her if today as I walk, I get excited by the scent of a flower, or for the many flavors that can be felt in a dish, or – for instance – for the outstanding renewed glow of my glorious skin. I never expected time to be this consistent, it is impressive.
The lake was not frozen yet, and an elderly lady approached the shore with a bag of dry bread to give it to the swans. Fascinated, I watched her taking small steps closer to that solitary swan, which was making its way towards the beach. She felt the attraction and turning to me she waved her free hand.
"Hello! You are back after a long time"
"Hi! Are you talking to me?"
"Yes! I saw you coming here often last year. You were always sitting there, more or less" she said, pointing not far from where I was.
"Oh sure" I said, smiling visibly embarrassed and realizing that I had never noticed that woman before. She was right: last year I often came here for a "cigarette break", to get away from all the thoughts that weighed on my shoulders, but in fact I have no memory of anything about those moments other than the intention that took me here.
“Have a nice afternoon then and who knows, see you soon!”
“Definitely! Same to you and thank you for greeting me, I very much enjoyed it”.
We smile at each other and as our stories are about to part, I put my things away in the bag, looking at the watch: damn I must move, the shop will close in 15 minutes! – Oh well, but I have just an 11 minutes' walk to do.
It will be enough to decide which bottle of wine to buy, there is time.