The wheel of the green lighter grinds back with my dad's thumb. It is a smashed thumb, a thumb he hit with a hammer years ago, years before there was a me. The wheel turns and fire sparks up around his deep chocolate eyes in the engulfing black night air. I have woken him up and dragged him outside for a cigarette. This is an odd act, as I rarely talk to him, and as he has no idea I smoke. But he agrees to my proposition of a smoke, and follows my skipping body out of the door. I am eighteen and high on ecstasy. Outside, under huge plops of stars and standing next to the large oak tree of our Austin home, my dad's cigarette sizzles with satisfaction. An item being put to its use. I am on ecstasy for the fourth night in a row. My friends burnt out after the third night, but I'm persistent and stubbornly refuse to stop doing the drug. I do not feel the holes burning in my brain, yet, as they will in two days. Instead, in this precise moment of a smoke being lit, I feel unusually satisfied from witnessing the cigarette's event, its job being well done. I light my own smoke and immediately start talking before an awkward silence can settle.
“So Courtney's pissing me off, because she has this crush on another girl—my best friend Sabrina's girlfriend Lee, actually—and she keeps telling me about how cute she thinks Lee is because it's better to talk about these things than lie about them because that's how we have open communication, and isn't that what a good relationship should have, but I'd rather have her lie about Lee because I don't want to hear about her attraction to other women. It makes me feel ugly,” I pierce the humid summer air with my cigarette at this last point, then finally inhale my second drag of smoke.
“Well, Chels,” my dad begins. He doesn't skip a beat in responding to my ecstasy-induced rant, but even through the drugs I can sense he is confused and taken aback by the absurdity of what is going on in this moment. I've been an out and proud lesbian for two years now, but we have never discussed the fact of my queer sexual orientation. We just don't connect like that, just don't talk about anything besides the truck or computer he bought me. But it is in this moment that I see a different dad, a man as he briefly becomes a father. Through the manic shrieks of ecstasy, I see the good and supportive father I never knew he could be. What he unexpectedly does is give me some advice. 'Advice. Advice. Advice.'
I have no idea what he says. Again, the drugs. But it's the feel of his voice, deep and smooth that will stick to my mind. His voice that barely talks to me, now says something that calms my hyped-up nerves, a voice that tastes as sweet as nicotine on ecstasy.
Chelsey Clammer received her MA in Women's Studies from Loyola University Chicago. Her writing has appeared in number print and online publications, including “Windy City Times”, www.feministing.com, and Make/shift magazine. She has an essay in the forthcoming Seal Press anthology, It's All in Her Head, due out Spring 2013, as well as one in the January/February 2012 edition of the online literary magazine THIS. A resident of Minneapolis, MN, Chelsey is currently working on a collection of creative nonfiction essays about finding the concept of home in the body, as well as a guide for trauma survivors through a 12-Step program.