Detroit 1992, give or take a year. Penn & Teller had just performed; at the end of the show rather than exiting the stage to the wings, they instead hopped off it, walked up the aisles and out into the lobby. There they hung out chatting and autographing whatever surface was thrust at them. Me, I had the clichéd reaction of being caught off guard when I first heard the ironically named Teller speak.
At that time when I met a celebrity I usually pretended I didn't recognize them, but this time I decided to put my false pride aside. I fished around my purse and pockets for something that could be written on for an autograph; I came up with a cigarette. When I held it out to Penn to sign, he gratefully looked it and said, "I'd love one. Just let me finish up with these."
After the last person walked away, he came over with Teller and happily lit up the no-longer-meant-to-be-a-keepesake cigarette. We puffed and laughed; eventually I fessed up to them that I had originally hoped they would *sign* the cigarette, and asked if they'd mind doing so now.
That was a few lifetimes ago...but throughout the years and all of the changes I have kept that Marlboro Light that with the red felt-tipped marked PENN and Tell~~ (the -er were just a couple of squiggles as the pen slipped off the cylinder).
I tend to be pretty sentimental, and so I am constantly struggling with paring down drawers and closets full of mementos. Suffice it to say I have saved things I should have tossed, and tossed things I wished I had saved.
Somehow this little ciggy with PENN and Tell~~ has survived many purges. I'd moved many times: in college as an undergrad then grad school student (with and all of the apartment hopping/roommate switching inherent therein), and then later after I married and we upped our living quarters a couple of times ultimately culminating in a cross-country move. The ciggy survived. I stuck it in an old wooden pencil box I'd bought at an estate sale, and rarely thought about it unless I stumbled across that box. When I did the PENN and Tell~~ was such a concrete reminder of a different time that it always made me smile (plus it was proof that yes, I did make the comedians laugh).
Earlier today my daughter stumbled across that pencil box while I folded laundry just a few feet away. Ordinarily I keep that most special pencil box out of reach of the kiddies, but today was the day our cleaners were here (YES. I have a cleaning service come once a week. I KNOW.) and things get shuffled around...generally not a problem other than aesthetic. But today I heard my girl apologetically sing behind me, "Sah-reeeeeeeeeeeee."
What I saw surprised me nearly as much as hearing Teller speak; she got her hands on that decade-and-a-half-old Marlboro Light and promptly made waste of it.
Ruined. A NATIONAL TREASURE.
I had three random irrational thoughts in rapid succession: (1.) I might have well as smoked it that time in med school when I was totally stressed out and jonesin' for a ciggy (2.) I wonder if I can tape it back together and save it (3.) CRAP! What if this was actually valuable and I could have sold it on ebay and paid off my student loans.
I took the cigarette shrapnel and carried it to our master bedroom bath. I threw it into the toilet. Flushed. My low-flow toilet rejected it (I know I shouldn't have flushed it but I did). I added some toilet paper, flushed again, and waited. This time it worked. I literaly watched PEN and N and Te and ll~~ each one! swirl away down the ceramic funnel. Good-bye momento.
Our lives change when we have kids...those of us who have had them know how much, those of us who haven't think we are being dramatic or perhaps indulgent when we say as much. I had my son at the early age of 32; it was early for my Detroit crowd, many of whom are just starting families. Having him meant my husband and I were no longer able to spontaneously meet them at the Magic Bag for a Brew 'n View, or decide to catch a show at St. Andrews Hall, or any one of those things we did when our time is our own. It's all good, just different.
Who we once were pre-breeder is still us, and the mementos that remind us of that are important. We don't cease being person who thought, "I wonder if I will have kids, and if so...WHAT kind of a parent will I be?? WHO will my children be?" WHERE? WHY? HOW? WHEN?
That silly little cigarrette was a reminder of who I was before I knew what the answers to those questions were. When I flushed it, I didn't mind saying good-bye to the freedom those questions represented. I just felt bad I no longer would have that concrete reminder of the girl I once was who wondered who I would be today.