I smoked cigarettes for almost 20 years. And I loved it. I inhaled the ambrosia of carcinogens (not knowing the dangers back then, she insists) and reveled in the warm burn as it coursed through my eager lungs.
Cigarettes were an accomplice to every activity allowing a free hand for puffing. The phone rang, and my hands worked independently of conscious thought – one grabbing the handset, the other scrappling across the kitchen counter for my pack of Salems.
Driving was impossible without a cigarette. I started the car with my right fist. Released my grip on the keys to depress the lighter in the dash. While it and the engine warmed up, I tapped a “coffin nail” from its green and white pack, indulged my parted lips in their oral fix, and waited.
The lighter popped out – a clicky Jack-in-the-Box action that never failed to make me smile. I lit up and took off.
Play cards without my Salem’s? Deal me out. Have a drink with friends and chitchat without the mellow, sultry waft of smoke that punctuated the air above our imbibing heads? Unthinkable.
I remember arguments with my husband that were interrupted in puffy regularity, segmented like boxing rounds, while each opponent retreated from battle long enough to light up a fresh artillery of tobacco-scented syllables.
My lungs soaked up the sin of ignorant bliss and retained sticky tar in suicidal abandon. The only price to be paid, I thought, was the cost of the pack.
In 1984, I spend a week in the hospital with my mother, watching her die of lung cancer. I had the timing down to a science: the “morphine nurse” showed up to give Mom a pain-numbing injection after each fourth cigarette I smoked outside her room.
My tobacco-yellowed fingers closed around Mom’s hand when she took her last inhalation of life. I smoked outside the funeral home before the service. I smoked on the way to the cemetery. I smoked for three more years.
I decided to quit in 1987. The cost of a pack of cigarettes had more than tripled since my first purchase, but that had no bearing on my decision. The scary warning labels didn’t slap me silly with common sense.
Even watching my mother die, I’m ashamed to say, had less to do with my quitting than I’d like to admit.
The shortness of breath and dry cough I was starting to experience began to interfere with the things I needed to do.
Like living long enough to see my children grow. Long enough to be a Grandma. And having a quality of life that would make the journey, though less flavor-filled, infinitely more satisfying.
Let’s get real. Nicotine is addictive. Most smokers became addicted before they even knew it was a drug. And no matter how expensive cigarettes are, smokers will pay whatever it costs.
It’s been over 34 years since I had my last cigarette. I still remember the taste. The smell. The feel of a cigarette between my fingers.
I miss it, but not enough to start again.
However, I’ve instructed my family members – in harsh, threatening tones – to abide by my final wishes:
On my deathbed, as the last few puffs of healthy, clean air woof into my pink lungs, I have but one request.
Please. Run to the store and buy me some smokes. I DON’T CARE HOW MUCH THEY COST. You are my beneficiaries…I’ll pay you back.
Light me up and let me fizzle out in a haze of hazardous toxins.
It’s what I want, and it’s my choice.
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Contact Robin at firstname.lastname@example.org