Waiting to Inhale

It was one of those hot summer afternoons where the heat bounced off the sidewalk in blurry waves. I was fourteen years old and unsupervised and my best friend Jojo and I had this wild idea to hang out in her back yard pretending we were grownups.

After walking to the nearest gas station to each buy a pack of cigarettes and slurpees, we shuffled to her house, the heat licking at our backs and I remember wiping beads of sweat off my brow and onto the cotton dress I was wearing.

We set ourselves up in the shade of her back yard, with our slushies and smokes and we  each ordered our own pizza.  I ordered mushroom and pepperoni she chose ham and pineapple.

We paid the delivery boy for our pies, feeling very much like the grownups we hoped we were and then got down to the business of relaxing adult style in the shady city yard.

We each lit a cigarette and grabbed a slice of pizza and we alternated between smoking and chewing, each bite a little more toxic that one before.

I never finished my pizza that afternoon, or my pack of smokes. I managed to make it through half a pizza and almost as many smokes before I turned completely green and had to run to the bathroom to empty out the contents of my stomach. The heat made me feel worse and the nicotine thrummed in my veins, making me even more nauseous than the greasy cheese and fried pepperoni did.

To this day I refuse to eat pepperoni on my pizza.

And after that sweaty sick afternoon I was zealous in my proselytizing against the evils of nicotine. There was no way I would ever be a smoker and I sneered at those who inhaled the noxious tar with obnoxious disdain.

My body was a temple and for years I pampered it. I was an athlete, who watched what type of food I consumed and made sure to never pollute my body with either the carcinogens of cigarettes or the evils of alcohol.

For 16 years I was obnoxious about it. That single afternoon as a 14 year-old-chain smoker clung to my memory the way cigarette smoke sticks to skin.

And then it happened.

My son died. And I lost my mind in an ocean of pain; the waves pulling me under, only to push me up again for a breath before pulling me back down.

I wasn't coping, or healing or even really surviving. I rather just existed at the very bare minimum. I was completely numb to everything and everyone, devoid of any sensation at all.

And then someone exhaled their stinky second hand smoke into my face as I was inhaling.

And my eyes watered and my lungs constricted and the world tilted slightly.

It was, for the first time in almost a year, that I felt something, anything, at all.

It was the day before the first anniversary of Shale's death. On the day marking his actual passing, I went to a gas station and bought my first pack of cigarettes since that hot summer afternoon so many years ago.

I've been smoking ever since. I told myself that it was likely better than drinking, or losing myself in drugs, both of which held a certain appeal after my son died. I just wanted to feel. I started chasing joy as I breathed in my nicotine fix.

I started to finally, at long last, heal.

Smoking is BAD yo. I don't recommend it. Even if I do so love it. Call me Captain Hypocrite

Hindsight being 20/20 and all, I understand now that I was already in the healing process when I inhaled my first cigarette. And if I had waited just a bit longer, I'd likely be in the same relatively healthy headspace I'm in now only minus a nicotine addiction.

But those cigarettes, they were sweet. And some of them, I'm sure, saved my life as surely as they shortened it every time I inhaled. I didn't just smoke, I savoured. I enjoyed every cigarette I lit up as I rediscovered who I was.

But like a sweet dessert, or a great vacation, all good things come to an end and I knew my time as a smoker had run out. My husband, god bless his cotton socks, puts up with a lot from me but even I couldn't blame him for not wanting to kiss someone who smelled and tasted like an ashtray. My kids, preoccupied with sudden death, worried endlessly that I was puffing my way into the grassy patch we've reserved next to their brother.

And so began my quest to quit. For over a year, maybe two, I'd suffer through the agony of trying to quit only to announce my defeat with a sweet long drag of nicotine and tar. I never lasted more than a week or so without giving into my cravings, listening to my demon. I'd stopped telling people in real life and online that I was quitting smoking because I knew I'd eventually fail.

I don't know what changed. Maybe it was finally understanding that I actually liked smoking and enjoyed it when everyone around me told me I shouldn't.  Maybe it was allowing myself the promise that if I made it to 80 years old I'd march myself to the nearest gas station, buy a pack of my favourite tarsticks and smoke myself to my death. Whatever it was, something clicked in me, allowing me to toss away a half pack of ciggies and not look back since.

I still want to smoke. Every day. And let's be honest here, holy hell this was, is, hard. I can't imagine struggling with an addiction to alcohol or drugs because I am fairly certain I'd never be sober. Quitting cold turkey was probably the least fun thing I've ever done next to burying my child and waxing my own bikini line.

Enough days are now behind me, all of them without cigarettes, that I now want to add another nicotine free day to my history more than I want to smoke.

That's something, I suppose, even if it means inhaling just isn't any fun any more.