“CHAD! Did you try smoking one of my cigarettes today?”
My second grader face could not hold back any false pretense. “Yes, Sir. It was yucky. How did you know?” I puzzled out loud.
“You dubbed out an entire cigarette, “ he said with disappointment in his voice. Earlier in the day, I had taken one of his Winston’s out of the pack, flipped open a Zippo left out, and lit the cigarette. I choked and gagged. I left the box of Winston’s out as I returned to my homework and never gave the cigarette a second thought.
Twenty years later, I sat at a party of good friends. On the table were an assortment of empty beer bottles, an ashtray, a box of Winston’s, and a black Zippo lighter. I flipped open the lid of the Zippo. The distinctive sound of the metal case brought back memories. Zippo fluid has a particular scent. I opened the box of Winston’s and took in the smell of the tobacco. Winston always reminded me of the smell of raisins. The pack was mostly full. I lit the cigarette and attempted to draw in the smoke. I had gone twenty-seven years without learning how to bring smoke into my lungs and I had just enough liquid courage to pursue this endeavor. It turns out to be trickier than it seems. I had to fool my body’s natural reaction to not allow the foreign cloud of toxins in. It was quite entertaining to work the cigarettes. It took eight Winston’s to finally get the correct rhythm to draw, a breath, and not choke. Impressed with my new ability. I snuffed out the rest of the cigarette and joined the party in full swing.
Several weeks later, I stopped at a convenience store on the way to a pasture party where my friends would play some blues. I grabbed a liter of Diet Dr Pepper and headed for the check out area. I saw the cigarettes behind the counter. “I’ll take a pack of Winston’s please.” I said for the first time in my life.
“In a box, Hon?” the lady asked.
“Just a pack of Winston’s, thank you.” I stated with a bit of confusion.
“Do you want a soft pack or a box, Honey?” she asked with haste.
I didn’t know the answer because the options didn’t make sense. I simply wanted a pack of Winston’s. I thought a “box” was a carton so I said “Soft” with a sheepish tone.
I arrived at a person’s farm. I opened my Diet Dr Pepper and enjoyed the fizz as it danced on my tongue. As the group of friends began to spin yarns, they told their stories with the cigarettes like a prop for a play. The cigarettes added to the story performance. The orangey red cherry glow would light up with their excitement. I got lost in watching how they held their cigarette, flicked the ashes in the perfect moment, and flung the mostly finished smokes towards a bucket for the cigarette butts. Sometimes, they would miss and the cigarette sent sparks of glowing ash. It mesmerized me. I had forgotten that my soft pack of Winston’s awaited in my pocket. I pulled open the packaging and tore away the tin foil. I dug out my first cigarette and put it to my lips. I searched my pocket to find I didn’t have a lighter. One of my friends leaned over and sparked up a plastic lighter. I awkwardly tried to move the cigarette towards the flame. I moved the cigarette and some times my head to find the end of the cigarette to the Bic. It took several attempts before it got lit.
My cigarette kept going out and I had to continue to ask to borrow some fire. My friend headed off to play. I asked if I could use his Zippo while he played lead guitar.
I sat on the tailgate of a friend’s truck as they played some good blues. I got so into the music, I neglected the cigarettes. There was a little break while the bass player was bout to sing, “The Thrill Is Gone” and I whipped out a Winston. I struck the Zippo. The spark released the flames and the aroma of the Zippo fluid filled my senses. I occasionally took a puff of the cigarette as I marveled at my friend’s tribute to BB King. After about four or five more songs and many puffs later. A friend came over and his laughter was genuine. “Man, I been watching you smoke that cigarette for twenty minutes now. That sucker ain’t even lit but you smoked it like it was the best smoke. That was funny!” I admitted that I didn’t smoke. “It is obvious! You gave it hell though!” he said as he slapped my shoulder.
I remember giving my friend back his Zippo and the remainder of the pack. “Since I smoked a half a pack of your smokes a while ago, take these,” I offered.
A few weeks passed and I left school during my off period. It had not been a good day to be a teacher who worked with students with emotional disturbances. I drove around to get a new perspective on life. I entered a convenience store, grabbed a Diet Dr Pepper, and spotted the cigarettes. “I’ll take a pack of Winston’s please,” I confidently said. “Oh, soft, please,” I announced before he had to ask. I picked up a lighter by the cash register. I sat in my SUV and exhaled the smoke & my frustrations and I felt like I could finish the day on a more positive note. On the way home, I saw the pack of Winston’s in the passenger seat. I wondered what I was thinking by smoking.
I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation Studies with a focus on addiction, I understood the Cycle of Dependency. Knowledge is power. I made the decision that I would stop smoking before it became a problem. You see, I was smarter than the nicotine.
I invited a monkey to jump on my back and remain there for years to come. Through horrible illness, freezing temperatures, allergies that came out of nowhere, and even a throat closing reflex that I went to two doctors to seek treatment, I continued to smoke. The temporary difficulties that “may” have resulted from smoking were out weighed by the “benefits” of my new recreational activity.
I left the brand of cigarettes my father smoked to “enjoy” a healthier brand “with no additives.” During times of stress, I had to go for a smoke. In celebration, I had to fire up a square. When I was bored, I needed a cigarette. The monkey had taken full residency on my back and all the book smarts helped me in no fashion. I was stranded in the middle of Addictionville and each road was a deaden.
I no longer smoke. It wasn’t through the use of self-hypnosis, the gum, or prescriptions. All had been tried and failed. I had to just stop and deal with the withdrawal like my father had years previously.
I understand smokers better now. I do not judge them as weak people. For whatever reason, they smoke. It is not a lack of intelligence or strength of character.
The only one to blame was myself. Truth is I didn’t need a reason to smoke because the monkey on my back deceptively found reasons to need a cigarette. I am no different than the folks we see and smell smoking in their cars stinking up the area with the horrid stench. I was one of them. I am no better than they are. I found a way that worked for me. All of us have a capacity to resist temptation and the moral high horse seems to put the judger at a higher elevation to fall from when the boomerang of Karma comes back.
It is in this understanding that I find the human condition. For one reason or another, things happen due to choices. It is always “they” or “them” when judgment is cast out. I remind myself how I was wiser than cigarettes. I could handle it. I most certainly was not one of “those” people. The recognition that we all struggle and need to be more understanding only makes me stronger.