by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
I picked up Saul after work. He was standing outside of a hole-in-the-wall Taqueria, smoking a cigarette. He got in the car and we headed to his girl’s trailer home.
“While I was standing out there a cop rolled by and stared me down.” Said Saul.
“That’s always annoying no matter what you’re doing.”
“Yeah and I was smoking. Loma Linda has a ban on smoking.”
“Jesus, they’re making weed legal and banning cigarettes all in the same state.”
“Someone told me there was a proposal to ban cigarettes or all nicotine stuff in the military.”
“There’s no way.”
“Yeah, some health nut politician.”
“And replace them with what? Prayer beads? Crystals?”
“I can barely walk outside without needing a cig, I can’t imagine sitting in a foxhole, bullets flying, you die right next to me and I’m not supposed to smoke?”
“If that’s not the time, then when?”
He pulled out another smoke just as I pulled up next to the trailer home.
“I just need to give this money to Paula’s mom.” He said, his lips pressed around the cigarette. Then he disappeared around the corner of the motor home.
Saul was in town for a few days before he moved out to Santa Barbara. He traded in his TV and PlayStation to get Paula a guitar. His plan was to find a campsite, set up and tune out. Off the grid. She would panhandle while he looked for a job. Her disability checks were also mentioned.
I was envious. The thought of my girl, some trees, cigarettes and booze were better than any heaven I had been told about in school. And those were the same people who denied the existence of dinosaurs while standing in front of the nearly intact skeletal structure of a Triceratops, their imaginations must have been out of this world. But Saul was looking everything right in the face and saying no.
He came back around the corner and hopped back into the car. “Jesus, not another second with her.”
“You’re my hero.” I said, shaking my head. He grinned.
We had talked about shutting off the world many times and he was a few days and a couple details away from freedom. Tracking time in cigarettes and answering only to his bodily functions.
I changed the subject.
“Sure, I could go for a cup of coffee.”
I made a right. We laughed at all the things we passed and listened to classic rock. Too soon we walked into the coffee shop.
The lady got it right but today I was unusually optimistic.
“A mug and a cookie, please.”
Saul ordered a beer and excused himself to the restroom.
Saul and I met in rehab. We got sober together. A few months after, Saul had jumped off the wagon.
Would they really take away cigarettes from soldiers? How would they cope with stress? I couldn’t imagine a soldier right after a battle also needing to fight off a craving. It was not likely to happen.
Our drinks slid onto the counter. I grabbed them and took a table outside. Saul came out, lighting a cigarette as he sat down.
I restrained my need for nicotine.
“You still not smoking?” said Saul.
“Yeah, but it’s a horrible feeling.”
He took a long drag.
“Good for you man.”
Saul’s going to live off the grid. He’s winning the war.