Almost fifty years have passed, and I can still vividly recall the first time I lit a cigarette. I was just a seven-year-old boy, living on a farm in rural Colorado with my mother, step-father (if you could call him that), and half-sister. There were no kids my age nearby to play with, so I often found myself engaging in activities that little boys should not be doing. I had stolen a pack of my mother’s Kool Menthol 100s and a pack of matches, and I thought I could smoke just like the adults in my life.
I sneaked outside and hid behind the juniper trees, feeling a sense of rebellion and curiosity. I opened the pack, took out one of the long cigarettes, put it between my lips, struck a match, and lit up, taking a puff just like I had seen the grown-ups do. To my surprise, I didn’t find the taste repulsive. In fact, I kind of liked it. I remember the sensation of menthol on my tongue, the slight burn in my throat, and feeling strangely grown up.
As I grew older, I experimented with smoking occasionally, but it never really stuck. I would smoke here and there but would eventually lose interest. That changed when I met Tracy, a boy my age who had just moved into the neighborhood. He was already a pack-a-day smoker, and one summer evening, he offered me a Marlboro Red from his hard pack box, explaining that soft packs were not cool. I started taking him up on his offers and before I knew it, I was smoking every day, even bumming cigarettes from friends whenever I could.
Then came the moment I realized I was hooked: I wanted to smoke even when I was alone. My mother, in her unique parenting style, decided to buy cigarettes for me openly rather than have me hide my habit. She hoped I would come to hate smoking and quit, but that didn’t quite go as planned. By the time I was sixteen, I was a confirmed pack-a-day smoker. It wasn’t about being cool like other kids; it was about feeding my nicotine addiction. Twelve years passed in a blur of cigarettes, until I met Pam.
I remember our first date like it was yesterday. We were running across a busy street in Santa Monica, heading to a club to see a band. In the middle of the street, my hard pack of Marlboro Lights fell from my shirt pocket with a loud thud. I quickly picked them up, but when we reached the sidewalk, Pam told me, “I don’t date people who smoke.” It felt like a punch to the face, but it was a wake-up call I needed.
From that moment on, I didn’t light up on any of our dates or any day after that. Pam became my best friend, and we’ve been married for 25 years now. I made the choice to quit smoking because of her, and I’m proud to say that I haven’t touched a cigarette since before we were engaged. I remember many cigarettes I smoked throughout my life, but thanks to someone special, I can’t recall the very last one. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.