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Letter to an ex-lover: Part I

Posted by on October 6th, 2008 with 0 Comments

When I was 12 years old, one of my friends gave me some valuable and genuine advice: “Don’t believe what anyone says. Smoking really does make you cool.”

That was the day I tried my first cigarette.

If you’re a virgin to smoking, each drag makes your lungs tight. It hurts. You cough and get light headed. It feels like dizziness without the vertigo. It’s nothing special and it’s hard to see the appeal.

But if you give it a chance, smoking becomes the lover you can’t leave. You know she’s crazy and you know she’s no good for you. In the back of your mind you’re even a little worried that she’ll go nuts and kill you. But she’s also as loyal as a person can be. When you’re stressed out, she’s there. During important moments, she’s there. On warm summer nights or cold winter mornings your cigarette is right there with you. And as bad as the relationship gets, you know she’ll never leave you. She’ll never walk out. If you want her gone, you’ll have to do it yourself.

By the time I was in high school, most of my friends had started smoking. Cigarettes were cheap. They were a way to bond and a way to make friends. Kids are painfully self conscious and search desperately for any spot of common ground. Standing outside on a cold day just to catch a morning cigarette before class is a powerful thing. If you didn’t smoke you were still welcome, but there was no reason for you to be there. Why would you stand outside on a cold day?

My family history with cigarettes is pretty good. With one big exception, everyone has been able to quit. I decided that when the time came, I could give it up. I also wondered what addiction was all about. I wanted to know what it was to be addicted to something. There was the curiosity and there was the fact that all my friends smoked. I held out for a while, but fully committed by the time I was 16.

October 7, 2004 was my ex-girlfriend’s birthday. She had just moved in with me and I had just closed the windows for the season. I felt bad sitting at my computer and filling the room with smoke. I had a cold that week and wasn’t smoking anyway. I decided to give quitting a try. I’d never tried before.

Smoking does make you cool. It’s also deeply satisfying. People buy cars in some lame attempt to define themselves. Cars can’t do more than suggest to other people what you want them to think. Cigarettes project an image, but most important is what they do to you internally. Aside from straining your heart and filling your lungs with chemical laced tar, they work their way into your psyche. When you listen to music, you want a cigarette. When you have a beer, you need a cigarette. When you’re walking home alone through the city in the dead of night, you need a cigarette. If you see a middle aged man smoking in the park, that man has long ago given up caring about the image his smoking projects. He’s there alone with it. That’s the relationship that endures.

To be continued…

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