I used to smoke.
Years ago when I was 12 we went to an Agricultural Exposition.
More than one cigarette company had a booth set up.
Giving out free samples.
Back before there was an age limit on smoking, of course.
We kids were assigned to visit these booths and get as many free samples as we could.
There were 6 of us ranging in age from 14 down to 7, I think.
We, each of us, scored several half packs of cigarettes from each booth.
My father and step-mother were smokers by the way.
Doing the math, all told, the family brought in the equivilant of 4 cartons of cigarettes.
There was a quite a variety brands, strengths, styles and flavors.
The plethora was stored in a drawer in the refrigerator, to keep it fresh.
I became enamored of the cache.
Eventually I decided to smoke some of this stash.
After all, I had had a part in it's procurement.
Smoking was off limits for us kids.
A definite no no as we were deemed simply not old enough.
The forbidden is ever the most attractive don't you think?
I lifted one of the half packs.
Marlboro Red's in a hard pack, if memory serves.
(it often does, and too well-though it never asks my permission)
They and a lighter went off to the barn with me.
I was determined to not only smoke but do it well.
Suddenly I remember the prior occasion that made me think this was the only way.
(I'm so easily distracted)
I held that pack upside down in my hand and hit it hard against the heel of my palm several times.
I had no idea why, but years of watching others had shown me that this was what one did.
I peeled off the cellophane and opened the box.
Savored the smell of the as yet unlit tobacco.
Have you ever smelled Borkum Riff pipe tobacco?
It is a luxurious thing.
Absolutely delicious in any of it's several flavors(bourbon being my favorite)
My father was a pipe smoker as well.
The rituals of that pursuit are perhaps more addictive than nicotine.
Back to me.
I removed the first cigarette from the pack and held it to my lips.
Carefully I flicked my Bic and brought the flame close to my face.
Set that flame to the end of the cigarette and watched through narrowed eyes as the paper caught fire.
Such a powerful moment for a 12 year old.
I was lost in the flame and forgot to inhale.
I tried again.
Eyes focused on the ember I had created, I positioned my fingers just so.
I waved my hand out to my side just so.
My mannerisms had to be perfected.
I was going to smoke after all, and do it well.
My hand ever so elegantly lifted towards my face as I returned the cigarette to my lips.
Less cautiously this time.
Watching that ember flare, the smoke rise, that controlled burn creeping ever closer towards my face.
Getting lost in it again.
The hardness of it pressed between my lips.
Tasting the smoke.
Feeling it in my mouth.
The smoke warmed me.
Even at twelve, I appreciated the sensuality of what I was experiencing.
I controlled it.
It controlled me.
My world spun.
Balance deserted me.
My vision blurred, yet my focus sharpened.
I was free.
Control and it's perfect loss were mine.
I was going to do this.
Smoke this pack and be accomplished at this grown up art.
Each cigarette smoked right after the other.
Chainsmoking right off the bat.
One elegant hand wave too many.
I had spun completely out of control.
Doesn't pay to look the fool in front of those who control you.
I didn't pick up another pack of cigarettes for 6 years.
The fact that I did demonstrates my addiction.
I chose menthols this time.
Salem Menthol Lights.
After six years the initial experience was the same.
The fascination with the flame.
The pleasure in the sensual feel of the cigarette against my lips.
The joy at the feel of the heat in my mouth.
The high as nicotine found its spot in those receptors my brain had created just for it.
That sensation was gone.
Still I strove for it.
For a while I could regain it.
The high was gone.
My fascination with the process was not.
Those hungry places in my brain were not.
I smoked until I was seven months pregnant with B.
Admittedly I had cut back considerably.
Weaned myself down to one cigarette a day for months.
Finally I said, "This is it. No more."
And it was.
I went in to pay for my gas.
Those single boxes.
Stacked beguilingly over the clerks head.
A siren whispering in my ear.
She's almost three now.
Marlboro Menthol Lights hard pack.
Oh, and a lighter too please.
I waited until she was in bed.
I lit up.
After three years.
No high this time.
A buzz? Maybe.
But those receptors were hungry.
My fascination with the fire remained.
A constant search for another high?
Feeding the nicotine receptors in my brain?
Compulsively controlling a fire that was burning in my face?
Exploring the sensuality of this constant hand to mouth activity?
I don't know.
What I do know is my last cigarette was smoked December 31, 1998.
A minute or two before midnight for the record.
I refused to purchase any more cigarettes when the price went up due to a major lawsuit settlement.
Now that I haven't smoked a cigarette in over 10 years I watch in quiet disgust as other people smoke.
(secretly yearning for just one more).
I have successfully resisted that first cigarette.
I hate being addicted to those damn things.