After nearly fifty years, I can still remember the first time I smoked a cigarette. It was early spring and my family lived on a farm in a semi-rural part of Colorado, a little north of Denver, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
I lived there with my mother, wicked step-father (I’m not even sure they were married, to be honest) and little half-sister. The closest kid my age lived more than five miles away, so I had no one to play with. This meant I had to find ways to keep myself entertained. Most of them ended up being things little boys are not supposed to do. Left to my own devices, it’s a wonder I lived through all of my escapades.
I was seven years old and had stolen a pack of my mom’s Kool Menthol 100s. I had a pack of matches from somewhere (yes, I was a pyro too, but that’s a post for another time) and thought I could smoke just like mom and wicked step-father did. After taking a pack from her carton in the refrigerator, I snuck outside and hid behind the juniper trees where I wouldn’t be seen. I opened the pack, took the long cigarette out, put it between my lips, struck a match, lit up and took a big puff like I’d seen the adults do.
Oddly enough, I wasn’t repulsed by the taste. In fact, I actually liked it. I still remember the menthol sensation on my tongue. It had a little bit of burn to it, but the taste wasn’t that bad. I felt very grown up.
Of course, my little boy brain didn’t know you should inhale the smoke from a cigarette, which is probably good because I’m sure if I had, I would have wound up puking my guts out behind the trees. Sometimes I wonder; if I had inhaled, would I have ended up picking up the habit nine years later, or would I have been turned off completely?
There were other experiments with smoking through my childhood, but none really stuck. I’d smoke here and there and eventually lose interest.
Until the day I met Tracy. He had just moved into the neighborhood where my mother, step-sister and I were living (wicked step-father was long-gone now). I think he said he was from New York. He was my age but had already become a pack-a-day smoker. I vividly recall the summer evening he offered me a Marlboro Red from his hard pack box. You weren’t cool if you smoked soft pack, you know. It had to be hard pack and it had to be Marlboro Reds.
I began taking him up on his offers of free cigarettes. Before I knew it, I was smoking every day, bumming cigarettes from friends whenever I could. Then the moment I knew I was hooked came: I wanted to smoke while I was alone.
My mother, being the spectacular parent she was, started buying my smokes for me, so I had a steady supply of my own stashed in the refrigerator. Her rationale was that she’d rather I smoke openly instead of hiding it. I think she hoped I’d come to hate the habit and give up. Well, thanks mom, that didn’t quite work out as planned.
So at the tender age of sixteen, I became a confirmed pack-a-day smoker. All the other kids my age were doing it, so why not me too? The problem was, I really liked smoking. I knew I wasn’t going to stop. Other kids did it to be cool. I did it to feed the nicotine addiction.
Twelve years went by, and then I met Pam.
I still see the moment from our very first date in my mind’s eye. We were running across a busy street in downtown Santa Monica to get to the club where we were headed to see a band. In the middle of the street, the hard pack of Marlboro Lights fell to the ground from my shirt pocket with a loud plop sound. I bent down and picked them up. When we got to the sidewalk on the other side, she immediately told me “I don’t date people who smoke.”
That was a punch to the face, but one I’m glad I took. Naturally, I didn’t light up on that date, or any other we had after that. We’re still married 25 years later and she’s my best friend. I made the choice to quit because of her and I’m proud to say I haven’t smoked a cigarette since before we were engaged.
I can remember a bunch of different cigarettes I smoked through my life, but thanks to someone who is very special to me, I can’t remember the very last one. For that, I’m forever grateful.