Oddly enough, I smelled cigarette smoke today, and for the first time in many, many moons, it smelled good to me. I used to smoke cigarettes–an on again off again affair. I started in elementary school, forcing myself to trade un-labored breathing and clean smelling clothes for cool. I stayed with the habit throughout junior high and high school, developing a full-blown half a pack to full pack a day habit back in the late 70’s. Cigarette packs cost less than 50 cents then.
When I moved from New York to California, the cool changed and so did my habit. Californians did not smoke like New Yorkers did. And I met a non-smoker who encouraged me to quit to avoid the kissing an ashtray repulsion he wished to avoid. So I did, many times in as many years, sometimes for months and other times for years at a time. I had not smoked for 5 years when I enrolled in a summer school graduate school program back in 1989. The first day of the semester brought on a half a pack a day habit instantly. But the last day likewise signaled the last cigarette. The longest non-smoking stretch spanned ten years or so, the child-rearing years.
All in all, I tally the smoking years against the non-smoking years and the latter wins out handily by a 4 to 1 ratio (yes, I include infancy in that calculation). Mollifying my conscience about healthy aspirations is one reason for the calculation. The other is the sneaking suspicion turned confirmed of late.
My father’s smoking ratio is about 1:2 smoking to non-smoking. He quit tobacco 31 years ago after visiting an old friend dying of emphysema, leaving behind a wife and kids. Watching this formerly cool, tough Italian macho tote an oxygen machine like a child’s security blanket was not so much what did it as the look on his wife’s face, knowing she would be left to take care of it all. My father quit after that Florida visit and never smoked again, despite a three-pack a day habit. My first cigarette was one I snuck from his maroon soft Pall Mall (he pronounced pell mell) pack and lit on the school playground–during recess!
He was my inspiration to both quit and not-quit. If he could quit a 30 plus year habit cold turkey, I could quit a smaller habit. But the thought was always: any day I could just up and quit like my dad did. He just decided to do it, and then quit. And so did I. But I didn’t stay quit.
I haven’t smoked in a long while, not sure how long. I don’t like to count. I don’t like to think about it at all, though I often have a twinge of angst about the damage done. I have heard and seen those pictures of dirty and clean lungs of cigarette smokers. I have read that the deleterious effects immediately begin to dissipate as soon as you stop. But it seems to me there would be some residual damage, some frayed edges somewhere for the abuse. The subject has never brought me even close to researching. I probably don’t want to know or trust what I read.
Yesterday I sat in the doctor’s office with my 81 year old father and questioned the doctor about the tumor discovered inside his bladder. I asked why he needed surgery rather than a biopsy if the tumor was just discovered. The internal medicine specialist matter-of-factly turned to me as if I were on fire with ignorance and replied, “because with his smoking history and the location of the tumor, these tumors are almost always malignant.” Malignant and tumor in the same sentence made my jaw slack and eyes widen.
Funny thing about looking up the National Day (a habit of mine)–National Kick Butts Day–I did not automatically think of cigarettes. My immediate understanding was kicking butt as in overcoming or winning or beating. The notion made me smile. I like kicking the butt of obstacles, like just today submitting an article due at 7:22 right on the dot at 7:21 after my day got away from me and I toyed with extending the deadline. I also re-negotiated a couple of contracts to more favorable terms, turned a few students on to poetry and astronomy (two current passions of mine) this morning in class, and whittled down a stack of essays needing grading. I’d say it was National Kick Butt Day today for me if not for the nation.
But also for my dad. The doctor did add that this type of malignancy–located in the bladder–is one that commonly spreads. The surgeon removes it and done, out patient even. At least that is my hopeful understanding. Though I have no desire to research this one either, I am going to take this news as equally kick-butt as enlightened 18 year olds to poetry and astronomy, hard to believe but absolutely, positively plausibly true.
Happy National Kick Butts and Kick Butt Day!