Like those who have shared their Great Moments in this space in the past, I, too, have felt the desire to light up for reasons great and small. However, as an asthmatic and a husband whose wife (for some reason she hasn't told me yet) would like to keep him around a few more years, my cigar indulgences are few and, alas, far between. Needless to say, I like to savor every cigar I can smoke without her reminding me that air can be a very precious commodity--especially at those times when I'm not able to get any. So on those occasions when you do find me smoking a cigar, more often than not, I am in solitude, reflecting rather than celebrating. I had one such moment in the fall of 1994.
In mid-September, my wife had given birth to our second and youngest child. He came into the world with all his fingers, all his toes, and gave a hell of a scream when it came time for his Apgar test. Despite these initial signs of health, he decided to cause trouble. From the onset, it appeared that Joey had somehow inherited his father's unique ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The first diagnosis was transient tachypnea and pneumonia. The final diagnosis--following some time-lapse lab tests--was staph aureus meningitis. (This story ends happily: today Joey is happy, healthy, and content to be a mischievous three-year-old.)
Though the memories of that time persist, I also carry with me the memory of a warm, early-October night. Earlier that day, we'd been told that our son could come home the next day and meet his older brother. Anticipation, relief, joy, uncertainty--all these and more feelings seemed to crowd into my day, and my wife's as well.
After reading our oldest son a story and tucking him in, my wife called it a night. Still running on nervous energy, I opted to channel-surf in the hopes of boring myself to sleep. An hour later, I was bored--but no less restless. I wanted to go to sleep, but I still couldn't bring myself to get some shut-eye. So, being desperate, I did a desperate thing.
After about 15 minutes of meandering around my unkempt cellar, I came to an important realization: No matter how restless, bored and frustrated I was, I sure as hell didn't feel like cleaning anything. So what next?
Books. I walked to my bookcase for a book and noticed a box of Fuentes on top of the bookcase. They were opened, but untouched. Like my father, I am superstitious; when my son arrived in my home, the cigars would be given out, not before. Then again, my father is no fool: Just because everybody else can't have a Fuente doesn't mean he wouldn't have sampled the goods himself. I lifted a Fuente from the box and unwrapped it--I am, after all, my father's son.
Placing the cigar in my mouth and rolling it around for a few seconds, I tasted the end. I hadn't had a cigar for 11 months. I walked upstairs, content to savor the taste of this exceptional cigar. When I saw the matches on the counter, I was no longer content just to taste. I picked up the matches and headed out to survey the back forty.
Well, "back forty" is a bit of a misnomer. The backyard was 286 feet by 60 feet, a heavily grassed bowling alley of a backyard. The landscaping was typical of suburban New Jersey homes--two mature trees that produced twice their weight in dead leaves each fall, and a scattering of young to moderately mature fruit and ornamental trees. Mowing was a nightmare, raking a near-Herculean task.
I lit the cigar and listened. All around me were the sounds, sights and smells of Jersey suburbia in early fall: the chirping of crickets, the calls of neighbors trying to bring their pets in, the rabbits scurrying across my backyard to take shelter under the shed, and the elegant smell of my newly lit cigar. I closed my eyes, and thought.
I thought about my wife and our newborn son. I thought about his older brother who, knowing nothing of medicine, instinctively knew that something very wrong had happened to his new brother. I thought about whether or not the lawn needed to be mowed, or whether it could wait another week or so. I thought about raking up some of the leaves that had already begun to carpet my lawn. And then I thought about the face of my newborn son.
At one point, during one of our earliest visits with him, he looked at me. Not so much at me as through me, though; a soul-piercing stare that locked my eyes and cut through all my usual defenses. I couldn't laugh that stare off, couldn't gamely act as if it weren't important, couldn't discount it out of hand. The look said--well, I still can't put into words exactly what it said. I've read writers who have tried to convey a look like that. Up until that moment, and ever since, I haven't read anything that adequately conveys everything that I felt when he looked at me, and the volumes written upon his infant face. I cannot give you an adequate description now, either.
I thought about that moment with my son a lot as I smoked that Fuente. Maybe the stars were out, maybe the moon was full. I don't know. With each cloud of smoke I exhaled, I thought of my son, my family and myself, and what the future held for all of us.
Some time later, the cigar and I had reached our limits. I stubbed it out on the concrete beneath my feet, listening again to the faint nocturnal stirrings of that October night. Then, cigar, (and, finally, myself) exhausted, I went inside and fell asleep.
Maybe I hold my youngest a few moments longer than I did his older brother at that age. Maybe I worry too much about both of them. Maybe I'm human.
I know this, though. I still have two Fuentes from that box in my house, still in their box. They are in no humidor; no special precautions have been taken to ensure the continuance of that elegance that I tasted that October night nearly four years ago. They are there for me and for me only, as a reminder of that time, and as a reminder that life, like those cigars, is finite.
Dominick DeMarco is the communications director for the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.