I smoked my first cigarette in the summer of 2007. Well, kind of.
The day after my junior year of high school ended — also known as the first day of summer — I flew out to Washington D.C. for something called the GYLC (Global Youth Leadership Conference). One of my teachers recommended me for the spot, namely, I assume, because I was the only student who really gave any fucks about politics in his class.
In Washington, there were kids my age from all around the country. My closest confidant was a guy named Daniel; he was a year younger than me but from relatively-nearby San Diego. My other two friends that I spent the most time with were both from Texas, one from Houston and the other from Dallas.
We roomed at a college called Catholic University, also in D.C., saw all the monuments and Arlington Cemetery and got to visit the senator from our respective state. The hot name at that time was a guy from Illinois named Barack Obama, but when we passed by his office at the senate building it was locked.
Back at Catholic U we were divided into Democrats and Republicans, and I ended up as the majority whip of the GOP. We did mock debates and held simulated congressional hearings.
So that ended after ten days. At the airport before we left, one of the guys from Texas asked if I wanted a cigarette, and since this was it I decided, yeah, of course I want a cigarette. Did I not look like a smoker?
I didn’t. For one because a decade later I still look like a teenager when I shave my face. Another reason, perhaps more importantly, was because I’d never smoked a cigarette before in my life.
He had the pack of Marlboro somethings, and so I took one out and he lit it. I remember taking a few puffs and not knowing how the hell to inhale the smoke. So I effectively smoked it like a cigar. Kudos to my Texan friend for not calling me out.
I left that afternoon back home to California, and I left without the knowledge of understanding what it was about cigarettes that made people enjoy them so much. Until that point my parents had been smokers for the entirety of my existence, and I went through with the red ribbon week stuff in elementary school and occasionally made comments to my mom and dad about how they shouldn’t smoke.
Fast-forward to 2016, and I have been smoking cigarettes for about eight years. Something I never thought was all that possible, given how much I spoke against them in my more formative years.
From the beginning
About a week before I left for Virginia Tech, my mom and ex-girlfriend and I went out to visit my grandparents. Sort of one last hurrah, since I wasn’t going to be seeing them anytime soon.
It was a hot August night. Only 18 at the time, I remember my ex asked my mom if it was okay that she smoked a cigarette. And of course it was. I don’t really know what persuaded me in that instant, why all of a sudden if she was smoking one that it made it okay for me to smoke one, too. Maybe I just didn’t want to be left out. I think my grandpa and I had smoked a cigar that night, so it was just one big smoking party.
My ex and I went out to the driveway, presumably because I didn’t want my mom to know I was having a cigarette. Either way, it was there that I learned how to properly smoke a cigarette, inhaling and everything. She taught me.
It all sounds so lame in retrospect.
From the end of August when I arrived, through Thanksgiving and Christmas Break, I smoked a grand total of zero cigarettes. There just wasn’t a place for them in my life, as I was “happy” for a solid portion of that 4-month stretch. Occasionally my friends and I would hang out in someone’s dorm and play drinking games, but even that wasn’t something I frequented. The truth is I was always living on something of a natural high and didn’t require any vices to get through my day.
In the winter everything changed. I’ve already gone it detail about that time period on enough occasions, but suffice to say I wasn’t doing quite as well. The weather was colder and there was less to do, so my dorm room was becoming my tomb. When I stopped going to class, and quit going to dinner with my friends, I became the ultimate sad cliché teenager.
However, at that time I developed a routine with my best friend. Every night he and I would talk on the phone for a half hour or so, maybe more, and after a little while I started taking a pack of cigarettes outside with me. Smoking gave me something else to do while I paced around in the freezing cold, and it made it seem less cold. Which was nice.
Each morning when I woke up I had the worst fucking taste in my mouth, enough that I couldn’t get it out with a thorough tooth-brushing. But every night, without fail, you would still see me pacing outside in the midnight hours with a Marlboro Red in my hand.
