On the Drive to Rhinebeck

There was a brief time in my life when I thought I might smoke cigarettes. I thought I might “be a smoker”. It was the beginning of my junior year at Bard: I had just knit my first pair of leggings, cut my hair short and dyed it black, and had recently discovered boys’ baseball shirts and lace headbands. I sincerely doubted that I would ever feel this pretty again.

Some context:

  1. 1. A year before The Day I Considered Smoking had been notable due to a conversation I had with my then-new-boyfriend Adam, in which I informed him that every time I saw him smoking, it was like watching him vomit all over himself. “It’s absolutely repulsive,” I told him. “There is literally nothing more disgusting you could do in front of me.”
  2. 2. The day before The Day I Considered Smoking, I’d seen a kid speeding on his bicycle down the hill from the cafeteria to our campus center, buck naked. “Wheeee!” he’d cried.
  3. 3. I had spent the first part of The Day I Considered Smoking unpacking and arranging my closet. If there’s one thing sure to put me in a good mood, and thus open to terrible ideas, it’s a well-arranged closet.

“Hey, Adrianne!” Adam called to me from across the quad. “Do you want to come with Tony and me to the tobacco shop in Rhinebeck?”

Hell. Yes.

I could start with cloves, I decided — those sweet cinnamon sticks nobody was supposed to inhale. The brown paper crackling between my fingers, I would have a reason to stand outside in the winter months, surrounded by my comrades bundled in sweaters with hands like ice. I could stare into the distance meaningfully, or un-meaningfully. Everywhere I went, I would be followed by the scent of campfire and chai. You could ask me for a light! All my nonsmoking life, I’ve wanted to be asked for a light.

Hell. Yes.

We piled into Tony’s car and lurched out of the dirt parking lot, filling the cool air with dust.

It’s one of those moments that I replay often, in certain moods: the impulsiveness of it, that sudden shift from closet arranging into journey/adventure, two people whom I had missed desperately those past few months just sitting in the front seat as Anita O’Day crooned through the speakers, the trees of upstate New York spreading their arms over Route 9, everything crimson and gold paper fluttering around us like confetti. Sing, sing, sing, sing. Everybody’s got to sing. Rhinebeck is ahead, and important life decisions: will I smoke cloves or roll my own cigarettes, will I be a matches or a Zippo kind of girl, which glass jar will ensnare me for life with its aromatic promises of grandeur?

It is the last time I can remember feeling thrilled by the simple reality of a friend’s driver’s license. That freedom and joy, to just be in a car together, debating destinations, routes, stops along the way. Anything is possible and everything is beautiful, on that drive to Rhinebeck.

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  1. I’m surprised you actually remember what I was playing in the car that day (pleasantly). Autumn, I think, will always be prettiest in Bard in my mind.

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