She was the best babysitter we had. We looked forward to the Saturday nights that she was the one to watch us while our parents went out, all glamorously dressed up, to go to the disco.
She let us stay up late, that was probably our favorite thing about her. We didn’t have to excuse ourselves to our bedrooms by 7:30 or whatever ridiculously early bedtime we had when our parents were home. We could sit in our pajamas on the floor, way too close to the television, because she was cool that way.
Back then, my parents were smokers. There were always ashtrays laying about the house with butts of varying lengths littering them. It wasn’t uncommon for our sitters to smoke, as well.
But her cigarettes didn’t look like the ones we were used to.
She didn’t take them, tightly rolled and filtered, out of a package. She had to go through a whole process, just to be able to smoke them. She’d take out a bag full of “What is that, April?” we’d ask with childlike innocence. “Weeds to make cigarettes.” she’d reply, and pick out the pieces she was looking for. She always had this diaphanous, delicate looking paper that she would gently lay the “weeds” neatly on before she rolled the ends, trapping the contents tightly inside.
We used to ask her what it was that she was smoking, “Cigarettes, silly girls.” she’d laugh. We marveled at how different her cigarettes were than everyone else we knew who smoked. Our curiosity greater than our cats.
She’d smile and put her finger up to her lips, telling us to keep quiet. “They’re cigarettes that I have to make myself.” she’d say. “Don’t tell your parents though, OK? It’s our secret.” And we’d agree, how fun to have a secret with our favorite babysitter.
We watched as she tucked her thick brown hair behind her ears and take a deep drag from her creation, holding the smoke down for what seemed like forever. Then blowing it out in a relieved puff.
The smell was sweet, different from our parents. It smelled nice, we thought, not ashy and dirty. It didn’t make us feel like coughing the way regular cigarettes did.
After a few hits off her handmade cigarette, she would gently extinguish the glowing end, put it into the bag with the rest of her stuff, flush the contents of the ashtray down the toilet and take out a regular cigarette. “Why do you smoke those, too?” we’d wonder. “Because, I like both of them.” she’d respond with a smile.
We didn’t understand, my sister and I, and we didn’t question. To each their own, it was something we understood at a very early age.
Despite not understanding why smoking cigarettes, regardless of what they looked like, should be kept quiet, we did just that. We never told our parents that April rolled her own cigarettes. We never told them how long she would hold her breath for, keeping the smoke deep inside her.
It was our little secret. For many years.
Until I got older, wiser to the ways of all things cigarettes and NOT cigarettes.
I finally knew, beyond all certainty, that our favorite sitter who brought her lovely papers that she filled with dried “weeds”…she was NOT smoking cigarettes.