I, like many of my contemporaries, have made many a dumb drunk decision. Driving other people’s cars while inebriated, 95% of the guys I slept with in 2008, and accepting my admission offer to grad school are three prime examples of alcohol inhibiting judgement and creating alternate realities where common sense is as prevalent as monedas in Mexico and Bad Choices reign supreme. I have drunk dialed, drunk cried, drunk punched a train, drunk urinated in public and, most recently, drunk stole from a friend (blog about that coming soon). I can be a messy little drunk.
About a month ago, however, I really fucked up. I did something that made all of my earlier intoxicated infractions seem like light, airy petals tossed innocently by an pixie-like, blond-haired flower girl onto the path of a bride-to-be on a dewy April morning in Switzerland. It was three thirty in the morning after twice as many beers in a third as many hours. I was sweaty, satiated, and allegedly invincible. I uttered the four fateful words no woman of my ilk ever wants to say, the four words that, since age 15, I swore I would never say to a man, woman, or transgendered individual.
“Novio,” I said, turning to my beloved, “I’m gonna quit smoking.”
Trust me: “Will you marry me?” would have been a lot less painful.
I woke up the next morning swimming in the particles of beer and sex that surround a sinner’s Sunday sunrise thinking of nothing. My BF and I had coffee and exchanged love-struck smiles until he had to leave.
“So…” He started.
I looked at him quizzically, and the followed his gaze to the red box on the table.
“Take them!” I laughed with frivolity, “I told you, I’m done.”
It wasn’t until a few hours later while I was lying on my bed watching Frank McCourt’s alcoholic father suck down a nice one in “Angela’s Ashes” that I was struck by the gravity of the situation. Though I had by no means proclaimed “I swear on all things I consider sacred that never again shall cigarette smoke penetrate my lung chambers,” there had been an indubitably definitive tone to my renunciation. Additionally, for some odd reason, I have a burning desire not to disappoint this kid. It appeared I would have to quit smoking. I unwrapped a Milky Way and sat on my bed, pontificating…
I picked up the delicious dependency when I was 15. Not in the flaunting, chain smoking, “I’m not on school property so you can’t do shit, fuckers” kind of way but rather in the car, out my window in the dead of night, and whenever I’d go into the city. It was a personal activity, a hidden treasure in an otherwise average adolescence. Through smoking out my bedroom window into the winter high school air I was connected with the millions of other souls on Earth doing the exact same thing, and thus not a mere dot in an NYC suburb but a citizen of the world.
I started college and set out majoring in cigarettes, with minors in French and English. In Paris, I got it down to an art. At the end of college, I started working in a restaurant, where sitting down for thirty seconds is reason enough to get fired, but taking four smoke breaks a night is socially and professionally acceptable.
I spent the two and a half years after graduation alternating between cold climates and warm ones, good times and bad, boys, men, planes, trains, breakups, breakdowns, food, drugs, alcohol, classes, unemployment, overwork, and general searching of the self. The one thing that remained constant was my cigarettes. The smoke heading through the cells in the back of your throat up to your eyes, nose, down through your lungs, riding on air, floating through the streets.
In smoking and in life, I was never faithful. The first cigarettes I smoked were Parliament Lights, which turned into Marlboro Lights, and from 2004 to 2006 I choked down a pack of Newports a day (still in recovery). In France I smoked Gauloises until someone told me they were for old men and would kill me faster than the gross amounts of cheese I was consuming, moved onto menthol Capris, which are the most obnoxious cigarettes in existence. Marlboro Mediums helped me finish college, and Parliament Lights carried me around the US in my post-grad travels. I have subsisted off random duty-free cartons from Costa Rica, DR, and Morocco, have smoked TOPS rolling tobacco when times have been tough, and here in Mexico indulged in Delicados Dorados because they come in a pack of 25 instead of 20. I was a cigarette whore.
Sure, we’ve had our slight separations. In November of 2006, my aunt came to visit me in Paris and I decided staying on l’Íle de la Cité with a view of Notre Dame was worth sacrificing my smokes for a week. When I did a 30 day Bikram Yoga Challenge, I cut back a lot because I didn’t want to die. During my 7-day Outward Bound adventure last June I wasn’t allowed to bring cigarettes, but you can be certain that the second I got to the airport in Portland, Maine I ran right up to a hick in a flannel shirt and asked for not one but two Marlboro Reds. However, for the majority of the last nine years, from the banks of the Hudson at midnight to a tent in the Sahara Desert, my cigarettes have been there, ever faithful, ever burning. Lazy Sundays I’d smoke four or five; when I went to Acapulco in February I was sucking down a pack and a half a day. At weddings, funerals, and graduations, I laughed in the face of human moral support: I had my tweeds. I just fucking love cigarettes.
But here’s the crazy part: I have, after the aforementioned psychotic declaration, basically quit smoking. In five full days of being in Puerto Escondido, I smoked one cigarette. The day that my water pump broke, leaving me literally high and dry, I smoked one cigarette. And last Sunday, at twilight, discussing the future of my relationship with its other half, a cigarette was indubitably necessary. But magically, the desire to be constantly accompanied by a burning stick of tobacco has vanished. I have started adding sugar to my coffee rather than smoke. After meals I now eat a cookie. After sex I drink water. Between classes I read. I haven’t been chewing gum or Skoal, haven’t gotten any more irrationally angry than usual, haven’t woken up in the middle of the night searching the garbage for lost butts in a junked-out frenzy.
I am, understandably, perplexed. Was I not ACTUALLY inhaling all those years? Did I never really like cigarettes to begin with? Have I just replaced one oral fixation with another? Does falling in love for real for real trump all other earthly pleasures? Am I going to stop eating meat soon? Is there a way to market strong will and get rich? Are all these people who can’t quit smoking just pussies? Stop La Clope, as they say in France! It’s really not that hard.
For all I know, this is could just be a blip in the radar, a really long adrenaline rush, a weird prolonged dream. I recently read The Outsiders, and Ponyboy’s incessant inhalations made me weak in the knees. Sometimes I’ll be getting dressed and realize that my boots go perfectly with my earrings but would go even better with a stoge. Until then, though, while I’m a picker, a grinner, a lover, a sinner, a joker, and a midnight toker),I can no longer call myself a smoker.