5:30 a.m. Halfway through my first cup of coffee, I reach for the little cellophane-wrapped box on the bedside table and pull out a cigarette. Four more left. I’ll have to go out in a couple of hours. Pain in the ass. Maybe I’ll quit. Let’s see, what am I doing today? Don’t have anything I have to write today. Could do it. I light up and drag. Mildly pleasant. Rarely get a rush anymore, not even from the first of the day.
I lean back on the pillows, smoke and drink coffee, watching Democracy NOW! News of the Earth Day Oil Spill off the coast of Louisiana gets me agitated, yet also inspired. Words start to string themselves together in my brain. I snuff out my cigarette, get up and go to my desk, taking the little box, and the ashtray, with me. After a few minutes of furious on-screen ranting, I unconsciously reach for the little box, take out a cigarette, and light up.
This is how it begins, every day. Oh, events vary: I don’t always leap out of bed to write. But the head trip is much the same. I’ll be making coffee and I’ll gaze around the kitchen of my new place, noting items needed to make it fully functional, and think, I’ll never be able to buy anything unless I quit smoking. Or, say only two are left in the pack: I rush through my morning so I’ll be dressed to go buy more when withdrawal symptoms hit. Always the day’s plan revolves around cigarettes. Always I consider quitting. Always I forget it within an hour.
I used to be able to make myself quit. The longest I went was two years, twice, and I’ve quit hundreds of times for a week, or half a day, or three. It’s always hellish – but at least I could psyche myself up to take the leap. Now my addiction seems to be so entrenched I cannot rouse myself to that point.
Cigarettes cost $6.00 a pack now, more in some places, slightly less in others. I have gone without food to buy cigarettes. I have no more books, CDs or jewelry left to sell. I borrow money from friends and family, feeling guilty. I asked a friend who recently gave me $500, knowing full well that some of it would go up in smoke, if she minded. She said it wasn’t about the money, but she took the opportunity to speak her razor-sharp mind:
“Will my love investment be repaid from under an oxygen tank? Are you free and independent with your intentions towards me? How long can you listen to me, or are your cigarettes holding the clock that governs most of your behavior and attention?”
She expanded into the political aspects of smoking – the tobacco industry, its effects on global trade, on developing nations, on children. I read and re-read her note several times and pondered her words for days – smoking all the while.
Notice I haven’t even mentioned health. In 2002 I went through a few bouts of pneumonia. It began with me gasping for air. I couldn’t breathe. Literally. Could. Not. Breathe. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever gone through, and in the course of a few months it happened several times. While suffocating, I wondered why I didn’t just go ahead and die. At the same time, I clawed at the nurses’ arm, begging for help, impeding her attempts to give me oxygen. I was diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructionary Pulmonary Disorder). Inner dialogue ceased: I quit smoking then and there, in the hospital. They gave me nicotine patches. I didn’t smoke for almost two years. Then I got better and started up again.
It wasn’t quite that simple: a series of events led up to gradually resuming, but if I went into them now it would just sound like a defense. The thing is, I don’t have symptoms anymore, and though the pulmonologist insists I still have COPD, I find this hard to believe. I’ve learned that I’m a solipsist: I react to what’s going on at this very moment. I seem unable to see things long-term. If I have six bucks in my purse, I buy a pack of cigs. If I have a few packs in the house, I don’t think twice about whether or not to smoke them.
I don’t have a car anymore; I walk everywhere, in time to music on my iPod. The only time I get at all out of breath is walking uphill – normal for my age. If I’m in good shape, what’s the big deal? Maybe I’m fatalistic, but after 50 years of smoking, why stop now? My friend Andrea died of lung cancer 22 years after quitting.
And now I’d have to go cold turkey. A few years ago I developed an allergic reaction to the patch and for one reason or another, none of the other quit methods suit me either. Physically fine, or so I feel at least, facing the prospect of cold turkey…no wonder I can’t get myself psyched up to quit.
Then there’s the social aspect. Dangerous territory, that. I’ve been meaning to write about the anti-smoking laws and zero tolerance attitudes ever since I started blogging. The problem is, I don’t think I’m capable of cohesively expressing my thoughts and feelings about attitudes towards smokers without rage rendering me inarticulate. What with that, plus the near impossibility of making a case for smoking, I’d be laughed out of the blogosphere. Suffice it to say that I’m not only a solipsist, I’m also a rebel, whose actions are almost always in opposition to current trends. Today’s constraints on smoking just make me want to smoke more. Yes, it’s childish and idiotic. But there it is.
Joni Mitchell still smokes, and defends it elegantly. Then again, she can afford it. I feel guilty complaining about money, as if I’ve no right, when I’m wasting so much of the little that I do have. So I try not to complain, lest someone shame me by pointing this out.
Ashamed. Guilty. Conflicted. Scared. Broke. Furious. What do other people do with these feelings? Me? I light up a cigarette.