Why I Date Guys Who Smoke

There’s something about coming home, a home that I knew so many years ago, a home that is still the place I think of when people ask, “Where are you from?” My answer is usually shortened into something that requires less explanation, something that makes sense to the common acquaintance who can’t quite grasp a reality where my home, the home of my heart, is a world and 10 years away and will never match my American demeanor.

There’s something about coming home to the place of your childhood, where the rooms feel smaller, the ceilings lower, the language more daunting, the police less intimidating. Sometimes it feels like everything has changed. But the smells are always the same.

Such smells are damp concrete, steam rising from sprinkled water, dust already refusing to be tamed, and stifling heat even in the early morning. I know there is an art form to splashing water about one’s courtyard. I know because I have tried and very often failed to imitate the precise amount cupped in the hand and the arching throw perfected by the young local women. They somehow miraculously get a uniform sprinkle. I get puddles or dribbles, rarely anything in between.

There’s the smell of grease in the air — not the sweet grease of county fairs, but a richer scent, mingling with spices and vinegar and onions. A lot of onions. Charcoal. Garlic. The heady breath of freshly baked non on one side of the road, the more pungent aroma of Russian brown bread on the other side. The mix of the two can’t be replicated anywhere else.

Then there's the smell of sweat from a population of stubborn, masochistic men who have shunned (or not yet discovered) the use of deodorant. The smell of garbage—different than the stench from a truck, a sweeter, more organic smell — mingles with smoke from a slow burning method of disposal. It is not entirely unpleasant.

Every once in awhile I am reminded of my home in my now everyday American life. Summer rain reminds me of early mornings, the splash of water against pavement, and the camaraderie of young women up and down the street freshening their respective sections of road. Tourists in New York City will occasionally drift by with hints of body odor and foreign spices that tug at a memory. Sometimes my subconscious picks up a scent in the air and I’ll never quite know what triggered the onslaught of vivid images of home and the ache in my heart not yet buried deep enough.

Here, at home now, there’s the smell of cigarettes on every corner. In every taxi. Wafting across the room in a nice restaurant. There’s a reason I date men that smoke. It’s not the sexy curl of the lips or the nonchalant flick of a lighter. It’s the nostalgia. Unlike sizzling food and dripping sweat and baking bread, the smell of cigarettes is the same wherever you go. I’m drawn to it like a moth to flame, the way the lingering scent of smoke on the sleeve of an arm wrapped around my shoulder reminds me of my most comfortable place; the way that first hint of a freshly-lit cigarette can catapult me to a time and place that only exists in memories that grow fainter by the year.

And so I date men that smoke. They think it’s because of their badass demeanor, their cocky swagger, their muscle cars, and their tough reputations. They’ll never know it's because they smell like home, that for a few minutes they cure the haunting ache of homesickness that never really seems to go away.

*non: Uzbek flatbread

Jessi runs Kaleidoscope, a nonprofit organization dedicated to meeting the specific needs of third culture kids via international programs. You can learn more about Kaleidoscope, their vision, their writing, and their work at www.kldscp.org.

TCK TOWN do not condone smoking and advise all who do smoke to give up using appropriate help and advice.