Sexy, the way the smoke would curl itself around my fingers before floating up toward the ceiling. Memories of time spent in my grandmother’s kitchen, cold fingers wrapped desperately around hot mugs of tea, watching her blow evanescent smoke rings that would dissipate and join the ever-darkening mist that rolled along the ceiling like water. I was like her; like all the women in my family, basking in our own cloud of impending death and trading gossip while we waited for the stove to burn our morning toast.
I eschewed directly participating in the willful inhalation of toxins for a long time. Through awkward phases and social rejection, I elected not to smoke with the others. Even when my roommate would offer her duMauriers, I would decline. But that changed when I moved to the city.
“You look like a smoker,” a coworker told me one day, as we walked along Bloor Street after closing up shop. She’d asked me for a light, but I didn’t have one. Instead of being offended, I was captivated by the image of myself thinner, more self-assured, nonchalantly flicking the ash from the end of a Belmont while infatuated men looked on. I saw myself in a beret, reading my own horrible poetry while soon-to-be hipsters applauded me for my originality over their Mason jars of PBR. I was nineteen, and full of shit.
The first man I ever loved was a smoker. He’d play complicated four-finger chords on his acoustic and sing reggae and ska to me in a voice that sounded like sandpaper over driftwood. He would fuck me while not looking directly at the rolls and folds of my body and then light up and inhale, exhale, filling the room with the smell of tar and mouthwash. I would bundle myself up in his comforter while the air conditioner went full blast and wish he would hold me, but he never did. Sometimes, after he’d fallen asleep, I would cry.
And so cigarettes have always held a certain mystery for me. It didn’t take long for me to fall victim to the same siren song that’s called to my family for generations. Sheppards, some by blood and some by marriage, were apparently built to smoke.
My father, that enigmatic icon of everything I would become and everything I would search for, smoked to control his stress. A terrible idea, really, for a man that sick to smoke regularly, but he would. In the winter, he’d wear a bomber-type jacket to combat the salty cold weather and the furry lapels always smelled like aftershave and cigarettes. Sometimes when the taxi would drop my sister and I off at his house for our court-appointed weekends, we’d find him standing outside, staring at the ocean and absentmindedly bringing his cigarette to his lips over and over again. He was beautiful.
But now, facing the middle of my quarter life, I have to make a decision. I can’t truly afford my habit, both financially and health-wise. Every cold becomes a chest cold and my default reaction to stress is to light up, and we all know why they call them coffin nails. As mystifying and beautiful as it used to be, now it’s as common as drawing breath and the beauty of the act has disappeared. So I’m quitting. My own choice, for my own reasons, and ultimately I’ll be healthier for it.
It’s been 31 hours since I last had a cigarette, give or take. I came very close to snapping last night, but when I angrily marched across the street and into the Mac’s, fully intending to storm the counter and demand “Peter-Jackson-light-king-size-large” in one rambling breath, I found a lineup of tourists all the way to the back coolers. “FORGET THIS!” I yelled, and threw my hands up in defeat. I went back across the street to work and silently prayed to whatever God may or may not be listening to not let me launch a profanity-laden tirade against the next customer to think their whipped cream isn’t whippy enough.
Rage is supposed to last three to four weeks.
Insomnia is about the same.
You remember my battle with caffeine, right? My bid to form a normal sleeping pattern? I didn’t take into account that occasionally nicotine withdrawals can manifest as insomnia OR lethargy. Incredible. I won the battle, but I haven’t (yet) won the war. This is not my first time quitting — I had just quit when I first started this blog, and picked it up again in December.
I intend to make this attempt my last. I’ll always be a smoker, but I’m choosing not to smoke.