I started smoking when I was a teen and needed to be cool, and always held the position that I could quit at any time. That time came when I was 21, and decided to give it up for Lent.
Those were the days when smoking was still fashionable, and holding a lit cigarette was very cool. Cooler still was if you inhaled, and the coolest was learning to blow smoke rings that held their shape for at least three feet.
Some people had honed the art so they could blow smoke rings like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. I could never achieve that level of accomplishment, and to tell the truth, I wasn’t that interested.
But I smoked until that fateful six-week period when I was 21.
When Easter Sunday came, I left the church and immediately bummed a cigarette from a friend. I had kept my lighter against this day of joy when I would once again feel the smoke enter my lungs and again appear cool.
I remember vividly lighting that white cylinder with the small, tan fiberglass filter at the mouth end, and the drawing of that first puff of smoke into my lungs.
I also remember vividly the feeling that someone had rammed a brick down my gullet and into my lungs. I didn’t cough, because that would not be cool.
I thought I was about to die, and my survival instinct expelled that puff of smoke from my lungs, followed by some deep inhalation of fresh air and more expelling of air fouled by tobacco smoke.
But I did it quietly, as it would not be cool to show my distress and embarrass myself in front of my friends. So I quietly finished the cigarette with shallow puffs and without inhaling.
I had planned on walking down to a local shop and buying my first pack in six weeks, but I didn’t. The pleasure had been replaced by the vivid memory of that brick being shoved down into my lungs.
I did carry a box of cigarettes in my pocket after that for my friends to bum off me. And when they asked why I wasn’t lighting up, I responded with “I’m trying to cut down” or “I just finished one” or “I’ll have one later.”
After all, it would not be cool to admit I no longer got any pleasure from tobacco.
It was something no one ever discussed, like private parts.
There were times, at parties and poker games where the smoke in the room was thicker than any smoke I would inhale, so I just kept a cigarette lit until I left or the party was over.
You know why, it was cool.
Through the years, there were rare times when it seemed appropriate to share a smoke with a friend, but I never again inhaled, and always bummed.
I tried smoking pipes (too much equipment) and cigars (no girl wants to be near you) but they didn’t last.
My mother quit smoking late in her life, and until she passed away at age 90, she would almost enter a rapture when she smelled cigarette smoke, no matter how faint. Her face would light up, and I can still see her happy smile.
My wife is also a converted smoker. She can smell the odor of cigarettes in the next building, and we have left many restaurants where she sniffed a trace of tobacco.
My uncle was a smoker until the day he passed away, and he used to fill the room with his exhaled puffs. That was the time in my life when I avoided smokers whenever possible. His point of view was that it was his right to blow smoke into my air. I told him that under that logic, it was my right to blow chlorine gas into his air in a closed room. As you might have guessed, that argument went nowhere, and I loved and respected him too much to let that little point separate us.
Today, the noose tightens on smokers. There are college and hospital campuses and whole towns that forbid smoking anywhere on their property.
Quitting is cool. And to think, I was years ahead of everyone, which is very cool.