The Beginning and the End of Smoking

31 Dec

I smoked my last cigarette at one in the morning on January 1, 2004. We had just returned from First Night St. Louis, a freezing night in Forest Park, celebrating the end of 2003. Chloe was three. Jennifer was pregnant. I sat outside on the steps of our Troy, IL split-level apartment, shivering, thinking about what a perfect time it would be to kick the nasty habit, the habit I had mocked before 1996.

I remember thinking: how does one even start smoking? Look at that idiot, smoking. I will never smoke; it has to be the stupidest thing in the world.

My body is still healing the damage. I see that my risk of stroke is now back down to those who have never smoked. My risk of lung cancer still seems to be elevated. It will be another 8 years before my risk of heart disease is down to your level–you “never have smoked, non-smoker.”

I think it was despair that drove me to smoking. I was working at the Department of Child & Family Services in Springfield, IL. It was just a job, nothing I enjoyed doing. Despite a new girlfriend, I felt lost, worthless. A co-worker, Jim I think his name was, smoked heavily–some kind of generic cigarette, a white and light blue package, a soft pack.

Once in awhile, Jim and I played spirited games of Wiffle ball in the basement, among piles of boxes of yet-to-be-filled-out government documents. One day I swung and barely made contact. The ball spun out in front of me. Jim tagged me out, but I said it was a goddamn foul ball. He got in my face and threatened to kick my ass. I stood my ground, pushing him away, getting all up in his face, telling him he was a crazy bastard.

On a different day before or after that particular baseball game, I must have asked Jim for a cigarette. Or did I steal one when he was away? I was brave enough to steal one, but I wouldn’t have used his lighter (he would notice its disappearance. Obviously, I didn’t want a witness to my scandalous, self destructive plan). It’s embarrassingly possible that I had been scheming on smoking my first cigarette for days and had found a lighter from home to have on me when the time came.

I took it out back into the stairwell (again…steps) and clumsily smoked my first cigarette all alone. I leaned against the brick wall and closed my eyes. My life still sucked and now I was woosy. My fingers and lips–my whole face–stunk.

At some point I remember Jim looking at me funny. Had I smoked that first cigarette and decided it my last, I could have avoided this look, but I was determined to become a smoker and he had found me out.

The kid who has been badgering me to quit is suddenly smoking a cigarette?

He seemed to be shocked that he was witnessing a point when one steps over the sketchy line between smoker and non-smoker. Every smoker has one, but sometimes it’s hard to pin down. Are you an addicted smoker after just one? Me, the young nicotine virgin. That look–and slight pause–was him imagining twenty years being lopped off the end of my life and maybe feeling a little guilty.

It’s funny, I don’t remember my second one, or my third. I remember, distincely, my first and last.

Several hours before my last cigarette, I remember being shocked at the number of people who were jammed into Forrest Park. In the art museum, I took Chloe into a packed men’s room and refused to let her use the soiled toilets. Jennifer complained to a employee and he said something like “When you let six thousand people in the door, they WILL mess up your house.” I thought that was funny. And true. I remember being stressed and ready to leave.

Fifteen minutes later, we were downstairs in the theater where they were playing Meet Me in St. Louis. It was quiet and warm. I was so glad to be warm and away from the noisy crowd. The title song stuck in my head that night and I couldn’t shake it for months into the new year. I sang it every day.

Meet me in St. Louis, Louis; meet me at the fair. Don’t tell me the lights are shining, anywhere but here. We will dance the Hoochee Koochee, I will be your tootsie wootsie, if you will meet me in St. Louis, Louis; meet me at the fair.

At midnight, we were on a loud, packed bus that would take us somewhere near where our car was parked. We watched the fireworks and the ending year through the rear windows. I remember watching the lights dancing on Chloe’s face. She watched the explosions and I watched a three-year-old experiencing them.


2 Responses to “The Beginning and the End of Smoking”

  1. mom January 7, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    Great story!

    • fightn4it January 7, 2011 at 6:54 pm #


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: