Goodbye Old Friend

I caught a news tale on television the other day about the dangers of smoking, and it made me realize that this is the longest I’ve been without a cigarette in quite some time. Oh sure, like most smokers, I’ve quit several times throughout my life. The longest I managed to last was a small over five years, and in one of my dumbest moves to date, I started smoking again! I’ve made it three years without smoking this stretch. I once read in a magazine that, for female smokers in particular, cigarettes are like dear friends. This is supposed to clarify why it is often so hard for us women to part with them. I’ve been giving this theory some consideration.

I grew up in a household where both my parents smoked. My dad stopped smoking when I was very young, though, and he then started “chewing.” Thankfully, that phase didn’t last! My mom, on the other hand, continued to smoke probably until I was a freshman in high school. She’d occasionally succumb to Dad’s pressure and quit every once in a while, but it never really stuck until then. I can even remember Mom sending me into the local market to pick up a pack when I was as young as eight or nine (in the late ’70′s). I would march up to the cashier with money wadded up in my hand and tell him or her just what Mom had instructed: “One pack of Carlton Menthol Light 100′s, please.” We’d make the exchange of currency for cigarettes, I’d take them out to Mom, who was waiting in the car; then, she’d crack open the window, light one up, and off we’d go. It all seemed very normal to me, no different than if she’d questioned me to run in for a loaf of bread or a quart of milk. No one ever refused, threw me out of the store, or snickered as they questioned me for identification. How times have changed!

I never questioned my Mom’s smoking. It’s just the way things were in my house. Some kids’ parents drove a Chevy; mine drove a Ford. Some kids had moms that didn’t smoke; mine did. Of course, I had already been properly brainwashed by the tobacco companies even at my tender age. I remember marveling at the glossy ads in Mom’s women’s magazines. You know, the ads with the sexy lady bending over the pool table, her cigarette dangling off the edge as she geared up to sink the nine-ball on the break as all the men stood behind her, mouths agape that a woman could manage to pull off such a feat. There was always some snappy slogan on the page, appealing to the female ego and the feminist mindset of that era. It mentioned how far we’d come and suggested that we deserved a smooth, fantastic-tasting cigarette because of it.

They even concocted super-long cigarettes with feminine names so we would have something to call our own, as though we would all be part of some subversive club of smokers of fashionable cigarettes. Surely pretty, long, feminine cigarettes didn’t cause cancer or emphysema! I dreamed of being that sexy lady at the pool table, turning around and saying, “See guys, when you want something done right, you get a lady to do it.” Then all those men would run over to offer me a light, and I would bask in the glow of flaming butane and their admiration.

I don’t recall ever worrying about Mom’s health, even though Dad made the occasional not-so-subtle remark. I credit my dad with my early education on former smokers. They make the worst anti-smokers! I never really considered it until now, but my mom did have a honestly tragic background as a child. Perhaps cigarettes did evolve into her friend when she needed comfort.

I realize now that it’s rather unusual, but I never even considered smoking a cigarette until I was 21 years of age. I had just come out of an incredibly traumatic and violent relationship. Since I’d jumped from living with my parents to living with Him, I found myself on my own for the first time ever. I can still recall the first cigarette I ever smoked. A smoker friend came over to my house one day, and as she lit up a Marlboro Menthol, I had the sudden bizarre inspiration to question her for one. I reckon it was because I studied her dragging on it, and it seemed to give her pleasure and relief, as if all the stress of the day just went away as she exhaled the smoke. I desperately needed that kind of release, and this seemed like a quick means to achieve it. Of course, when I questioned her for a cigarette, her reaction was understandably one of shock.

It may be helpful to mention that the person I had been in a relationship with despised smoking. Really, his was a case of not just hating it but abhorring it. No one was ever allowed to smoke in our home or car or anywhere near us, and this was well known among any friends or family who smoked. I told my friend I was curious to try just one cigarette, and although she tried to talk me out of it, I insisted. I might mention that I do not blame her for relenting. I firmly believe had she refused, I would have bought my own. As it turned out, that day was the beginning of my long-lasting friendship (dare I even say like affair?) with the almighty menthol cigarette. In fact, after my friend left that day, I went to the market and did just that. Rather than buying cigarettes for Mom like I did as a child, I bought my very own pack of menthols.

At first, it was satisfying to know I was doing something He would find utterly repulsive — smoking in the house! It was just my passive-aggressive means of revenge at play. I only occasionally considered the fact that I was slowly killing myself off. Oh, well. I rationalized that He had ruined most of me anyway. Looking back now, I clearly see how cigarettes did quickly become my friend. Cigarettes were always there when I awoke at two in the morning and couldn’t go back to sleep. Cigarettes were there when I was depressed, and I felt alone in the world. Cigarettes were there when I was worried, nervous, mad, bored, driving, drinking my morning coffee, excited… Cigarettes never let me down. Cigarettes were literally with me everywhere I went. To say I suffered with separation anxiety whenever I didn’t have any is an understatement.

It seemed like a match made in heaven to me. It was “Angela + Marlboro 4ever” carved into a tree. The distress is that cigarettes became a friend I could never shake off; the friend I eventually realized was no excellent for me. It was another sick relationship I found myself entrenched in, and I couldn’t muster the nerve to kick this one to the curb. Cigarettes were the friend I was trying to avoid but always seemed to run into, the one who prompted me to spend some money on caller I.D. so I could screen my calls. Cigarettes became the proverbial monkey on my back. I realize now how my life, in a way, started to revolve around cigarettes and how they were the first thing I turned to whenever there was a crisis. When you’re addicted to cigarettes, they always have to be within reach and ready for action… ready to soothe, nurture, entertain.

But, as the saying goes, all excellent things must come to an end, and this relationship did just that three years ago. I had to quit cold turkey. For me, there is just no other way. The first week was trying, just as it’s been every time I’ve quit. Even though I’d tossed my ashtrays and lighters, a small voice kept beckoning me to come back… “Remember that cool, refreshing taste? You know how we cool your nerves. Come back…” I kept resisting, and here I am, free from my addiction. I firmly believe that because of my commitment and the wisdom that comes with age, I’ll never go back to smoking. The desire is no longer there, and I don’t want to risk my health like that anymore. It’s also a huge plus to know that I’m no longer a pawn in the tobacco industry’s game of lies and deceit. So today, three years later, I’ve chose to make it official and say goodbye to my ancient friend: “Thanks for all the fantastic times, but I can handle it from here!”

Angela lives in the midwest and is a freelance writer. She works as a ghostwriter making web content and articles on a diverse range of subjects. She most recently joined as the St. Louis Ab…  View profile

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