Tuesday, August 29, 2006

To Do Before I Die

I don’t look like a woman that smokes.

I look like the sort of woman that was on the D.A.R.E. squad in high school, volunteered to teach elementary school children the evils of tobacco in college, and spent her late twenties running marathons and exploring yoga. But the truth is, I was a high school misfit, spent my college years working as a Budweiser girl and can’t remember the last time I worked out without puffing on a cancer stick within an hour of my gym departure.

Because even though I have bright white teeth and look like someone that doesn’t smoke, I do.

And now that I’ve acknowledged that I indeed smoke, I also need to acknowledge that I’ve tried to stop. But I haven’t been successful. So something I want to do before I die or before it kills me, is quit smoking.

It started at fifteen.

I can’t recall who first put a cigarette in my hand, but I remember the high that accompanied it. And I remember how instantly cool I felt standing in the group that flicked their ashes in the campfire. By sixteen I was smoking in the car, my hand hanging out the window to avoid the invasion of odor into my parents car. By seventeen, I was hitting up the college keg parties, smoking on porches and saying things like, “I only smoke when I drink.”

My twenties were awash with waitress jobs and exams. I smoked to escape the stress of both. A cigarette meant slipping away for a moment, going somewhere and taking five minutes to be still. Still except for the mad puffing and exhaling of dirty smoke.

I can’t recall exactly when I crossed the threshold of casual use and entered into full-on nicotine addiction. I know there was a time when I could quit for a few months or even a year without much effort. But in the past few years, that all changed.

Because I smoke in secret, I find myself rushing home at the end of the day just to hang my head outside my Manhattan window and blow smoke rings into the alley. I’ve begun choosing places to meet friends by whether or not smoking is allowed at the bar. I’ve started buying cartons when I pass through the Duty Free shop on a work assignment abroad. When smoking binges leave me with a cough that accompanies me through my work day and keeps me up at night, I tell co-workers I have a nasty summer cold. I’ve begun carrying cigarettes in my designer hand bag, zipped into a secret compartment. Because no one can know that I smoke. I don’t want to do it anymore.

I don’t look like a woman who smokes.

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