I can remember my first cigarette ever, stolen from my mother’s pack of Virginia Slims 100s and enjoyed on the roof outside my teenaged window. It would mark the beginning of an era for me, one that would characterize both my adolescence and young adulthood. I can appreciate that only a handful of these cigarettes had a metaphysical impact on me rivaling the damage all of them were obviously doing to my body. But I was willing to gamble then and still believe now that the impact those important ones had on my being was stronger and more lasting than the physical harm they did to my lungs.
I’ve always been told that lungs regenerate and am learning now in school just how that occurs and it’s really quite remarkable. The skin lining the lungs has to go through four stages before the damage becomes irreversible, so as long as you don’t smoke long enough to get to that fourth stage, eventually your lungs will return to normal. It’s amazing to me that the trauma my lungs have been through can be righted with time, through no effort on my part other than simply no longer smoking. This is certainly something that physical damage has over emotional.
Emotional trauma has long been a reason to start or keep smoking. With that said, emotional trauma is often one of the things that shapes us the most. I can remember more than a few extra cigarettes smoked on nights of tears or too much drinking, but I also remember the ones that started friendships that would become life-long bonds. Smokers bond faster than non-smokers because we have this wonderfully terrible habit in common that leaves us with nothing else to do but chat. The friends I made smoking on the stoop my freshman year of college are still some of the best people I know. They are the people who know me, inside and out, the ones from whom I could hide little because we’ve shared so much.
It was a cigarette that introduced me to the love of my life and one that marked the moment when my mother passed. Both of these events impacted me in irreversible ways and I’m not sorry to have them marked in my memory with a cigarette. The first gave him and me what seemed to us infinite time to get to know one another and, for that, he remains my best friend seven years later. The latter gave me a moment of pure existence to truly appreciate the gravity of my mother’s passing and the numerous amazing, hilarious and heartbreaking moments that preceded it. Had it not been my instinct to reach for an American Spirit at that moment, I would have been robbed of something that has probably shaped me more than any life experience thus far.
That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Quitting smoking comes in second.
It has now been more than a year since my last cigarette and that era in my life has come to a close. My body is on its way to repairing itself, but thankfully the impact the cigarettes had on my existence will be mine forever. The truth is, as hard as it all was, I wouldn’t trade my smoking days for anything. They made me who I am and they were fabulous.