I hated that my parents smoked when I was a kid, especially my mom. Sometimes I took one or two cigarettes out of her pack and threw them away. Once I poured a can of soda into an entire carton, which really wasn’t a very effective way of getting rid of her smokes, as they were wrapped in a protective sheath of cellophane. So mom just ended up with really sticky packs of cigarettes for awhile.
My brother and I always bought those cigarette loads at the Fourth of July. He liked playing practical jokes. I had another agenda. I can still hear mom’s voice…”What would happen if I was driving and one of those damn things went off in my face? I could have an accident,” she would say, carefully inspecting the next cigarette before lighting it. As a kid, I couldn’t explain that her being afraid of smoking was the entire point. No, I didn’t want her to have an accident, but I did want her to think twice every time she lit up.
The walls of our house were yellow. Not by intention either. In the kitchen, we had one of those big ugly wall phones, the size of high school text book. It was canary yellow and had a chalk board built into it so you could leave messages for people. No one ever did. It was hollow so you could store phone books and other assorted phone necessities inside it to have them easy at hand. We finally got rid of it about the time I was hitting high school. Mom had bought a set of refurbished cordless phones from the Home Shopping Network (“Jim, we’ve only got 38 left and this deal ends in 93 seconds, Call Now!”). When we pulled the canary yellow behemoth off the wall, we discovered a perfect white square of wallpaper. The phone had protected the wall behind it from mom and dad’s smoke. All around, the wallpaper had been turned into the same tar yellow color of used cigarette filters. Every wall in the house was like that, we just hadn’t realized it. Mom put a calendar in front of it. Kittens, puppies, horses, Scenic Sites of America. On the odd day that I would pull the calendar up to show someone what our walls looked like, Mom would snap at me. It embarrassed her.
I remember seeing an anti-smoking commercial on television that seemed so brilliant. It was just a little pocket timer. You entered in how many cigarettes per day you smoked on average. The timer would break up your day and sound a little alarm to let you know when you could smoke (something like this). Every few days, the timer subtracted a cigarette from your day, slightly lengthening your time between cigarettes. Gradually, you were weaned off them until one day, you didn’t need any at all. Brilliant, my ten-year-old brain thought. That’s so easy. As a kid, I couldn’t understand what addiction actually meant. That cravings didn’t come hourly. That there are dozens of little Pavlovian cues throughout the day that make smokers reach for their pack and lighter.
Now I do. I’ve been smoking for 14 years. Ug, that hurts to even admit. A few weeks ago, Mom told me she quit. I’m proud of her. And I want to quit too. Now I have a step-daughter, who hates that her parents smoke…and the cycle repeats.
I’m trying the timer trick I thought was so brilliant as a child, even though I know its flaws now. Today, I’m setting my phone alarm to go off every hour and 30 minutes. Yesterday, I smoked 10 cigarettes. A half a pack. Normally, I smoke a pack a day. It’s a start.