Up to a pack of day …

… of gum, that is.

Today is my six-month anniversary of quitting smoking. And while I might not have quit for the *right* reasons, well, I can’t think of a bad reason to kick the habit that plagued me every day for 12 years and sporadically during the years before it.

“You’re hiding underneath the smoke in the room.”
— Natalie Imbruglia, “Smoke” —

I took my first drag at age 11 — behind the old movie theater at Rainbow Village in White Oak, Pa. Back then, the cashiers at the Thrift Drug never questioned selling smokes to middle-schoolers. The prices were WELL below $2 a pack for Newport Stripes (the kind without menthol; I didn’t learn how to enjoy menthol till I was about 15).

When I did smoke, I would kneel on top of my desk in my bedroom and blow it out the window late at night. Or, I’d go into the basement — where my grandfather had his own bathroom where he loved to read the newspaper, drink coffee and smoke for entire mornings — and smoke freely (again, in the wee small hours) because the basement was *his* space and it was always hazy from his Pall Malls (without the filter. ewww). But, admittedly, I didn’t get that brave very often. I was, after all, a Good. Kid.

“Drowning past regrets
In tea and cigarettes
But I can’t seem to forget
When you came along
— Mono, “Ingenue” —

I wouldn’t say I started my heavy smoking till I was 18 and off to college, where there were study areas with smoking sections and a ready supply of insomniacs who were as riddled with caffeine and nicotine as you were. Freshman year was the best — seriously, I met some of the greatest people ever. Particular to the Point Cafe, you always found me with Isadora, Stephanie and Ryan and the rest of the crew whose names I don’t remember but whose presence I won’t forget. We had some of the world’s best conversations over coffee and Camels — I learned about different cultures, religions, musical tastes, political viewpoints, family lives, philosophies … I became an amazing person because amazing people were rubbing off on me. And we met because of our mutual addiction.

Cigarettes were our appetizers, main courses and desserts back then and for me, for the 12 years that followed. They took the place of breakfast and lunch and served to punctuate a good dinner. They danced with me at the clubs and made the buzz from Long Island Iced Teas and Hawaiian Punches that much stronger. They perfectly complemented late-night conversations over decaf and cookie sundaes in Squirrel Hill. And when we got a little bit more money to afford breakfast, cigarettes helped us to awaken over strong coffee and chocolate-chip banana pancakes.

“In a black and far-off corner of my mind
There’s a box of something I can’t quite define
It houses circus freaks, temptation and the Fayette County Fair
And it reeks of love gone sour, suspicion and big hair
Do you know where you’re going when you’ve taken your last breath?
Do you know what you get?
Do you know where you’re going when the devil starts to sweat?
Do you know what you get?
A cigarette.”
— The Clarks, “Cigarette” —

Sometimes, when I see smokers, I will walk right through their circles just to get a whiff. I know, lecture me all you want about secondhand smoke, but for all the times I have been tempted to run to 7-11 and get a pack of Camel Lights (especially the vanilla-flavored pack. Mmm mmm!), I’ve gotten *just enough* of a contact high from others to tide me over.

The thing about cigarettes? They’re your best friend and your worst enemy, all rolled up into one. When you’re out and having a terrific time, they’re at your side. When you’re lonely and lost within yourself, they are dependable — waiting for you to reach for them. There are always more even when you run out. They are something you can share with your friends or that you can bum from a friend when you’re down to your last dollar and can’t afford your own.

Best of all, they are social. “Demented and sad, but social.” No matter where I worked when I was smoking, I met all the other *cool kids* and, thus, got all the good gossip. 😉 I found that fellow smokers would do favors for me a hell of a lot faster than they would for the people whom they didn’t know as well.

“And I’m down to your last cigarette and
This ‘we are one’ crap, as you’re invading
This thing you call love — she smiles way too much but
I’m glad you’re on my side.”
— Tori Amos, “Taxi Ride” —

I did quit smoking for six months in the late 1990s. A friend of mine (who just got married on Christmas — yay Melissa!) and I would take “M&M” breaks — we’d get a case of plain M&Ms and take 15 minutes every morning at work to kvetch and consume chocolate. We figured, if the smokers were having a break, then why couldn’t we? Of course, I gained weight back then because of the chocolate consumption. And during the past six months, even though I had little money for food, I still gained a lot of weight. I mean, cigarettes often served as MEALS for me. When that was gone, I was hungry and stressed out and just plain unpleasant. And junk food is cheap, plentiful and fattening as all hell. And I had given up enough back then — I wasn’t about to deprive myself of what little pleasure I could possibly derive from the world.

