Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Thank You For Smoking

I am losing the will to smoke. The terrorists (and nanny state) have won.

I think I was in 5th grade when I had my first cigarette, with Marla and Julie (?). Marla's parents were chain smokers, so cigarettes were easy to come by. Like almost anyone who has tried cigarettes, I remember thinking it was nauseating and more than a little disgusting. I hacked, gagged, and gave it little thought after our purloined cigarette was finally extinguished. A smoker, I thought, I would surely never be.

Oh sure, I smoked with my friends in junior high. This was Saudi Arabia, the land where everything was illegal and potentially deportation-worthy, so sneaking a cigarette was par for the course. I don't remember much of my smoking history in junior high beyond the social aspect of it. I do recall this one time that I came home smelling like an ashtray, as we were riding the buses (this was a frequent social activity) and everyone, including myself, were smoking (although I still think I wasn't inhaling back then). My dad immediately picked up on the stench and did the "I am going to buy you a carton of cigarettes and you are going to smoke every last one" thing. He didn't, and I didn't, and after that, I became quite skilled at hiding the smell of cigarettes. But truthfully, it wasn't a big deal to me.

When we moved to Colombia, they allowed smoking on campus. Only certain ages, and only with a signed parental permission, but these were easy obstacles to hurdle. Hell, I remember smoking with the high school principal in his office, and I certainly didn't have permission from my parents to smoke. But still, it wasn't an addiction or anything and, as an athlete, I didn't smoke enough to interfere with my sports. My best friend Tori smoked like a chimney (and could smoke in her house - holy crap), so when I went over there, we sparked up, but at home, I would only very occasionally smoke out my bedroom window. Besides, the coke was the real draw in Colombia.

God, the coke was good.

In college, I was paired with a very anti-smoker, but smoking was allowed in the dorm's community lounges and in certain study rooms of the library. I couldn't stand the smell of cigarettes in those rooms, but was not above having one in the permitted spaces before quickly exiting and, more often than not, heading to the showers before going back to my room. Smoking represented a break from studying, a reward for hours of concentration, but not a habit. I would go weeks without one and never felt the pull of a nicotine fit. Barely a habit, certainly not an addiction.

When I moved to Washington, I lived with my bio dad and his wife. Both were smokers who smoked in the house, so I became more of a regular smoker. When I met B, I kind of hid it from him, blaming my stinky shirts and hair on my house. When we moved in together, I couldn't believe how awful my clothes stank. Disgusting. I washed every piece of clothing I had and greatly reduced my smoking. Sure, I had a few every now and then, but he hated the smell and had a really sharp olfactory sense. Hence began my years as a closet smoker. I knew every trick in the book and became a master at hiding any traces of a cigarette. I probably wasn't fooling him all the time, but we're talking maybe two or three cigarettes a day at most. All bets were off, however, if I went over to my aunt's house, where smoking in the house was fine.

Incidentally, my aunt quit smoking after her dad (my maternal grandfather) died of lung cancer (nonsmoker, asbestos-related). I am credited with her picking up the habit. I hate that.

Flash forward to law school, where B and I were in different states and my old habit of rewarding an hour of study with a cigarette came back into play. Without having to account to B for the stench on me, I smoked more. We're still talking less than a half pack a day, and I never was the kind of person who reached for a cigarette first thing in the morning. I worked out, went to class, studied in the library, then usually had my first cigarette sometime after dark. Read a chapter, take a break, smoke a cigarette. I usually hid it, too, at least in the beginning. I wasn't a smoker, you see, just someone who occasionally smoked.

Did the same thing through studying for the bar, then promised myself that I would not evolve into a smoker. B still professed that he hated smoking (although I later learned that he smoked as much as I did, just hid it better because I had a lousy sense of smell), and I was not the kind of person who left the office for smoke breaks. No, I was the kind of person who only smoked in bars. After work, while taking an hour to decompress and read the paper, I would have a martini and a cigarette or four. I didn't smoke at home, so I would just take that time to check out, be anonymous and relax, whilst polluting my body. I still worked out every day and could go days and weeks without smoking, particularly if the social situation called for it.

