Time to Remember
I am a non smoker. That is a phrase I never thought I would utter anytime soon, at least not at this point in my life. Sure, maybe when I'm a doddering old man, attached to an oxygen tank and getting winded as I shuffle to the toilet, but certainly not now. But here I am, wondering how the fuck I got here.
Let me explain.
I didn't start out a smoker- nay, as a youth I was much better than that. Both my parents were smokers , as well as most of my extended family. Between the forced inhalation at home and family gatherings not to mention 10 hour car rides to visit relatives trapped in the back seat of my fathers car with his window barely cracked to allow slivers of oxygen to enter the smoke filled car- well, let's just say the idea just didn't appeal to my pre-asthmatic self.
Cut to years later-my early twenties, Living in the French Quarter, doing a dinner theatre production of Grease playing Kenicke. I decided my character was a smoker (I think he was in the movie) and decided I needed to practice smoking to do it realistically. A smoker can always tell when someone is faking it- the awkward way the imposter holds the cigarette, the quick expulsion of a billowy cloud of smoke because of not actually inhaling, and of course, the inexperienced tend to hack and sputter like a backfiring engine. So I would practice, usually paired with copious amounts of alcohol , inexorably linking the two. I had a great excuse to do it as well- for my art. Sadly, I never actually smoked as Kenicke on stage, just held the cigarette in my mouth, dangling, trying to evoke a coolness that I pictured as a smoking leather jacket wearing greaser would have. But the die was cast and my fate , signed.
Soon I wasn't acting anymore. I was an actual, bonafide, 100% smoker. And I loved it! Initially, it was the head rush you get as your oxygen supply is interfered with or hampered with -that, mixed with the chemical additives that make them addictive. But it was more than that. It was something to do. I am more than sure I was subliminally affected by Hollywood and it's romanticizing of and glorification of smokers, but something about the act of smoking felt so right. Cigarettes became my constant companion. They gave me a pleasureable task that never seemed to get old, like watching t.v. or masturbating.
For many years, I could see no downsides. Sure, most people I knew did not smoke and I had to sneak outside to catch a few puffs, even in harsh weather. Neither rain nor sleet nor snow nor extreme temperatures could dissuade me from my task. I was the fucking US post office of smokers. Sure, I smelled of stale smoke and sometimes my fingers were yellowed- stained from nicotine. Yes, sometimes I would hack and cough for no reason, but that seemed such a small price for those 2 and 1/2 minutes of lovely time-wasting fun. The best thing about smoking was the time I wasted doing it. It was a great excuse for a break at work, a perfect filler for the silence that surrounded me whenever I ventured out by myself. It was the literal smoke and mirrors at a bar that gave the illusion that instead of chatting up strangers (my social anxiety didn't allow for much of that unless I had quite a few drinks) I was perfectly content by myself, clutching a cocktail in one hand and dragging on a cigarette .
I was a smoker, and I wore that badge of shame defiantly with honor. I could give a rats ass what other people thought. My fellow smokers had become an ever shrinking circle, but that didn't even shrink my resolve. More and more cities banned smoking in public places, yet that failed to deter me from seeking places to light up.
I tried a few times to quit over the years, but finally reached the conclusion that all of the upsides of being a non-smoker meant nothing to me. I just didn't care. The money spent, the isolation, the stigma- none of that really mattered. Besides, I really hated holier than thou non-smokers and former smokers. Somehow the non-smokers decided they had the moral high ground in choosing a smoke free existence. Some would treat it as a sin of biblical proportions, something God himself had declared a commandment (the 11th , I guess.) . This made me want to smoke more than ever. Fuck 'em! The looks of pity, the revulsion, the dewy eyes as they claimed their concern for my health all propel my self destructive rebelllion. Like somehow they were better human beings for not choosing to shorten their lives by inhaling the cancer sticks.
Former smokers were the worst. That whole, "If I can do it, so can you!" just made me even more determined. I always felt like they were traitors somehow, as if choosing their own health and well being was a slap in my face. How dare they chose breathing over looking this cool?
So what changed now? Well, my father recently went to the hospital for respiratory failure. Before he allowed me to take him (it took repeated questioning and talking) , he had to smoke a couple of cigarettes even though (we found out later) his pulse-ox was at 70.
They kept him there 3 nights, trying to get his levels to normalize. The Dr. told him he HAD to quit smoking. Period. He told her absolutely not. He was 73, he wasn't going to change, he'd lived enough. Fuck 'em!
She asked if I smoked and he said yes. "Well, maybe you should quit and be a role model for your son..."
He replied, "Maybe HE should quit and be a role model for ME."
Something inside me snapped and I did just that. I fucking quit. Just like that. 26 years and now, no more. I didn't do it for me, I didn't even do it for him.It literally felt like a switch was pulled and it just ...stopped. I was- am done. No excuses. No explanation. Just finished. I wish I could explain it.
I feel like I lost a big part of my life that day and I miss the action of it, the process, the time spent. Just another chapter of my life, closed. I don't know why I did it and sometimes I regret it. In the grand scheme of things, it still doesn't mean anything to me. It doesn't make me a better human being.
But this I swear- I will never become one of those holier than thou motherfucking-cocksucking-son-of-a-bitching ex-smokers.
#comedy , #memories, #Family
Stephen LaDow is a non-smoking local actor, blogger,singer, barista , and supporter of the arts. He lives on the West End of Panama City. Follow his blog at Unfiltered-ness.com.
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