Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Non-smoker likes cigarettes

For most of my life cigarettes were emotionally unmarked for me. No one in my family smoked and I didn't have any particularly good or bad experiences with friends who smoked, so cigarette smoke stayed quite neutral. I didn't want to breathe it while I was eating and I didn't want it right in my face, but if someone wanted to light up around me, I didn't care. I was a non-smoker who didn't have much of a problem with smoking.

Then I fell in love with and married a smoker. He was very considerate to keep his smoke as far from me as possible. When we were dating he not only stepped outside but out of my sight to have a smoke. When we moved in together he volunteered to keep his smoking confined to the sun room. Of course, I could still smell it in the rest of the apartment, but I got used to it. By that point in my life (my 40s) I had re-prioritized what I needed in a relationship and "non-smoker" had moved from the non-negotiable column to the negotiable column. I loved this man. I wasn't going to get hung up on a bad habit when I had so many myself.

Last July, after five years of marriage, we separated and I now live alone in a beautiful apartment that smells like my cooking, my soap and my candles. No stale tobacco smell or sun room that's been sacrificed to ashtrays and dingy walls. Yet every time I walk down the street and notice someone in front of me blowing smoke, I quicken my step and breathe deeply. Yes, I miss my husband's cigarette smoke.

Of course, it's not exactly the smoke I miss. It's that a burning Marlboro Red reminds me of relaxed moments, laughter and some of the most intimate conversations my husband and I had. When he was smoking he was patient, he listened, he sat still. I might give him a neck rub or a scalp massage. He would carefully exhale out the open windows, so that I only got the fresh scent of tobacco, not the choking columns of smoke. For me cigarettes became associated with friendship, softness, fun and love. I enjoyed telling people The Onion joke that studies had found that second-hand smoke causes second-hand coolness. In spite of all my careful health habits, I liked being married to smoker.

Now I've gone cold turkey. I don't quite have the nerve to hang out with my smoking co-workers in their designated area, so I just keep an eye out for those white wisps that tell me there's a smoker nearby. Sometimes I smell it first and twist my head around, searching for the source, trying to move closer.

Last weekend I was reeling from some bad news about a friend, feeling weepy and lost. After releasing most of my emotions in tears and tapping, I didn't feel like going home, so at 6:30 p.m. I wandered into a nearby Dominick's supermarket. I thought I'd pick up a few groceries, but ended up walking out with only one item: my first pack of Marlboro Reds. I didn't really smoke one. I lit it (which took six matches), sucked on it without inhaling just to keep it going, and breathed in the smoke after it hit the air. It brought me comfort.

I held the cigarette awkwardly as I walked along slowly. I experimented with pinching it between forefinger and thumb, then went back the standard first-and-middle-finger clasp. Once I accidentally drew some smoke into my lungs and coughed, wondering if passers by could tell I was a total beginner. After that I was more careful, holding a full breath in my lungs while I used my tongue alone to suck smoke into my mouth. Then I'd exhale everything and quickly inhale again so I could get the scent in my nostrils.

I "smoked" it down to the filter, stubbed it out on the sidewalk and put it in my pocket, along with the dead matches. I would not be one of those smokers who just throws their stuff everywhere. I considered a second one, but didn't want my fingers to reek of the stuff. I could already smell the smoke in my clothes and it was gross. I called my sister instead.

Judy and I discussed the sadness first, then moved on to other topics. I even laughed a little, and by the time we hung up I felt fine. I went home, surprised that the storm had passed so completely. I often call my emotional weeping spells "storms," but this was the first one that also had lightning (sorry). I seem to be getting better at letting out my emotions, usually with crying and tapping, and letting them pass right through, leaving me feeling perfectly okay. I'm very grateful for this skill that I've worked hard on. I don't want to hold in my emotions ever again.

But the cigarette thing is new. A couple of friends were nonplussed by that part of my story. A couple of others begged me not to take up the habit. One advised me to keep them in the freezer for freshness (thanks, Emily). I don't know what I'll do with the rest of the pack. Maybe I'll keep the cigarettes for another such emergency. Maybe I'll offer them to smokers who come over. Maybe I'll hang out in smoking areas and offer them, but only if the person smokes it right next to me. Now I understand better why smoking appeals to children whose parents smoke: cigarettes can evoke the emotions you feel when you're with the person you most closely associate with tobacco. I have no desire to start smoking, but for times when I miss my husband the most, they might come in handy.


Selana said...

I think that that makes total sense. My grandma smokes and cigarette smoke mixed with expensive perfume takes me me back to the few days in my childhood where I was treated like I was precious.

I still love that smell.

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Thank you, Selana! That's what I'm talking about. I didn't think I could be the only one.