Being a smoker is both a blessing and well…a problem for obvious reasons. I am allowed alone time without it being awkward or misinterpreted. For those brief cancer ridden minutes I’m allowed quietness, a moment to check my Facebook newsfeed, Instagram, and if I’m lucky even a snapchat. But there are times when I just sit and think, and it’s amazing what my mind puts together.
I wonder…sometimes it’s relevant sometimes it’s not. I think about my job or my relationship, or how in the world I will come up with rent, normal things that the quasi adult has to think about. Then there are smoke brakes that I really enjoy.
For the past two years I have lived in the same apartment complex sitting on the same stoop smoking my same brand of cigarettes and it never gets old. The complex is cute, entering from the side of a conjoining building, there is a modest size courtyard. Not anything too special or over the top, just a tiled walkway that opens up in the middle with potted plants and a stone bench. From there it leads to the main doors of two apartment buildings and the back doors of the front. Which is where my stoop is.
From this spot I have the view of my courtyard ahead and to my left through a metal fence the neighboring apartment building. A balcony of one of the apartments over looks my courtyard allowing for awkward moments between me and a fellow smoker who seemed to run on the same schedule. We bumped into each other once at club a few months after I moved in.
“Hey your my smoking neighbor!” We’re my actual words. He seemed a little put off by this. Like he enjoyed his alone time as much as I did and refused to be called out on it. I let that slide because I understood and we enjoyed the company of a familiar face, hanging out together around the bar until the night ended.
From that point on my smoking buddy made himself scarce and I was back to my moments alone. Here is when I discovered his neighbor, who shared the small balcony with him. I noticed the guy while working hospitality my first year here and had a few days off during the week. I would see him sitting on his balcony enjoying coffee and the company of his dog. It was a pleasant pairing really, you could see the love they shared even from the distance I was at. The kind of person that opted out of children and replaced them with pets.
He would play with his dog some mornings throwing a ball or making him jump high enough to reach his morning treat. I was always confused as to why he was home during the week and not working. He was definitely in his forties but not over fifty, handsome man by any standards. With shaggy brown hair past his ears and always shirtless in board shorts when I saw him I was convinced he was a washed up surfer. But then I started paying more attention to him. Even having a chat with him, cutting the distance by walking up and petting his dog through the fence. He had this air around him like he was too intelligent to be a surfer, more like a professor or a something like that.
It seems once you meet someone new in your neighborhood you see them everywhere. I would bump into him after we first met. On the beach, or playing with his dog at the park I liked to walk through. Sometimes I would see him on a skateboard being pulled by his loving companion, or on a bike doing the same. I would be inline at cvs and have a familiar dog come up and rub my leg. It makes you think of how many people you pass daily without realizing you know their faces.
And yet we never asked much about each other. The conversation wouldn’t go farther than the weather or what we were doing that day. Sometimes it was just a hello, petting the dog, and walking our separate ways. We never exchanged names, and we never learned what each other did for a living.
My mind would race when having a cigarette. I still strongly believed he was teaching a class here and there during the week and living his life however he pleased. I actually started envying him. I slaved away in hospitality and worked long shifts for not much pay. I thought about how he must just enjoy life with his dog and that’s all he seemed to need. I imagined him teaching something like math or biology, clearly having won awards for his many achievements. He became something I thought of everyday, someone I would see everyday. Like a recurring dream. I would piece together little moments and create a life for this man and his dog.
Then things changed and I would see him less and less. It went from four times a week to once. And with a snap of the finger, like a magic trick, he was replaced with a younger model.
It was strange. Like if a character of a sitcom died in real life being replaced by a new actor. Needless to say I was confused, it wasn’t like I could knock on his door and see if he was okay. We weren’t friends, barely acquaintances really.
So my mind wondered.