It was a windy day in Philadelphia when I decided to quit smoking. I was standing in my backyard, creeping around (the rear of my house, back then, was a tiny stone enclosure surrounded by my neighbor’s fences. There were weeds sprouting flowers invading all over the place. There were times I thought one would bite me).
Anyway, there I was, trying to make smoke rings, something I had never done. I gave a little cough, afraid I would wake my then eight year old daughter, whose window faced the back. I rushed around the side and then took a final puff. I said to myself, I need to quit smoking.
The next night was windy too, and I made the same vow: Once I finish this new pack I bought today, then I’m done.
Three packs, five days later (I was pleased that I was smoking fewer each day), I had had enough and I broke however many were left, spitting out a stray shred of baked tan and brown stuff I wasn’t even sure was tobacco, spitting the burned leaf into the trashcan. I went inside, washed my hands and face, then brushed my teeth. I was done.
It was surprisingly easy to stop, three days of on edge irritability, complete with some fights with my wife (she was quitting smoking too, unrelated to my accomplishment). After those three days, my wife cheated a little, but I remained pure.
It was a year and a half later, and I attended the latest NFL fantasy draft with my for-money league of friends (I have previous written on the bottom feeding petri dish that are fantasy sports. I called it “Fantasy Sports: The Lowest of the Low of Human Ambition,” 9/22/2019) The previous year I had been unable to make it, and allowed a roster to be selected for me (somehow my team made it all the way to the league championship, where I was crushed, earning the lesser windfall of a few hundred dollars). This year I attended, a six pack plus of beer, an occasional shot of bourbon, pasty hot wings and cold pizza; chips, someone’s seven layer dip, and the cocktail meatballs and rolls offered every year by out host.
On the first break, I followed my friend outside, where he and a few others were smoking. It took me less then a minute to ask for one.
After this I was back to hidden smoking, out walking the dog with a pocket full of gum and mints. I would stay up late at night just to have one or two more, my daily consumption sometimes only those two outside with my occasionally friendly neighbors.
Again I grew sick, done with smoking and done for the last time. Fuck those things, I can’t even enjoy them anymore! They’re expensive and I have a growing family. No more. Done.
My irritability was no more than my usually surly temperament, annoyed by many things, all of us bitching and clawing at the air. I had no interest in smoking with them. I could even stand with smokers and not become one of those born-again assholes, preaching about the dangers and exaggerating coughs. I could just stand there, perhaps weening myself off through second hand smoke. The conversations continued with the same complaints and arguments the group of us were making. We usually left such gatherings liking one another less.
And so I quit smoking, stayed off the fumes for seven years. Then came the stress of economics, and distant rumors of the latest killer disease, all this infecting us with panicked paranoia; with a newfound thread within the conspiratorial culture now buried on the surface of people who have no idea what is true any longer. I raced the fuck out and bought a pack of cigarettes. I smoked through several that first day, not bothering to conceal it. I was lectured by my family but I didn’t give a fuck. I was terrified the closer the virus came, my bleak prognostication coming horrifyingly true. So I smoked and smoked until the day came when we were told to stay inside. I wasn’t about to go out and buy another cigarette–I bet those unhealthy smokers are all gonna get it! And I stayed at home, a number of weeks now, staggering out with a mask impacting my breathing, running uncomfortably around on days now sometimes reaching the middle 70s. People are all rushing around, sometimes bumping or slamming into you and then, in terror, both of us wiping ourselves down with the disinfectant wipes each of us clutched in our gloved hands. Sometimes you think you smell the cigarette on them.
I wish I could say “so today I quit smoking.” I did briefly smoke again, my wife having a hidden pack and handing me one (different brand and flavor, and unpalatable to me). And since then I have completely stopped, my surly demeanor thoroughly enhanced by fear. And then there is the sometime aggravation of being around your family much more than you’re used to. It has been weeks since I quit smoking. I’ve decided to quit smoking. I have decided (again) that I’ve smoked my last one.