I started smoking at age 15. I wasn't very good at it. I remember hanging out my bedroom window practicing my technique, taking tiny puffs and coughing until I was blue in the face, teaching myself to inhale. What a dope! I guess I thought it was cool. Rebellious. All the other kids smoked. I wanted to be one of the 'cool' kids. I was 15. Nothing bad can happen when you're 15. You're immortal. (You also know everything.)
I grew up around smokers. It seemed natural, almost expected of me. My parents smoked. My maternal grandparents smoked. All my aunts and uncles smoked (and I come from a big Italian family, so we're talking about a lot of smokers!). My adult cousins smoked. My paternal grandfather smoked cigars
. Our neighbors, friends and even our family doctor smoked. What chance did I have?
I will resist the temptation to blame my upbringing. Yes, my parents raised me in a toxic cloud of cigarette smoke
. They taught me by example. They knew when I started smoking but said nothing. But they were products of their times. Smoking didn't carry the stigma it does now. Everyone smoked everywhere! They knew it was bad for them, but they'd seen worse. They'd lived through the Great Depression. They'd seen the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They'd seen one president assassinated and another disgraced. A little smoke wasn't going to faze them.
But the times were changing.
Soon after losing both her parents to emphysema
, my mother decided it was time to quit. Her attempts might have been comical, if they weren't so desperate. Like the log book that was supposed to give her insights into her smoking habit, but wound up in the trash after only a few days. Or the big pickle jar full of water where she saved all her butts, presumably a type of aversion therapy, having to smell that raunchy mess every time she put one out. Or the quit-by-cutting-down method, which was doomed from the start. Or the "One Step" approach, the 70's version of the patch, which used a series of filters to gradually eliminate tar
. None of it worked. Not for long.
My mother continued to smoke until her first heart attack
put the fear of Almighty God into her. By then it was already too late...
After a lifetime of smoking, my mother's final years were sickly and debilitated. Heart attack, followed by stroke followed by pneumonia. She deteriorated quickly. She quit her job, never left the house anymore. She disengaged from everything that once held her interest. Instead of enjoying her golden years, she was a shut-in at 70, dead at 76.
She died on June 12, 1999.
I thought that would be the end of it. All through my mother's illness I told myself I would quit smoking. As I watched her die, watched her struggle for breath until finally machines had to do all her breathing for her, I told myself that wasn't going to happen to me. No way. Once she was gone, I would quit. I just had to get through this crisis first. Then I would throw away my cigarettes forever.
Yeah, like that
Instead of quitting, I stood outside my mother's funeral smoking. What was the point? I didn't really want to quit. It all seemed so painful, so impossible. It would be another 5 years before I would attempt to quit, and when I did, it would be for my own reasons: for me.
I never actually decided to quit. It just sort of happened...Mary's Story, Page 2