I am trying to quit smoking again.
I’ve been a smoker off and on (mostly on) since I was 17. One summer evening when we were really bored, my best friend S taught me to smoke. And by “taught me to smoke,” I mean she literally instructed me. She bought us a pack of cigarettes (she was a grade ahead of me so she’d already turned 18), and we parked on a dead-end street in her neighborhood and sat on the hood of her mom’s car while she handed me cigarette after cigarette. She lit the first one for me and told me to just hold it to see how it felt. She lit the second one and told me to allow a little smoke to get in my mouth, but not inhale it. She lit the third one and told me to inhale the smallest amount of smoke I possibly could. We went on from there and by the end, S had taught me how to smoke, and I never even coughed once.
The last time I saw S, 8 years ago, she told me how bad she felt for having taught me to smoke, but I’ve never held her responsible. I did it willingly. Hell, I probably asked her to teach me. That summer, S had a job at a water park in Houston, and she’d made a lot of new friends. I was jealous of the time she spent with them, they really intimidated me, and I was already so insecure that I was desperate for anything that might make me seem like I fit in. S would take me to these parties where everyone was drunk or high, and I’d stand there smoking my cigarette, watching one of S’s friends hold another girl’s hair back as she threw up into the swimming pool.
I started out just smoking at these parties or when I was with S, but then I made some other friends who smoked, and we smoked whenever we hung out in the evenings or on weekends. My senior year of high school I fell in with the theater crowd, and again I’d chain-smoke at parties while my acquaintances got drunk or did drugs or whatever. Cigarettes were my way of feeling like I was “cool” at parties without having to drink or whatever else. Drunk or high people from my high school didn’t usually let people walk around vice-free without comment, either, so smoking was my way of keeping them from pressuring me.
One of many photos of me where I’m clearly smoking but I’ve photoshopped the cigarette out. (RIP green glasses)
I spent my freshman year at UT living in a dorm where you could smoke in your room (I KNOW, I’M SO OLD), and my friends across the hall both smoked, so cigarettes turned from a party habit into an everyday habit. After the smoking dorms at UT there was waiting tables, where everyone smoked, and then there was being an English major and hanging out with a bunch of writers who smoked, and my identity as a smoker was cemented.
I’ve always attributed a sort of romance to smoking. I did confine my smoking time to parties at first, but the majority of my smoking time in high school was spent with friends in little poorly-lit corners of parks in our neighborhood at night. We’d stop at the Circle K for cigarettes and sodas, and sit in the park for hours, smoking and talking about boys or our friends or what we thought college would be like. There was a newer subdivision next to mine that had a few little man-made lakes in it, and one of those lakes had a dock with a gazebo at the end of it. My two closest friends and I would spend hours in that gazebo, talking and laughing, singing whatever new radio hit we were obsessed with, and smoking.
Then there’s standing outside in the snow at night sharing a cigarette with your boyfriend. There’s you and a friend driving down the highway, smoking, singing an angry Ani DiFranco song at the top of your lungs. There’s going camping with friends and two of you waking up earlier than everyone else, sitting by the river as the sun comes up, each of you with your first cigarette of the day. There’s lighting a cigarette in your apartment building’s hallway and then running outside to stand in the wind as a cold front comes in and leaves whip around you.
There’s sitting on your patio with a glass of wine and a cigarette and your laptop, writing.
This is the first personal thing I’ve written in years without a half-full ashtray next to me. It’s weird and I don’t like it. I haven’t had a cigarette since 1:00 yesterday afternoon.
I’ve quit smoking once before. Throughout most of my twenties, I told myself that I would stop smoking when I turned thirty. In March 2008, two months before my 30th birthday, I came down with a terrible flu-like illness that left me weak and lifeless and uninterested in smoking. A week later, once I was well again, I decided to continue not smoking. Since I’d already gotten over the nicotine withdrawals, it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to just go ahead and quit, right?
It was difficult, but not terrible. I kept half a pack of cigarettes in my glove compartment just in case, and somehow knowing they were there calmed me, made it easier not to smoke. I started listening to NPR on my commute instead of music, just to change up my routine. When I went out to bars I brought knitting with me to keep my hands busy. Things were okay.
I’d stopped smoking for three months when I went through the breakup of a bad relationship I’d had no business being in in the first place. The stress and general horribleness of the whole thing broke me, and I thought, fuck it, why bother with this quitting? I bought a pack of cigarettes on my way to a friend’s wedding in Fort Worth, and I’ve been smoking ever since.
I don’t think I really smoked that much. Maybe half a pack on a normal day? More when I went out or was stressed or traveling or it was nice out or I was doing yardwork or woodworking projects?
I liked smoking.
But I started to feel dirty inside. And I don’t mean literally, though I wouldn’t want to look at any pictures of my lungs at this point. I mean figuratively dirty, like there was something wrong with me. As I get older, fewer and fewer of my friends are smokers—they quit for health reasons or because they’re going to be parents or because dude, they’re not in fucking college anymore—and sneaking off to have a cigarette by myself lacked the aforementioned romance. When I met new people I tried not to tell them I smoked unless I had to, for fear of being judged.
And trapeze. When I do trapeze routines, I get tired and winded before everyone else. When I go to strength training class in the mornings, I have to take more breaks than anyone else. Sometimes my instructor sniffs the air near me and says, “Did you SMOKE TODAY?” Which is annoying, but also kind of adorable (I’m a smoker! Why wouldn’t I have smoked today?). Anyway, if I want to be able to do actual trapeze performance routines, I can’t also be a smoker.
Everything I hear about quitting smoking says that your life should be otherwise stable when you quit, so that quitting is the only stressful thing going on in your life. That obviously isn’t true for me right now, as I’ve got a breakup and a move to another state and my dad’s health problems to contend with.
But first of all, I got the quitting feeling (you former smokers will know about the quitting feeling), and it’s always easier to quit when I have the quitting feeling, so I’m going to do what the feeling says. Second of all, why the hell not add one more change to my already evolving life? If I can move to St. Louis and start my life there without smoking as part of my identity, more’s the better.
But holy hell is that 14-hour drive to StL going to be boring without any cigarettes.