My Time as a Smoker
I never missed a S.W.A.T meeting in elementary school and never missed class when a D.A.R.E. officer came to lecture. I’d heard the stories, seen the documentaries, known the facts, witnessed the consequences. But did that stop me from lighting the end of a Marlboro Red? Of course not.
The first time I tried a cigarette, I had just ended a 10 hour shift at my crappy, underpaying job. I had plenty to complain about and needed to vent. So I called my best friend, who I knew had cigarettes on hand, and we headed out to a park. She lit up like a pro-and me?-I accidentally set the paper on fire instead of the tobacco. So we laughed and ranted about our teenage lives to one another in a cloud of sweet smelling smoke. I didn’t cough because I didn’t inhale, though that soon changed. Eventually I sucked smoke into my lungs when my friend showed me a particularly cute selfie, and I inhaled on accident from excitement. Even though it burned and I hated the taste, I kept it up.
Soon smoking became synonymous with us hanging out and catching up with each other. We both worked full-time during the summer, and often our schedules didn’t allow us to spend time together daily. When we could, we’d tell our parents we were heading out for coffee. With lattes in hand, we would perch on park benches or the hoods of our cars, blowing smoke out our mouths and trying to master the French inhale. God, we were hot. We looked sexy with our lined eyes, lipstick stained coffee lids, and devil-may-care attitudes. Whenever I took a drag off my cigarette, I felt like an old Hollywood sex symbol. I felt older, mature, sophisticated, and simply cool. I could flick the ashes off the end of a smoke in a manner that conveyed superiority and sexual prowess. Those summer months when we stomped out our buds with the heels of our shoes were the months I most felt like a goddess.
But I doubt goddesses kept gum and perfume on their person at all times. I doubt goddesses frantically had to run to the safety of their cars to avoid being caught by the police, and smell check their coats to make sure no incriminating scent lingered. For all our bravado, my friend and I were constantly on the lookout for people we knew, the police, and-god forbid-our parents. There was never a time when we smoked together that we weren’t on edge. And then of course, there was the stress of finding someone 18 or older to buy cigarettes for us. That usually wasn’t an issue however; both of us had friends and colleagues who were more than willing to get us a pack or two.
By this point I imagine you, dear reader, are wondering exactly what the hell my friend and I were thinking. Didn’t we know how stupid we were acting? Didn’t we know how bad cigarettes were for us? Surely we’d have something better to do? And the answer to those very logical questions is simply, yes. Yes, of course we knew how completely, incredibly, wholly, amazingly idiotic our behavior was. We knew precisely we were doing. But we didn’t care. The sharp bite of nicotine was worth the risk of our health, our status, even our parents’ trust. The buzz, the rush of smoke into our lungs, the feeling of reckless abandon we got from rebelling-it was worth it.
Was. It was worth it. The stress of school, college applications, my job, and conflicting signals from boys had kept up my bad habit through the start of school. Far less often would I smoke, but I still did, and always, always with my best friend. On an October night, there I was, stressed out as usual, and desperate enough to smoke by myself. I had turned 18, and to celebrate I bought my first-and last-pack of American Spirits. Just as the drag exited my lips, I knew I had to call it quits. Call it an epiphany, call it sudden understanding, whatever. I looked down at the cancer stick dangling in between my fingers and felt sick. In a calm panic I tore paper from my printer and scratched out a contract to never smoke again. I’d always heard that writing down goals and objectives was the best way to ensure they got done. Well I penned a pretty desperate contract/letter to my future self, vowing to forever abstain from my vices.
When I told my best friend, she said she was proud of me and confessed she wanted to quit as well. As a matter of fact, I think we both wanted to quit as soon as we started. In between drags or after a chain smoking session, one of us would mention quitting, or how we knew we were going to quit sometime. Neither of us from the beginning wanted to ever smoke for the rest of our lives. Of course, quitting is a lot easier said than done. Two, maybe three times after I wrote my quitting contract I had another light. On the night of New Year’s Eve I decided to be cliche and smoke my ceremonial last cigarette. It seemed like a nice way to end 2016, blowing away all my guilt and self-hatred in a cloud of burning smoke. You can choose whether or not to believe me, but that Marlboro was truly my last cigarette, and in a way, the best smoke I ever had.