Sunday, November 16, 2008
The big confession
When I was fifteen, I started smoking cigarettes. It was my first day at a new school. I still remember what I was wearing, because I tortured myself for hours over it; Black jeans, a white t-shirt and dirty white boat shoes. I remember thinking all black would be too much. A plain white t-shirt didn't say anything at all (at least not that I was aware of). I didn't want to draw attention to myself. I didn't want anyone to make any assumptions about me.
I was early and sitting on some stairs outside when I realized there was another girl sitting a few steps above me. She was smoking. I'm sure she said "hi" first. She asked me if I wanted a cigarette and I said yes. Luckily for me, I didn't cough and gag and generally make a fool of myself. I remember thinking five things: 1. I have finally caved to peer pressure. 2. I liked the way the cigarette made me (and yes, it is a drug). 3. My mother would be so disappointed in me, her being an ex-smoker and all. 4.The feeling of nicotine in my system may have felt good because my mom smoked several packs a day when I was in utero. 5. It seemed so much easier to talk to someone with a cigarette in my hand.
By the end of the week, I was a smoking a pack a day. I smoked for eleven years and then quit. I was smoking two packs a day, had just moved to an apartment in Brooklyn that was a third floor walk up, and I was winded by the time I got to my door. By day six of that quit, I was weeping non-stop. I couldn't imagine a life without a cigarette in my hand and the craving was insane. But I made it through and didn't smoke another cigarette for ten years.
Stupid woman that I can be, I started smoking again when I found myself surrounded by a surprising amount of people who smoked. I knew the dangers of picking up that one cigarette, but I did it anyway. For a year, I kept myself under tight control - one cigarette in the morning, one at noon, one after dinner, and one before I went to sleep. I loved sitting outside at night, gazing up at the stars while smoking.
But, when I started working for someone who only allowed breaks if you needed a smoke, I started to smoke a lot more. And before I knew it, I was working hard to keep myself at one pack of marlboros a day. I quit twice (or maybe more, who can remember?) and went back to it. I hated the fact that I could be seen on streetcorners smoking with 18-year-old kids. I had a notion I should be a decent role model. I bought a box of nicotine gum and it worked well. I'm not sure how long I haven't been smoking at this point. I've quit so many times, I didn't believe that the last time was for good, so I didn't bother to make a mental note of it.
I still chew nicotine gum. Now, I'm a full-fledged addict. But no doctor says it's bad for me, so I chew away.
Last night a friend was over, and she smokes. I smoked two cigarettes, as I've discovered I can do once in a while. Why I bother is beyond me. I always wake up feeling awful, like I do today. My clothing stinks (and it's in the wash) and I feel as if I've got a hangover even though I didn't have a drop to drink.
These days, smoking almost seems worse than professing to a "real" drug addiction. Heroin? Poo! A person who has done that can write a book aftewards (and have you ever seen one book about "My life as a smoker"?). Cocaine? Even Obama has used it. Esctasy? The New York Times published an article about how it might be good for you.
But cigarettes, no. Smokers have become pariahs, being forced to smoke 100 feet from the nearest building.
This reminds me of when I finally told my mother I was a smoker. She was such an anti-smoking zealot that I worked hard to keep my habit a secret from her. By the age of 21, she still did not know I smoked, which was absurd. One part denial (on her part) and a lot of lying on mine ("I just spent the last hour with a heavy smoker").
The day I told her, I was so nervous. I said, "I've got something to tell you that will make you upset. I've been keeping something secret for years." I couldn't get the words out. My poor mother, she was scared. Was I a heroin addict? Was I pregnant? Was I gay (even though that would have been okay with her)? When I finally said, "Oh no! I smoke cigarettes", she laughed and said, "So, you'll quit. It's easy."
What did Mark Twain say? Quitting is easy. I've done it hundreds of times. . .
Image note: A 1920's flapper, back when it was glamorous for a woman to be smoking. I have no idea what this card is for. I found it here.