You know how Mark Twain says that quitting smoking is the easiest thing in the world, how he’s done it a thousand times? I can relate to that. And I don’t mean to the humor. I mean I had tried to quit smoking thousands of times. It was like one of the major activities of most of my life up to a certain point.
I smoked for 45 years. For almost the entire time my daily smoking rate stayed more or less the same. A pack and a half seemed to be what my body required, and except if there were a party or some other type of big event that required lots of cigarettes, I stuck to the 30 or so a day average.
Quitting smoking was always a challenge for me. Sometimes it was all I could think about. Obsessed by trying to beat an obsession. By “always” I mean that pretty much from the time I began smoking, I tried to stop. To no avail whatsoever.
I tell people that I began smoking in 8th-Grade, but to be completely accurate, my first cigarette came much earlier. Not that I remember the exact first one. However, I did begin experimenting back in elementary school.
Both my mom and dad were smokers, my mom having puffed away all through her pregnancy with me, as I’ve mentioned already. My dad was the proverbial chain-smoker. He’d easily burn up five packs a day, my mom not nearly as many, but there were always multiple cartons around the house because they went through them so quickly.
This is how the problem began to grow out of hand. Very early on, intrigued by my folks’ love of smoking, I would sneak a cigarette from the open packs lying all over the place. If they’d only smoked a cigarette or two a day, I’d have been caught, I’m sure, because if I took one, it would be easily missed. They’d have yelled at me, maybe spanked me, and that might have been it.
But getting my hand on a smoke was never a problem with open cigarette packs strewn from one end of the house to the other.
So let’s say I smoked my first one in, maybe, third or fourth grade. That sounds about right. I think I must have liked them more than first-time smokers you see in the movies. The experience was not unenjoyable at all, and I certainly never was sickened by the smoke. I loved the smell.
Pall Mall cigarettes – these had no filters – were the brand of choice for my parents. They are strong cigarettes. How both my mom and dad didn’t die of lung cancer, or me either, at least not so far, is amazing. My dad especially. He was that proverbial chimney.
So I would sneak one of these very strong cigarettes with some frequency. It was obvious to me that I was doing something not approved of, but I don’t really know why. It’s not like I was ever lectured that I shouldn’t smoke until I was old enough to do so, whatever age that might be. But I hid my little habit instinctively. And well.
I never worried about them smelling smoke on me. They and the whole house smelled like smoke, so no problem.
When I came home from Wisconsin over winter break from school in 1976, I did something I’d never done before. This I didn’t realize until afterwards. One afternoon I sat down and lit up at the dining room table while drinking a beer with my mom. She casually asked me for a cigarette. Unlike my dad, she’d had a hard time quitting. She told me that the smell of cigarettes, every time she did smell them, triggered an urge to smoke.
Out of curiosity, I asked her, as we were sitting there smoking and drinking beer, if she’d ever suspected I was a smoker. Laughing, she told me that she’d known from my early high school days because, she said, when she would do the laundry, she’d find the crumbs of tobacco in my shirt pockets.
I don’t know why, but this shocked me. “Why didn’t you say something. Make me quit. All those years hiding it from you and Daddy were pretty stressful.”
She said she wasn’t about to apologize for that and furthermore, “We figured you’d know when to quit on your own when the time came.”
The funny thing is, just like Mark Twain, I’d actually known I should quit very early on, like right after I started smoking regularly in 8th-Grade. I did know this was wrong for children to be doing, but that’s not what I mean. I mean I could feel that I was having more trouble breathing when playing basketball or riding my bike. This was not good; I didn’t like this aspect of smoking very much at all.
Except, or course, that I truly did enjoy the sensation of smoking. And that was the bitch.
I had tried cold turkey so many times growing up that it was plain, as I became more desperate with the mounting years, that I needed to find a better way to stop. I mean when I was un undergrad at U.H, it’s a damn good thing that a pack of cigarettes was so cheap, because I could throw away a full pack twice a day, easily, always running to a nearby vending machine, sometimes within just a few hours of having tossed the last pack, usually nearly full, into the trash somewhere with great determination to give it all up.
