Monday, March 30, 2009

Expert Textpert Choking Smokers

It's been two years since I last had a cigarette.

I had smoked for 15 years before that. I loved smoking. From the way it felt in your fingertips, to the way it allowed you to meet people you would normally never interact with. Once the smoking ban hit Minnesota, there was an Us against The World mentality on those frigid January evenings, huddled outside some bar not being able to tell if the whiteness in the air was from the cold or from our cigarettes. No, it was not the bitter winters smoking outside that got me, nor was it the rising costs of my beloved Marlboros. It was a cold. I got sick and I quit.

But before that, I smoked and I loved it.

I took my first drag off a cigarette the summer after 4th grade. My nephew (who was about a year older than me) stole some cigarettes from somewhere. He, my neice (also about a year older than me), and myself all huddled in my garage. I inhaled as hard as I could and then threw up. I dry heaved for at least a half hour afterwards. I swore I would never smoke.

A friend of mine that same summer started smoking. She would steal her brother's cigarettes and we would go running around town. She finally convinced me to smoke with her. This time I was so fearful of throwing up, that I didn't inhale really and pretended to smoke with her.

Before 5th grade started, my dad and I moved to a neighboring town. New school. No smoking. Until 6th grade.

Being that I was a poor kid from a broken home, I fell in with kids who lived that same lifestyle. They all smoked. So I started. This time for real. My friend's mom would buy cartons and sell them to all of her friends. I would take my lunch money and buy my cigarettes at a highly inflated price. I think it was $5 a pack. Now that seems like a bargain. But back then it was ridiculous. Especially when the cartons were purchased at the smoke shop out on the reservation for a high discount.

My brand of choice was whatever I could get my hands on. Camels were easiest to snag off the counter at the local convienance store. But, my friend's mom bought her Magnas, so they were my cigarette of choice. I don't even know if they make them anymore.

Eventually, my dad discovered what I was doing with my money and decided it would be cheaper for our poor home if he just bought me the cigarettes. So he did. I remember the first day he came home with my very own carton of Magnas. I was at home with a couple of friends and he walked in the door with groceries and my smokes. My friends attacked the carton and lit up. Their parent's already let them smoke, so it was no big deal. But I had been hiding it from my dad for so long. The whole situation was very strange. I slowly peeled off the celophane, popped the cardboard top, unfolded the foil wrapping and pulled out my cigarette. My fingers were shaking as I tried to meet the Magna tip with the lighter flame. But I did it. Eventually, it became no big deal. I was a smoker.

I spent all my school years sneaking out at lunch to smoke or skipping class to go hang out in some shady area with shady kids to smoke. Who am I kidding? I'm sure I was thought of as a shady kid, too. And I loved my shady friends.

In high school, I was kicked out of my English class for smelling like smoke. I had spent the lunch hour driving around in my friend's Cutlass smoking away.

My high school nights were spent out at the truck stop where my friend's were cooks or waitresses. We would sit there all night long, huddled in a booth with our cloud of smoke above our heads and our coffee on the table. I think I took it with 9 sugars back then.

I could never smoke hungover. As I got older, I never understood how people could get up after a night of heavy drinking and light a cigarette. It would take me a lot of coffee and water before I could have another cigarette. Sometimes, it just wasn't worth it.

My brands changed throughout the years. In highschool, I first switched to Marlboros. I think I went back to Camels for a while, too. I landed on GPCs and stuck with them for a long time. Once, out of school, living in my first apartment and broke, I started smoking Winners. The least winningest of cigarettes ever. They tasted like sand. But they were $2 a pack.

But, Marlboros were my true love. And once I had money, I never left them again.

I loved everything about smoking. I love the packaging of the cigarettes and the way the box felt cupped in your hand. I loved the smell of new pack. After you remove that little flap of foil, a freshness would rise up at you. It's a great smell.

I loved lighters and how you could never go to a party without losing yours and winding up with someone else's. I loved that you rarely ever had to buy a lighter because of this.

I loved finding new ways to smoke. New ways to exhale or to hold the cigarette in your mouth or fingers. I always wanted to smoke like Bette Davis. She nailed it.

I loved the harsh first drag of the day and how it would almost burn my throat.

Like I said, I loved the togetherness of a group of smokers stepping outside for a cigarette. All of the best conversations happen outside while having a cigarette. I love the taste of a beer and a cigarette.

Two years ago.....

I woke up one morning feeling terrible. I tried to smoke, because that's what I did, but I couldn't get it down. This didn't bother me that much. I could go a whole weekend without smoking if the previous night's hangover was bad enough. So, I just didn't smoke. A week passed and I started to feel better. My smoking cohorts at work were about to step outside and I thought I'd give it a whirl. I bummed a smoke from one and lit up. I could barely choke it down. I assumed it was because it wasn't my brand and maybe my throat just wasn't ready yet.

When I got home that evening, I stepped outside with my husband after dinner. We didn't smoke in the house. When we cleaned the last apartment we lived in, scrubbing the smoking residue off the windows and walls was enough for us to say we would never smoke in our home again. We stepped outside, I lit my precious Marlboro and still, I could not handle it. I put it out and put the butt in my pocket like I always did. My pockets were always full of tobacco. Maybe tomorrow.

But the next morning as I grabbed my cigarettes a thought occured to me: Why am I doing this? Obviously, my body was saying No More. But my mind just wanted to continue on as usual. I brought them with me just in case, but I didn't have one the whole day. I made a decision. I was going to quit.

I had really had no urge to quit. I had tried before because, I'm not an idiot, I know smoking is bad. But I liked to smoke. I just felt that my body was telling me something and that this may be my only chance to quit.

So I did.

I have not had one since.

My husband quit the following week. It was a little harder for him because he did not have that sick thing to help him. He quit cold with the help of a book that I can't remember the name of...sorry. He did beautifully and is smoke free, too.

Now, I hate cigarettes. Don't get me wrong. I can't lie. There are still times when I would love a cigarette. In the car during a rather terrible rush hour, after a heated arguement when my hands are shaking and my eyes are dry, bored at work, at family functions (always a good excuse to step outside and gather yourself for a minute). But then I smell them and change my mind.

I hate the smell of cigarettes and can't believe I used to smell like that. When I hang out at a friends house who still smokes, I have to change my clothes and shower when I get home. I stink! It's disgusting.

I can't stand standing next to someone at the bus stop who is smoking.

Seeing cigarette butts littered across sidewalks and ditches makes me want to cry. It's just a gross filthy habit and I am so happy I am done with it.

Now, between my husband and I, we are saving at least $400 a month. That's a car payment. We know, because we bought a new car. We never could have done that if we were still smoking.

I hope that I will never smoke again.

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