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Seattle storyteller learns to breathe through the smoke of his past

Paul Currington as a boy.
Courtesy of Paul Currington
Paul Currington as a boy.

This story originally aired on June 29, 2019.

Sitting in an emergency room, trying to catch his breath, Paul Currington had one thought playing over and over in his mind: “Please, God, please don’t let my last thoughts on Earth be of my mother.”

They weren’t his last thoughts, especially of his mother.

Growing up, Currington’s mother smoked two to three packs a day — always enveloped in clouds of smoke. She had a volcanic temper, he says: “I would do anything to not have to go home so I wouldn’t have to show up in her crosshairs.”

But he couldn’t hide from the smoke. “What I hated most,” he told an audience at a live storytelling event earlier this month, “was I knew she was killing herself.”

Cancer took his mother’s voice, and soon after her life.

“In the month and a half it took her to die, my mother didn’t say a word,” Currington said. “It was the scariest, and strangely the calmest, month and a half of my life.”

He won every argument with his mom after that, he says. “Until that night in the ER, where her spirit rose up,” he said. “As I sat there gasping for breath I could smell those cigarettes, and I could hear her coughing, and I could hear all of those things that she used to say to me.”

In the decade that followed, Currington worked hard to avoid feeling that way again: he lifted weights, did cardio, ran a half marathon. And every time he was short of breath, the smoke and the voice returned. 

Hear Currington share his story, including how meditation and a “bad air day” helped him discover something unexpected about the voice speaking to him all those years.

This story was featured in a live event co-produced by Sound Effect and the Seattle-based storytelling series Fresh Ground Stories. Listen to more stories from the event in this episode, and in future installments of Sound Effect.

Kari Plog is a former KNKX reporter who covered the people and systems in Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties, with an emphasis on police accountability.