Over the years I’d tried the gums and patches numerous times, things like hypnosis and biofeedback, and my favorite, the Schick method. For those of you who might not be familiar with DER Schick treatment, it was quite the fad for a while, kind of like the Evelyn Wood speed reading method, but way more expensive.
What DER Schick method was is this. You would pay people to shock you when you smoked. That’s right, you’d go in for a session, having paid them a pile of money up front, so they’d still have it all even if you stopped coming in to get lit up. This up-front payment made it hard to just give up the program, very much like smoking itself.
You’d be wired up, then you’d go ahead and reach for a cigarette, light up, and BAM! get an electric shock. You paid people to administer these intense levels of voltage to you in order to learn that great pain would gradually become a deterrent to smoking. Which I did not learn. I actually just became even more afraid of electrocution than I ever had before.
Schick was indeed expensive, painful, and useless. Every effort at every possible way to stop was useless.
Then one day, seven years ago, I was watching a movie on TV one Saturday afternoon, Willem Dafoe in Shadow fo the Vampire. At one point I went over to my desk where there were three packs waiting from me to pounce upon them. I picked up one of the packs, looked at it. For a long time. Finally I said aloud, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
But I was smart this time, unlike back in my college days. I did not throw the three packs away, nor did I flush them down the toilet, which I’d done from time to time over the years. No. I left them there on the desk because I knew I’d probably get the urge soon enough, and I didn’t want to have to drive to 7-Eleven to buy yet another emergency pack.
I bought cartons at that time from Sam’s and Costco. They were the cheapest places in town, after buying cigarettes on the web from my Native American friends on the U.S. continent become illegal to ship. Cartons were $90 at this time, a far cry from the 35 cents a pack in the good old days of eighth-grade. And if I had to run to 7-Eleven to tide me over until my next Sam’s/Costco shopping trip, well, a pack at 7-Eleven cost and arm and a lung.
So I held onto those babies because I knew how weak I was. I had so much history to back me up on this.
But you know what? The cigarettes sat there. And sat there. And one day, maybe three months later or so, I did throw them out. From the day I said I didn’t want to smoke anymore, I had not urge one. Never. People could be smoking all around me and I would have not the least little desire. It was like magic. Once you tell yourself you don’t want it anymore, once you know it’s over, then it’s over.
Which brings me to what this chapter is actually about. This has been a long way around to talking about the single best thing that happened to me when I was five years old. No, I didn’t try smoking that early, but I developed a kind of addiction that I still haven’t been able to kick.
Might as well face it, I got addicted to love. I’ll call her Evelyn Nakasato, and to my four/five-year-old eyes she was smokin’ hot. She came into our University school for kindergarten, and we fell deeply in love.
Is that too early to fall in love? I don’t think so. We used to sleep together. It was great. We knew nothing of sex, at least I didn’t, but it was so cool be lying next to her during nap time. In the dark. Sometimes holding hands.
It got so steamy between us, that one day during show and tell, after an older brother of one of my classmates had played the accordion for our entertainment pleasure, complete with lederhosen costume, Evelyn and I, perhaps moved to the height of passion by the stirring strains of “I Love To Go A-Wandering,” announced to Miss Snow, our snowy white-haired teacher, that we were in love and were planning to be married.
Miss Snow seemed very happy about this. At least she laughed and laughed. So if Miss Snow was happy then it must have been meant to be.
Evelyn and I said our bittersweet farewells at parting when the school year came to an end. We promised to think about each other through the long, hot summer, and when school started up again, you can imagine my surprise when I found out Evelyn had left the school. For where? I do not know. I never knew. She didn’t keep in touch.
Thus was my lifelong quest for romance born, Dear Reader. From that moment of heartbreaking disappointment onward, although I would be scorned and left to eat nothing but ashes and dust and comfort French fries many more times in my long, ultimately single life, the desire to find love, to be in love, and to be loved in return have been an obsession I can’t kick. I haven’t yet figured out a way to quit this habit.
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Aloha #WriterFriday, I hope you’ve had a good weekend. Today’s #WritingPrompt is
Use it to inspire a piece of writing, and then post that piece somewhere I can read it. I would love very much to see what you come up with : )