Seven years ago today I quit smoking. I really don’t miss it, which is kind of surprising, because I loved smoking.
I had my first cigarette when I was six or seven years old. I was at a friend’s house, her older sister had swiped a pack from their parents, and she gave me one. I didn’t know how it worked–I tried to suck on the filter like a lollipop. Not too long after that, I bought my first pack from a cigarette machine in the lobby of the restaurant my family had gone to. No one said anything to a little kid buying smokes out of the machine–maybe they thought my mom or dad and had sent me to get it. Maybe they just didn’t care. I hid that pack in my dresser when I got home, sneaked a single cigarette out every few days and smoked it in the field behind our house. When my mom found the open pack, she sat me down and gave me a talking to. I don’t really remember what she said, just that she was upset and very disappointed in me.
I left them alone then, until I was thirteen. That’s when I started spending more time with a cousin who was three years older than me. She had her driver’s license, and she would come pick me up on Friday or Saturday nights to take me ice skating or to the movies, with my parents’ blessing. Then we’d go downtown and drag State Street. We’d meet boys, and hang out in the parking lot of the taco joint, and smoke and b.s. My cousin knew a little store with a drive-up window that would sell her cigarettes, and she’d buy them for me, too. When she graduated from high school a couple years later, we didn’t spend as much time together, and I more or less quit smoking.
The summer between my junior and senior year I started going to cosmetology school, which I continued throughout my senior year. During that first week, we found out the instructors would allow a “smoke break” every couple of hours. If you didn’t smoke? No breaks, except for lunch. So I started smoking again. This time, it really stuck. I smoked a pack a day, every day. I loved it. Me and my friends would go to coffee at least three times a week, and we’d sit in whichever restaurant we were frequenting at the time, drinking coffee and smoking, talking, sometimes taking turns reading my stories out loud. We partied, hung out with some of the local bands, dragged State Street again from time to time. Being a smoker was part of who I was.
In my 30s, I quit for about a year because my husband at that time had been diagnosed with the beginnings of emphysema. He tried to quit and tried to quit, and finally told me he couldn’t as long as I was still smoking. It was just too much of a temptation for him. I loved him, and I didn’t want his disease to progress. So I quit with him. When I found out a year later that he’d been smoking and hiding it from me, along with some other things he’d been hiding, I pretty much said fuck it and went out and bought a pack. It seemed a fair trade–he left, and the cigarettes returned.
Eventually, I got into a relationship with another guy. He smoked, I smoked, and we often discussed quitting. So on December 30th, seven years ago, when I finished the last cigarette in my pack, I just never bought any more. I was lucky, in that I never had any debilitating side effects. I never had the ongoing respiratory illnesses. I never had the smoker’s hack. I’ve never been diagnosed with any kind of lung or heart disease related to my many, many years of smoking. And as much as I loved to smoke, for the most part I really don’t miss it. I’ve had a couple really stressful situations where I wished I could light up, but I haven’t done so. I don’t miss going outside in the freezing cold or the blistering heat to have a smoke (and I never allowed smoking inside my house, because I think that’s just gross). I don’t miss paying for them, either. When I bought that very first pack of cigarettes from the vending machine all those years ago, they were 60¢ a pack.
I woke up this morning and looked at the date, and it occurred to me that it’s been seven years since I last smoked a cigarette. It made me think about all those years that I smoked, without ever giving it a second thought, without ever considering why. Here’s to seven more.