I am leaning out the window of my childhood bedroom. My hips are propped on the frame and my left hand is planted on the garage roof below. My right hand is holding a cigarette. I know that at any moment my mother may burst in and catch me smoking. If she does, she’ll probably slam the window shut; trapping my upper half outside and leaving my lower half exposed for a good ol’ fashioned spanking. But that’s just the risk I’ll have to take right now.
I don’t really smoke, but I like cigarettes. They remind me of that guy at the bar with the pony tail and sleeve tattoo. I know I shouldn’t talk to him, but I kind of like the idea of him. He’s not particularly attractive, most would say off-putting, but for whatever reason the two vodka martinis and one argument with my mother has pushed me into his arms.
I carefully put out the cigarette and look for my perfume. Years earlier, I used to sit by the window when my mom would smoke. I hated that she did it, but loved how the smoke would waft into my bedroom. It was comforting to know that she was below me, guarding the front door from the new-age, organic bullshit of the suburbs.
“Take your baked kale and shove it, Highland Park.” My mom muttered with each puff of her cigarette.
I tried smoking once in high school but couldn’t get into to it. I tried again in Brooklyn but was too broke. The third time was in Taiwan. It stuck.
Twenty-five is a little old to start smoking cigarettes but they give me just the right amount of adrenaline and confidence to overlook the health risks. Could they kill me? Yes. Do they make me feel alive? Fuck, yes! I may be too old to pick up bad habits, but I am too young to make wise decisions. I am still at the part of life where I feel invincible. I drive too fast, I grow too slow. I always have one foot out the door and the other one following close behind. I like to have a cigarette before and after I preform. Before I hit the stage the nicotine seems to convince me that I can actually become a comedian and after it rewards me for my attempts.
I am particularly nervous about tonight’s show because I’ll be performing along side a bunch of improv comics, who — for the record — are the kindest, funniest people I’ve ever met. I love improv comics. They seem to be the gentler, sweeter breed of comedian. Regardless, I am scared. Many of these people have seen me around for the past few years, but have never seen me perform. The self-involved comedian in me thinks that they’ll care whether I do well or not, but a smaller part me — the realist — understands that they probably don’t even remember meeting me.
Since the show is orphan themed I decide to roll out my best baby jokes — all of which revolve around my college girlfriends. In college we called ourselves the “Fab Five” which still makes my cheeks burn in embarrassment. I’d spent the first 20 years of my life trying to claw myself into a social circle, any social circle. When I was finally adopted by these beautiful and amazing women, I wasn’t about to turn my cheek the other way because we had group name worthy of a tweeny made for TV movie.
After college four of the Fab Five went on to do what normal humans are supposed to do i.e. get married, buy houses, have babies etc. While I went in the opposite direction; towards New York to become a comedian. We stayed in touch, but soon our catch-up calls turned into emails, then the emails turned into Facebook likes and eventually we weren’t really communicating at all. A few months ago we tried to have a Skype reunion which I ditched to fly to LA for interviews. My best way to deal with the distance was to distance myself while writing jokes about their foreign lives. Their best way to deal with the distance was to continue involving me in what was going on while supporting the unorthodox path I decided to take. Bitches. I later found out I missed yet another one of the Fab Five announcing her first pregnancy.
“My friend has been bombarding my email with photos of her new baby,” I said to room full of comics and three audience members. “I am not confrontational so I don’t know how to tell her it’s annoying me.” Giggles. “I’ve just been sending her photos of all the hot guys I’ve made out with since she’s had the thing.” Laughter.
When a joke hits it’s incredible. It’s better than a cigarette dipped in sugar and then rolled in sex. You want to mouth kiss the front row and double back to high five their behinds. But you can’t celebrate too much because there is another joke waiting to be told.
“I don’t want kids, but I do want to be pregnant. I think it’d be fun to take pregnancy photos.” Beat. “When else will I be able to get fat, naked and get my photo taken while yelling, ‘I’M A BEAUTIFUL AND RADIANT WOMAN. Yes, my nipples line up with my belly button but aren’t I glowing!?’.” Laughter.
After the show I stand with the other comedians, all male, to do the ritual dissection of our sets. We pick them apart until there is no longer any meat left on the jokes. Then we begin to doubt how great we thought we did. I sneak a cigarette into my pocket and head towards my car. On the way I check my phone and my heart instantly sinks.
I have four text messages from my college girlfriends. When you have a bunch of text messages from the same group of friends it’s never good news, especially if everyone in the group is prone to announcing marriages, pregnancies and mortgage closings via video chat. I slide my finger across the screen and get the news. The baby was lost.
In six months my inbox will not receive pictures of the newest addition. I wont be able to write new jokes about my distaste for children while secretly filling with excitement and pride for my friend and her new life. I can’t gain the sympathy pregnancy weight I like to gain every time a close friend gets knocked up.
“Are you okay?” One of my male comedian friends asks as I stare at my phone.
“No.” I respond.
I look up to give him a half smile and turn to head towards my car. On the drive home I stare at brake lights and wish I were back in college where every problem was solved with wine and cookies. When I get home I crawl into bed and bring my knees to my chest. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which means tomorrow night is when all the out-of-towners head to the local bars to see how many exes they can run into.
I survive through Thanksgiving dinner and proceed to the show-and-tell portion of the night: “I did lose weight! Thank you for noticing.” “Have you met Jon? He’s my new boyfriend. It’s so weird! We went to the same high school, but never met! Then I began nearing 30, got desperate and voilà!” I don’t run into any exes from high school, but I do run into a girl who people used to confuse me for.
“TWINNNNNNNNNNNN!!!” She screeches in my ear as she throws her arms around my shoulders. I shoot an uncomfortable look to my friends as she drags me to the bar for “twin shots”. Before the alcohol can finish burning my throat she pulls out a pack of cigarettes.
“Do you smoke?” She asks tapping the box against her palm.
“No. Actually, I quit.” I respond. I give her a hug and thank her for the shot before returning to my friends to finish talking about how great college was.