Outside of my family, my longest meaningful relationship has been with cigarettes.
I grew up in a house with two smokers. I think my mom quit while she was pregnant with me, but the first thing she did when she could get out of bed after giving birth was toddle down the hall to the solarium at Our Lady of Lourdes hospital and smoke a cigarette out the window. (And honestly, after nine months of pregnancy, 18 hours of labor and an emergency c-section, the woman had earned herself a Marlboro.)
I started stealing cigarettes (Parliament Light 100s) out of Mom’s purse early in high school, I think. And a classmate and I bought a couple of packs (Eve 120 Menthols — obviously before I learned size wasn’t important) and promptly got busted by my mom smoking on the side porch after our sophomore year Comprehensive Biology final. Junior year, I’d take the train into Philadelphia, where you could buy cigarettes at 16 instead of New Jersey’s 18, and buy Camel Lights at the CVS Drugstore in the Gallery Mall. I bought a pack of Capris from a vending machine in the Atlanta airport on a family trip to Florida.
Once I got to college, I didn’t need to hide my smoking, though I would temporarily quit when I went home for breaks. It was during these formative years that I switched my allegiance from Camel Lights to Marlboro Lights and, while studying abroad in London, was gobsmacked to learn that in some places in this world, you had to PAY for matches.
I prided myself on always being a polite smoker. I hated letting smoke drift on to people sitting near me, happily sat in non-smoking sections, voluntarily went outside to smoke before it was mandated by law, stubbed out whole cigarettes if someone looked at me askance.
I smoked to kill time, because I am chronically early. I smoked to relieve tension, to focus, to break monotony, to look cool. In high school and early in college, I didn’t drink, so smoking was my rebellion and it seemed cooler, more unique to smoke but not drink anyway.
Jesus, I loved to smoke. I loved the cigarette I had with my first cup of coffee. I loved a cigarette after a fantastic meal. I loved a cigarette with a glass of wine, the smoke curling in the summer above a glass silvered with condensation. I loved, loved, loved smoking while I drove.
The first lungful of smoke, the quick inhale after touching flame to tobacco, the beauty of an incredibly well-packed pack of cigarettes. The cool confidence of a lighter on top of a pack set next to a drink on a stained wooden bar. The squint necessitated by a sudden change in direction of the breeze. The satisfaction of stubbing out a butt with the pointed toe of a high heeled shoe. Jesus, I loved it.
And 325 days ago, I quit my love, cold turkey.
And I miss it every damn day.
I stopped smoking on a whim — I felt another winter cold coming on and I just. Couldn’t. Do it. I decided to not smoke for that one particular day. As I slowly shifted from counting by hours to counting by single digit days, I refused to say I had quit. I didn’t need that kind of pressure. I just hadn’t had a cigarette in two days…five days…11 days…six months….a year in October.
Though I’ve never wavered enough to bum a smoke, bum a drag, or buy a pack, I am internally bargaining every day: Can I have one to celebrate my one year anniversary? Four years? Six? What about a cigar? Will I ever be far enough away from being a smoker to have a smoke?
Dunno, but I’m getting farther every day.