Register Monday | December 17 | 2018

That Little White Stick

"A cigarette put a gun to my head today."

A cigarette put a gun to my head today.

“Smoke me, or I’ll kill you,” it said.

This is odd, I thought, because you’re going to kill me anyway. Eventually.

So I said as much. “But aren’t you going to kill me anyway?”

“Well, yeah!” It paused. “But eventually. Not now. If you don’t smoke me I’ll kill you now.”

Okay, so a cigarette didn’t put a gun to my head today. We all know that. First of all, a cigarette has no arms, and this isn’t even a metaphor or vignette or whatever.

But I did have a smoke today. Just one. Over the past 10 days I’ve had only 3 cigarettes, and all of those came Saturday night, as I was beginning to feel better. They were the remnants of a pack I’d bought before my throat started to hurt.

I’ve thought about quitting for some time now. Not because I know it’s good for you—quitting that is, not the smoking—but just because I feel like it’s time to. My body has started giving me subtle hints. Little things. Tastes. A heaviness to my limbs if I haven’t run for a few days. Tiny things.

But I love my cigarettes. I very much do. It’s not for much, partly an image thing, I’ll admit it. I like the idea of how I think I look when I smoke. A marketing man is smiling somewhere. But I do. I like the idea.

And the chemical stuff, which I’m noticing now.

If you want to understand what the term “nicotine changes your brain chemistry” means, pick up the habit for a few years. Then try and quit.

The last two days I’ve had the sweats. At odd times. Mainly when I’ve tried to sleep.

And my skin feels as though there’s a layer of air between it and my muscles. Like millimeter toothpicks have been put in, supporting the epidermis, lifting it just a hair. That’s what it feels like. And my brain feels foggy at times.

If you haven’t quit, you don’t know what I mean. If you haven’t smoked, well I sort of feel sorry for you.

I just feel like I don’t want to right now, despite the fact that I really do. And it’s not a health thing, though of course that’s part of it, but I’m not that precious about this stuff. I’d rather have my soul in order than my lungs clear. It’s a very American perspective, to look from the outside in, I think. I’ve always tried to reverse that. Still, I just don’t feel like I want to smoke right now. If it’s my only vice, then I’d say I’m doing alright, but it’s not my only vice. Far from it. And I’ve started noticing the effects of my habit.

I remember why I started. Her name was Claire; she went to my high school. She was the coolest, most unaffected, indifferent person I’d ever seen. She was the first time I knew what self-contained meant. She just didn’t seem to need anything or anyone.

We dated for a bit. We would make out in the woods after school. I’d drive her home at night and we’d pet each other heavily on the car’s hood outside her driveway for an hour or so. She was the coolest thing.

One day in the car she asked me if I wanted a smoke.

“Yeah!” I said.

“You smoke?” She asked.

“Me? Umm, yeah! Hell, yeah. I smoke. I love smoking.”

She put two sticks into her mouth, cupped a hand, lit the tips, inhaled, and handed me one. I sort of stared at it, not quite sure how I should hold it. I glanced over at her, mimicked her hands, put the stick to my lips, held the smoke in and blew out.

She laughed. “It helps if you inhale,” she said.

“I inhaled!” I said a bit too eagerly.

And that was how. For the first bit I only smoked with her. Then I started on my own, though only on weekends and the occasional butt during the week. It wasn’t until college that my habit really kicked in. Before that I had been noncommittal, take it or leave it, I didn’t really care.

Wouldn’t it be something if they were healthy? Imagine that.

So I hadn’t had a cigarette since Saturday. One of my editors went downstairs, me and someone else joined in.

I didn’t want one. I talked myself out of it the whole way down the elevator, but not in the way that you’re convincing yourself of something, but as a mechanism to assuage what guilt may come. I tried to talk myself out of it, you’ll say to yourself later on.

But I really did want one. I just did. And after my body didn’t feel as uncomfortable as it has the last two days, but I didn’t want one after that.

And I didn’t go for another, as I usually do. That’s the habit part. Going back again. But I’d like to see how I do with this. I have a feeling this week and next are the mother fuckers, that after this the addiction part of mother smoke subsides. The last time I tried I got homicidal. I hated everything.

But I just don't want to buy packs again. $8 a day. $54 a week. Over $200 a month.

You laugh, but that’s serious money to a struggling writer. Serious money. So maybe I can ride it out, save some money, pay off my credit cards leaps at a time and (you had to see this one coming) go jump out of some more airplanes. I could be a rich man.

I’m not going to kick myself if I can’t quit, but I don’t consider myself that devoid of will either. I don’t feel like smoking now. I’d just rather not, all things being equal. I’ll pinch a few, here and there, from time to time, and won’t feel bad about it.

But for right now, I think I’m going to try and keep quitting.

10 days. Only 4 smokes. And 3 of them all came in one single evening.

Not a bad start.