I went home to California for spring break, and matters improved, so much that I could objectively consider myself “happy” again. But by the time I flew back to Virginia, it didn’t matter whether or not I was happy. Smoking and talking to Trey had become a part of my life. When I gradually began attending classes again, persuading a couple teachers to let me catch up, I started smoking on my way to class, between classes, and on my walk back to my dorm.
It was a snowball effect.
This trend continued well beyond being at school. When I came back to California, initially for the summer and on into present-day, my consumption for smoking only escalated. When Trey and I hung out, whether we were playing basketball or walking around to paint or anything, really, I was smoking. I essentially went from smoking five or six cigarettes a day at Virginia Tech to a pack a day when I returned home.
Admittedly, at no real time did I ever try all that hard to quit. Last summer, towards the end of June, I had a root canal and the doctor recommended I stopped smoking altogether, or at the very least until the stitches in my mouth healed.
It lasted for a whole six days, which may sound dumb, but it’s five-plus days longer than I’ve quit at any point over the last eight years. I think I could argue that part of the problem was I went to Las Vegas with Trey, but it’s likely I would have gotten back into it either way. I wasn’t ready to quit just yet.
The last couple months there have been an uptick in my anxiety episodes. This could be for any number of reasons. My diet has never been much to write home about, the amount of sleep I get on a nightly basis isn’t nearly enough, I’ve been exercising less, and I’ve been drinking a helluva lot more coffee.
Regardless, after seemingly every panic attack I’m stuck on the idea that my lifestyle needs to change. I can pawn almost everything off to being 26 and so who the fuck cares, I’m going to keep surviving one way or another. But at what age is the threshold where that excuse is no longer valid? Am I just supposed to keep living this way until I come down with something more life threatening?
It all starts and ends with smoking. Until I correct this, nothing else really matters.
But I think to myself, and I think hard about it. I think it’s contradictory that I’m the asshole who pisses on the idea of making a New Year’s Resolution each year… because why not fix it any old arbitrary day. Smoking, above all the things I’ve gotten wrong, is the main existential threat to my life.
And, still, I think to myself: If I’m not a smoker, then who am I? If I don’t smoke, then what do I do? This is an actual part of the equation. This is part of the pie chart of an actual person who considers himself not stupid.
I have never possessed a ton of discipline, but much less so when I’m by myself than when I’m in a work- or team-like setting. If I’m doing anything, whether it’s following a sports team or writing or drinking or anything else, I do it to the point that would make some people sick. It’s all or nothing with everything all the time.
The casino isn’t much of a buffer. I’m surrounded by people who smoke, and when it’s not gamblers it’s other dealers or people from other departments. At age-22 I chose a profession that essentially enables me for all the things I shouldn’t be doing. At least not in excess.
And this is the person I’ve made myself to be. I’m a croupier. I slick my hair to the side and I like my whiskey and cigarettes. I smoke when I’m on break. I smoke when I read or write. I smoke when I feel like wasting a couple hours on YouTube. Smoking isn’t just part of my day. It’s my life.
So how am I supposed to replace that? In the most simple terms, hundreds of millions of people across history have managed to do so, so there isn’t a valid excuse that it isn’t possible. I’ve just found that of all the things I’ve ever been addicted to, it’s by far the most difficult to quit.
All signs, whether they are to be a week from now or two years from now or when I’m 30, point to one way of living — if I intend to keep living as long as I say I want to. This involves working out regularly, eating healthy all the time, and no cigarettes. I don’t think this is very much to ask for.
But at this time, I haven’t found a way to reconcile being a healthy person when all I’ve known since I was 19 is how to be this one way. Again, this is an awful excuse to continue smoking, but it’s part of what makes it so easy to keep going.
This isn’t something I’ve written about before, and it’s not something I plan on getting into again until the point where I finally quit. Which will happen. I just need to stop acting like the way I’ve been living is fine and will continue to be fine, when it reality I have no good reason to keep up at the rate I’ve been going. I can’t go on forever like this.