I guess it’s time to admit that I have some degree of addiction to you. Sure, I’m not at that pack-a-day level or anywhere near it, but I do have some psychological dependency on you if not an outright physical one. Actually, my body gives me pretty clear cues when it has had enough of you and needs a break. Lately those breaks have been shorter and shorter, though, and while I could claim that it’s a result of being a “social smoker,” that is no explanation for why I feel like I have to have one of you while I’m doing my morning writing now, or why I think about you as I ride my bicycle home after work.
See, you’re my little secret at work. I work with many people who already know about the terrible things you do and avoid you, and I’ve never admitted to my little relationship with you. I join in on the talk of how unhealthy you are– I’m a hypocrite. I sit and nod my head as we talk about the damage that smoking does and then go out at night and revel in dragging your poison into my body. I’ll talk about how proud I am of my father for quitting you eight years ago and then get excited when I get those coupons from RJ Reynolds in the mail. Buy one pack, get one free– sometimes even just get a pack free. Oh, your peddlers are so clever.
You make yourself useful in so many ways. I remember when I bought you for the very first time: I was nineteen years old, fresh into heartbreak, feeling reckless, feeling overwhelmed, feeling ready to be different than who I used to be because I couldn’t remember how to be that person any more. I wanted to be bad, to hurt that body that I had taken such good care of up until then. All the sports I played, all the water I drank, all the healthy food I ate, all of that was undone when I bought that first pack of Parliament Lights. I’ve had phases with you for the past four years, giving you up for weeks and months at a time, but it’s been months since I gave you up for more than a day or two at most.
See, I first began using you to soothe aches, to match pain, and I still do, but now I also use you in moments of joy, I use you to commune with people, and I’ll just be honest about this: you make me braver. “Can I have a light” or “can you spare one?” can be instant conversation starters, and I’ve come to depend on that, maybe a little bit too much. You’re an excuse to talk to strangers, a social crutch. You’re also a way to break away, to go outside when some situation gets to be too stressful or boring or frustrating to handle. You work in so many insidious ways.
Then there’s the writing. Something about the combination of coffee on the table, a cigarette in one hand and a pen in the other really gets me going. I don’t know how you got so tangled up with writing. What am I saying? You got tangled up with everything and writers are just far enough out of the public eye for there to be no PSA’s about how smoking won’t make anyone a better writer. And plenty of writers don’t smoke. These are realities I know damn well, yet choose to ignore.
I’d love to be able to end this letter with some sort of declaration of independence from you, but that would be silly because I know damn well that I don’t want to give you up. Sure, I’ll go a week or two or three without buying a pack, but the index and middle fingers of my left hand won’t forget you, will itch for you, and there will be some moment of intense stress that makes me go out and buy another pack.
So what was the purpose of this letter? To remember.