I was 13 years old when I had my first cigarette. Like any awkward, self-conscious teenager growing up in the ’90s, I was desperate to fit in with the “cool” kids in my neighborhood, so I didn’t hesitate to accept their invitation to sneak into the woods behind our townhome community and give the whole smoking thing a try.
I can picture it like it was yesterday. I didn’t inhale the first few drags, but when I eventually sucked in the smoke and allowed it to penetrate my lungs, I felt a searing pain from my throat down into my chest. It was followed by a coughing fit of epic proportions and a head-rush of nicotine that nearly made me pass out. My new “friends,” already seasoned smokers, laughed as I struggled to catch my breath. Once I did, I gave my own chuckle and took another puff.
Thus began my relationship with cigarettes, an off-and-on affair that’s lasted for 20 years now. (Note: We’re currently “on” and happier than ever… for the most part, anyway.)
There’s so much about smoking that I love: the sense of community when you crowd under an outside awning to light up in the rain with 10 strangers; the feel of holding a cigarette in one hand and a cocktail in another (really, it’s like peanut butter and jelly); the soothing way the smoke fades into the air as you exhale, especially on a quiet night spent sitting on the deck and listening to the song of the cicadas.
Cigarettes have been a near constant during some of the worst and best moments of my life. They saw me through countless tear-filled smoke breaks that provided a brief escape from a truly terrible and soul-sucking corporate job. As an introvert, I’ve found them to be a security blanket of sorts, making it slightly easier for me to connect with new people when we’re sharing a smoke together. They certainly helped on my first date with my soon-to-be wife, then a fellow smoker. To this day, we still laugh about my nervous chain-smoking outside the café where we drank iced lattes on a hot August afternoon.
Oh, you caught that, did you? Yes, my partner is no longer a smoker. She quit nearly four years ago, achieving an incredibly difficult feat for which I’m enormously proud of her. Navigating the new waters of a relationship in which one individual is a smoker isn’t always easy, though. I sometimes catch her grimacing after we kiss if I’ve recently had a cigarette. When I come home from a night out with friends — during which it’s easy for me to smoke my way through an entire pack — she doesn’t hesitate to tell me I stink or ask me to change my clothes. And she definitely hasn’t given up her repeated requests for me to join her in her nonsmoking bliss… since, you know, being able to smell better, breathe easier and live longer obviously has its perks.
Look, I understand most people find smoking to be a disgusting habit. I know I should quit, and I absolutely intend to someday. As my wedding day approaches, I can’t ignore my desire to spend as many years with my partner as possible, and smoking just doesn’t fit into that scenario. I recently turned 33, and I’m fully aware that as I get older, my body’s ability to repair itself from years of smoking only weakens. I’ve read the literature. I know the statistics. I recognize what I’m putting into my body.
Does it gross me out on occasion? Yes, and those feelings usually lead me to put away the lighter for a few days. But then the weekend comes, and I want to have a drink at home or join my friends for happy hour, and my cigarettes are as much a necessity as my purse and car keys. Right now, I’m not ready to quit. I enjoy smoking, and I don’t feel guilty for saying it.
Plus, I’m not sure how I could get through my wedding day without my trusty Marlboro Lights by my side.
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