All right, let me just say this up front. I have a very complicated relationship with cigarettes. It’s the sort of thing where I spent many years of my life saying how much I hated them while secretly loving them and then also plenty of time pretending to love them while secretly hating them. But the thing is, me and cigarettes, we go way back.
When I was in ninth grade, and ridiculously young I should add, my friend A. (not her real name) had already mastered the art of smoking and managed to look like she’d been doing it for years. For a couple of afternoons she had let me practice smoking for a few seconds at a time, which was enough to make me write in my diary that night, “A. let me have a drag from her cigarette today and I liked it! Am I addicted???” (content verbatim from my diary)
Though in all honesty, I could go back a lot further than that. Now I didn’t exactly grow up during the Mad Men era, but it wasn’t so far off. I remember when people could smoke cigarettes on a plane, in a restaurant, in a hospital, and, best of all, in a car with the windows rolled up (car windows actually rolled up in those days). My father and stepfather both smoked, which meant that I was never very far from secondhand smoke, and the bronchitis I suffered as a kid may have its origins there. No one really thought about that though. When I was 16 years old, I worked at David’s Cookies with an older boy who actually rolled a pack of cigarettes into the sleeve of his white t-shirt. I’m not going to say that was the only reason I had a crush on him, but it helped tremendously.
I started smoking myself, occasionally, sometime in college. During a particularly stressful and miserable time of what was in general a stressful and miserable time, I took to smoking cigarettes on the porch of the house I lived in or in my room when no one else was home. I was 19 years old and I figured that’s what you did when you were miserable.
But interestingly that was the last time I would ever associate cigarettes with anything negative. In my early 20s it became something fun to do while drinking. Also it became something absolutely necessary to do with someone else. How great it is to have something to do with your hands, people always say about smoking, and that really is part of it. Plus you can’t help loving the grown-uppy way you look knocking the ashes off casually in between drags (something my friend R., a real smoker, had to teach me so I would stop looking ridiculous).
When I was 22, I introduced my boyfriend to cigarettes and he took to it so naturally that within a week he was smoking a pack a day, a habit he kept up for many years (sorry, C!). Whereas I still managed to have the occasional cigarette and, despite my ninth-grade worries, never really got addicted at all. I knew that I was never an addict because the thought of waking up and having a cigarette was always just about the most disgusting thing I could imagine. I really only smoked when necessary and then I could go for a long while until the urge would strike. I’m not going to say all that much about having a cigarette after sex except that if you’ve ever done it then you know just how much you feel like a character in a movie while doing so.
Meanwhile, I often found that after a night of smoking too many cigarettes I would wake up with a certain heaviness in my chest that wasn’t quite pain, but wasn’t quite not pain either. I used to think, Well, this must be leftover from my bronchitis days. My body must really not like cigarettes. Well, of course not. They are disgusting. Smoking is one of the most repulsive things you can do to your body. And yet how cool and grown-up I felt every single time! Doesn’t everyone who smokes feel this way? I’m going to guess that it’s true.
And now? At the very beginning of 2011 I felt that having an occasional cigarette (which I had not done for like 15 years) was a way of celebrating my newfound freedom. By the end of 2011, when I found myself puking in a friend’s bathroom after a night of wine and cigarettes, I decided that was that. And it is, mostly, except when sometimes the idea of smoking with someone feels so thrilling that I forget that it pretty much disgusts me now. There is a strange disconnect between the thrill and the disgust that is not like anything else I’ve ever experienced. Maybe all smokers feel this way. I can’t exactly say.
All I will say is that I hope never to smoke another cigarette ever again. And that also I'm pretty sure I will.