I wasn't a smoker, you see, just someone who enjoyed a cigarette or two (or five, or ten) when socializing with friends in a bar, or at some other social event. I didn't crave cigarettes unless I was in that kind of situation.

And then, the pigeons came. Seattle passed the strictest smoking ban in the country, banning the cancer sticks from all places of business and, in fact, 25 feet in front of any business. Very strictly speaking, the only place you can smoke in downtown Seattle is the middle of the street, where you can either be hit by a bus or inhale the fumes that probably will do more damage to your health than a cigarette. I was so pissed that the city took away my guiltiest pleasure - reading the paper, sipping a martini, and smoking a cigarette. Since they implemented that law, I have not returned to my usual haunt, where I used to read the paper, edit my briefs, and suck down a martini and a few cigarettes. They - the legislators - ruined that whole experience for me.

And while I'm at it, I was a very considerate person who occasionally smoked. I never sat next to anyone who wasn't smoking and was always cognizant if my smoke was waffling towards a nonsmoker at the bar. I believed, and still do, that a cocktail and cigarette is properly enjoyed in a bar, if the owner so decides, and although it is unpopular to say it, let the market decide.

At the time the ban was implemented, I was already separated, so I was no longer hiding any trace of a cigarette, and, again, I didn't smoke that much anyway. It was a habit - an activity - and I still had never felt a physical need to smoke. It was just a break from busy activity, but now, it was no longer social. I was horrified at the idea of huddling outside a bar, smoking with the fellow social outcasts. I smoked primarily at parties and private get-togethers, where a few of the guests held on to the social aspects of it, a place where we could have short bursts of comraderie.

I started smoking more at home, though, albeit not in the house. I smoked on my deck because I could (no longer had B nagging me) and I could replicate the experience of having a martini and a few cigarettes. Slowly, I finally developed the nicotine addiction. Smoking was and remains the last thing I consider doing first thing in the morning, but, in the last few months, I developed unfamiliar symptoms of nicotine addictions. And mine are awful. I would gladly welcome general feelings of irritability over the tightening of my chest around 2pm. There is probably no greater irony in terms of lung humor (?) that my lungs hurt from not smoking. And we're still talking less than 10 cigarettes a day - less than half a pack.

My annoying coworker was, until three weeks ago, a smoker, and although I had never before done the "go for a smoke break" thing at the office, I started going with her. Of course, my purse had hand sanitation gels, Listerine strips, hand lotion and all of the usual suspects, and I wouldn't go down with her unless she would go where I wanted to go - someplace no one could see me. It is one thing to be seen having a cigarette in a bar, but out in public, no martini in tow? Hell no. I was not a smoker, just a girl who occasionally needed a cigarette.

Annoying coworker quit three weeks ago, owing to a health scare. She was a smoker, you see, and I am not. Except I became one. No, I still don't crave one when I wake up and usually don't think about it until mid-afternoon, when my body, now dependent on nicotine, has this funky chest tightening thing that utterly pisses me off. I know how to combat it, as a simple walk around the hilly block relieves it -- especially if I do three blocks. But still, I come home and have a few cigarettes and all is forgotten. Until tomorrow, at about 2pm.

The pea, who smoked much longer and much more than me, quit over a year ago. Why I didn't do the same, I'll never know, as she was one of my smoking partners. I'll take the convenient approach and blame the divorce. There was no reason to continue smoking after our Sunday nights became smoke free, particularly since that was when I did my heaviest smoking.

Incidentally, I never will say that I am quitting smoking. I will stop smoking. Pedantic? Sure. But nothing has to be permanent. I am going to stop smoking, as it has lost all appeal for me and I no longer have anyone to enjoy it with. It never ceases to amaze me that I came to this realization and decision for probably the same reasons that I started smoking - it was a social thing. I only know one other person who still smokes, and I don't hang out with her enough to keep it up. It no longer relaxes me, it pisses me off, and mostly, I am not a smoker.

I will soon just be a girl who used to smoke. On occasion.

1 comment:

Norm said...

me nanny terrorst.

you jane.