Give or take a fall or three from the tobacco bandwagon, I quit smoking – and I use that term loosely – four weeks ago yesterday.
Ask someone when they quit smoking and you’ll get the length of time as if they’re reciting a baby’s age: “Yes, I quit smoking four weeks, seven hours, and 26, no, 27 minutes ago. It’s been painful – and I’m still not getting a full night’s sleep – but it’s been so worth it.”
My mouth sometimes actually waters, thinking about smoking a cigarette. Digging them out of my purse, pulling the cigarette from the pack – not a full pack – no! – but a pack with three or four gone, a pack that says “No need to worry! Plenty left!”
I think about the many steps between the pack and the ashtray. I think about searching for my lighter, not being able to find it and borrowing someone else’s. I think about accidentally keeping someone else’s lighter.
I think about holding the cigarette between my lips as I prepare to light it, hoping I look more Audrey Hepburn than Courtney Love.
I think about taking that first drag. Ahhhhhhh. The sweet constriction in the back of the throat as you reintroduce the Monster Nicotine into your system. The “hold” and the release of the hit, your lungs expanding… and then exhaling, blowing the smoke up and away, because I was nothing if not considerate about my filthy habit. If you were going to be cool with my smoking, then I was going to do my best not to blow it in your face.
I think about the graceful curve of my fingers as I gestured and pointed with my cigarette. I think about where I’d put my cigarette out, whether or not there’d be an ashtray, whether I’d have to drop it into the dregs of a bottle or can or if I’d have to flick the cherry off onto the concrete somewhere, careful not to light something on fire.
I heard the comedian David Brenner once tell the story of how he quit smoking. The way he tells it, he had met some old Chinese guy at a party who told him the way for him to quit smoking was to allow himself as many cigarettes as he liked – the catch being that he could only light the cigarette and take that initial drag. Then he had to put it out and discard it. David Brenner did just that, and within two-three packs had driven himself so crazy with the dissatisfaction of getting that initial drag but not the next that he had to quit smoking entirely.
He was chasing a high, and he knew it. I respect that kind of intelligence, and so it is with chagrin that I tell you that I failed duplicating that particular quit-smoking technique. I failed it early and I failed it often. It took only three or four cigarettes in the space of 15 minutes for me to realize that this way lie madness, if not economic hardship. I could clearly see that, instead of wising up to how ridiculous I looked lighting one cigarette after another and only getting one drag per smoke, I was only going to end up quadrupling the amount I spent on cigarettes in a day.
That first drag is a lovely thing, and it’s too bad about all those other drags.
And so I’ve quit – again. Or at least I’ve quit until my second beer. Beer and cigarettes! The Reeses Peanut Butter Cups of nightlife. The two great tastes that taste great together! Four weeks ago, two-three beers were all it took to set me on a path that could last until I ran out, lighting one cigarette with another in a lung-crushing daisy-chain of stench and cravings. But now, what’s a girl to do?
So if you see me out, just know this: as embarrassing as it is, as much as it goes against my quest for clearer breathing and stain-free fingers, as much as I dislike being “that person”, if I’ve been drinking, the odds are good that I’m going to try to bum a cigarette from you. It’s nothing I’m proud of.
As my husband is quick to point out, he’s not so sure that I’ve quit smoking as much as he’s sure that I’ve quit paying for them.
His insights frighten me.
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