The first time I smoked a cigarette was in jest. It happened on a humid summer night when I was a week away from leaving for my freshman year of college. I was with a childhood friend who had smoked forever and the process felt safe, almost childlike. When your first experience with a cigarette is with someone you’re sure “would never die from it,” you feel like you’re merely joking around, as if it will have no further attraction to you other than being a form of entertainment for someone who guessed you’d never actually do it.
At first, I viewed my benign experience comically. I didn’t desire it afterward, and given the fact I hadn’t even inhaled the smoke, I had no negative response to it. The entire event was apathetical, lacking both appeal and disgust. I thought it would all end there.
My second time was while at college that following fall. I went to a private school in the Blue Ridge Mountains and was immediately inducted into a hipster group of progressive types. Sitting on dusty porches and tattered hammocks, we’d spend chilly nights drinking red wine and pretending our discussions on Derrida and existentialism were more poignant when spoken with tobacco breath. This is where I inhaled for the first time and felt altered by the process of smoking. Essentially, this is where smoking became real to me.
I was deeply intrigued by these people’s habits. Smoking made life more profound, more something. It made sunrises gripping and drives to class feel like a Kerouac monologue. Later I’d learn these feelings mainly stemmed from wanting to belong to this group. I wanted to live as they did, free and raw. Unfortunately, it took health risks to obtain such a status, and when I smoked eight cigarettes in a three-hour period, I soon realized the pain attached to the habit was excruciatingly not worth it. Of course once I sobered up, I was cool with it again — in moderation.
My newly formed pastime lasted the year and subsided when I took up with a group that didn’t feel as drawn to American Spirits. Eventually, I became detached again — content in my not partaking. But this phase lasted a bleak year or so before the habit became something entirely more integral in my life.
Once again, my group changed. These people weren’t “smokers,” but they weren’t resentful of those who were, either. It started with hookah, puffing in flavored air that made me feel light. Then I took up with cloves. Smoking cloves was difficult in that they practically last forever and if you ever get sick off one, you can never eat pumpkin pie again without semi-associating it to that one time you tried to throw up your breath.
Cloves transitioned into American Spirits again, but on a minor level. I wouldn’t finish a pack for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. I very literally was a social smoker. Unlike my freshman year, I wasn’t doing it to be somebody, but rather to connect to a moment others were experiencing. If others were doing it, I’d join in, but it wasn’t necessary in my every day life. Until I was driving around Georgetown one afternoon and lit a cigarette, finding the Bon Iver song I was listening to sounded about a million times better having the bleak high off tobacco.
This stimulated my smoking habit and soon I was buying packs with the intention of finishing them. The period between my purchase and my finishing the pack gradually decreased as I found it a necessity to be in the car with a cigarette in hand. The two almost couldn’t live without each other.
I moved to Los Angeles for a time and American Spirits began losing their appeal to me. I began smoking more than I’d care to admit, “taking breaks” from my studio apartment that didn’t have central air. I’d walk the Los Feliz streets where people “got” me and my habit, feeling assured while lacking enjoyment from the brand’s taste. I switched over to Camel Lights and considered it a diet. The cigarette burnt quicker so it was less of a commitment and I didn’t feel a slight tinge of nausea upon getting out of my car after having lit up. But still, the habit persisted.
This became a back and forth for me — American Spirits to Camel Lights — and I suppose it still is. For a long time I was convinced the habit would never own me. I’d constantly remark on how it could never possibly become an addiction, and though I wouldn’t say I’m addicted, I still haven’t committed to not buying my next pack after promising myself “this is my last one!”
I don’t advocate smoking. If someone asks me for a cigarette, I’ll say something along the lines of “I only support my own bad habit.” And I mean that. I hope to quit sometime soon. Maybe sooner will be a bit later, but I don’t intend on owning a wardrobe full of smoke-drenched sweaters one day. I can’t get on board with that.
At least I know it’s my bad habit now, not someone else’s who I’m trying to emulate. I’m no longer smoking to be cool enough or like-minded, I’m smoking because I personally found a place for it in my life that “worked.” Though it’s no excuse, it’s something I can own and control, because it’s mine. And that gives me the confidence that one day I’ll quit. One day I’ll tell my kids how I smoked and how they shouldn’t, but if they do, I’ll understand. I swear I will, because stuff happens to us unexpectedly and we have to roll with it, then hopefully one day wise up, realizing what exactly we’re capable of when we say it’s out of our control. It’s all in our control — the good and the bad — and even I can’t condone my poor choices simply because it’s my human nature and all that.
Come to think of it, maybe I’ll even hold onto that meager six bucks next time I’m at 7-11. Maybe I can put it towards a college fund for my more responsible future children or something. Yeah, I think I’ll go ahead and try to do that.