“You’re my ashtray when I’m angry …
You’re the weakness that I need
When I feel like I need to be strong.”
— Arthur Loves Plastic, “Ashtray” —

Now that I’m 30, I get comments from *older* friends who mention that I will soon have to start limiting my caffeine and watching my cholestorol. And to them, I say a big fat FUCK YOU. They don’t know what it’s like to give up, essentially, the love of your life (i.e., Joe Camel) and try to cope with that and a thousand other changes that were happening concurrently (related or not).

An old friend joked with me that most people get down on their luck and smoke/drink more. Not me. I stopped both. I knew I couldn’t afford to keep smoking (financially) and, ultimately, I knew the cost to my health was going to be a doozy eventually. I quit drinking because it’s just no fun without having fire in your hand. 🙂 I’m able to drink again (*whew*) — you can’t keep a girl from her Riesling for too long!

“Don’t look for me
I’ll get ahead
Remember, darling
Don’t smoke in bed.”
— k.d. lang, “Don’t Smoke in Bed” —

I heard something today about perpetuating bad habits and how we ourselves are tainted by the things our families did, but we don’t have to forward the cycle. And I thought about it — my mom is the only non-smoker in the family (being that she’s deathly allergic to smoke). Everyone in my family (immediate and extended) love their cigarettes, even now that they surpassing $5 a pack in some areas (they’re still hovering around $3 in Virginia, though). We’ve had numerous deaths traced to emphysema, lung cancer, heart disease, bladder cancer, breast cancer, etcetera — all linked to smoking. And not to say that I didn’t inflict long-term damage on my body because of it, but a physician once told me that, if I could just stop by the time I turned 30, I could almost reverse all the damage I’d done up until then. I am hoping she was right. 🙂

“Later in the evening as you lie awake in bed,
With the echo from the amplifiers ringing in your head,
You smoke the day’s last cigarette, remembering what she said. …”
— Bob Seger, “Turn the Page”

So, not that I’d ever consider myself a heroine of anything other than my own novels-in-development, but today is a day I didn’t think I would see arrive. But, then again, I have seen a lot of near-miracles happen for me lately. I guess it’s setting measurable goals — just getting through days and weeks at a time until I can look back and say “Wow! Look how long it’s been! If I made it THIS far, then imagine how much FURTHER I can go!”

And that, my friends, is how I approach my life. I just try to make good decisions while being true to myself. It’s a difficult balance, but during times like these, I realize that I can lose, bit by bit, the bad things of my past and replace them with days that I look forward to living — days that are filled with things that don’t drive me to self-destruction but, rather, to a place where everything good about me will shine. I’m capable of more magical things than this — and now that I’ve made it this far, I can start concentrating on making a difference in this world to more than just me. …

4 Responses to Up to a pack of day …

  1. A.McSholty :

    Congratulations! I know how hard that had to be.

  2. Kukini :

    Cigarette (by the Smithereens)
    smoked my last cigarette, sat in bed for a while,
    thought of your face and that brought me a smile,
    wanted another one, fell back asleep instead,
    woke and found you sitting there on the bed

    cigarette, cigarette, burning up time.
    cigarette, cigarette, watch the smoke climb.
    cigarette, cigarette, wasting away…

    just like this cigarette, our time is running down,
    only one hour ’til you’re leavin’ this town.

    walked to the corner store, bought us another pack,
    held my arm ‘round you as we headed back.
    I tried to change your mind, didn’t want you to go,
    I love you more, I think, than you will ever know.

    smoked one last cigarette, sat in bed for a while,
    thought of your face and that brought me a smile…

  3. Pratt :

    People ask if I smoke after sex. I say ‘I don’t know I never check.’-Arthur Bach.

  4. ms7168 :

    Congratulations. Except it probably won’t be long until you will cease passing through groups of smokers so that you can smell the smoke. Pretty soon it will close up your sinuses and give you one of the worst headaches ever and you will indeed wonder how you ever smoked at all!