Smoking Not

My grandmother had two of those beautiful cigarette cases from the fifties. My favourite was a pale yellow with an oriental pattern. Attached to the inside of the case with a delicate gold chain, was a small and elegant lighter that was covered in the same fabric. It was fancy, really fancy.

I never saw my grandmother smoke.

Her last cigarette was had in a bar, a bar that her and my grandfather were managing at the time. She told me the story more than once. At the end of closing, after they had cleaned up, she would sit with a cigarette and a vodka “I could drink a lot of vodka in those days” she said with great pride.

“And then one night I said to Pammy” (that was what we called our Grandfather) “What did you put on my cigarettes? These are terrible?”

She thought he’d somehow poisoned them. He had no idea what she was talking about, or if he did, he certainly wasn’t owning up to it.

“And that was it. I just lost the taste for them. Never had another one.”

I was sure that would happen to me. I’d just lose the taste for them.

In my twenties, when I was busy looking for any excuse to have a cigarette, the idea of quitting never once appealed. I just assumed I would one day stop, probably after I’d “settled down”. Remember when you were young and people told you that one day you’d “settle down”? It was never a desirable thought was it?

I smoked after work. I smoked at the pub. I smoked with friends. I smoked outside of work functions, weddings and conferences. I hung out on the balcony with the other cool kids (yep, I’ll admit that’s how my brain was working at the time) and I smoked into the early hours of the morning through an inebriated haze while hoping I wasn’t going to run out of cigarettes. You couldn’t have a real party without cigarettes, that’s when you went to bed, when the cigarettes ran out.

G never smoked. After we were married my heading outside for a quick ciggy began to lose its zing. “Can you pause the movie?” I became more conscious of how I smelt. I brushed my teeth and swished mouthwash at random moments, and I began to realize just how often I’d look for a break in the conversation so I could disappear. I consciously began to scale back, five a day, four, three, two and look who’s not smoking. It wasn’t easy to do, I missed cigarettes. I missed our time together, our excuses for leaving, our nights we spent gazing out towards the moon. I missed the perfect accompaniment to coffee, the cliche of the drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I looked at all those people outside smoking and just knew they were having a really good time.

The reprieve came with pregnancy. I completely lost the urge. And then of course I was pregnant again and again and again. I think I was pregnant for roughly seventeen years, give or take a month. And then, out of the blue, maybe through fear of settling down – the cigarettes and I began a new romance, or more an affair. A sneaky, secret affair.

When the children were really little we’d put them to bed and jump in the hot-tub, we’d drink bourbon out of cups the size of buckets, and G would have a cigar while I had a cigarette. Hah! Don’t tell us we’ve settled down. We’ll show you in our  cul-de-sac in the burbs. We still had it, somewhere, amongst the maternity bra’s, supersize cheerio boxes and booster seats.

The sneaky cigarettes were of course reserved for the more than one drink nights, the parties, girls weekends, and holidays, but gradually the secret affair became a little less secret. I took them to parties, introduced them to friends.

‘I didn’t know you smoked?”

“Oh, I don’t. I’m more of a social smoker”.

Sure, they may have still been in the closet (hidden behind the t-shirts and singlets) but they were coming out. It was only a matter of time before I got caught.

“I saw you!” She sounded just as I remembered the Deputy Headmistress in High School “I saw you throw that cigarette in the garden” the second little traveller had come down from her bedroom to get a glass of water.

I had no words, no excuses.

Surprisingly she chose not to mention it again for a month. I had almost convinced myself that she’d decided to forget about it – until she made the announcement to her siblings on the way home from school. “I caught Mum smoking at the beach house”.

“I’ve seen her do that before” said the third little traveller “she had zigarettes (he really thinks they’re called zigarettes) oustide one night when they had a party”.

I scanned their faces for hints on the damage of my credibility.

They sat like a hung jury in the back two rows of the car. It was a mixed response. There were questions.

“Why do you? When do you?” some of the travellers jumped in to defend me.

“She doesn’t do it very often.”

“She’s not like a proper smoker.”

I felt ill. Listening to your child defend your smoking will have you feeling guiltier than OJ. It occurred to me that there was no longer a need to hide. The jig was up. I’d been caught, and it was time to decide if I was coming out of the closet or just end it. Was I prepared to smoke in front of the children?

It was G’s gala dinner the next night, and like a good smoker at an event with free booze, I smoked like the world was about to run out of cigarettes. More drinks, more cigarettes, more drinks, more cigarettes. I woke up the next morning convinced I’d accidentally eaten, rather than smoked the last two or three cigarettes that came my way. I could taste them, and it wasn’t pleasant. Was it possible to overdose on tobacco?

I could smell it on my hands, in my hair, on my breath, and all the way past my throat down to the depth of my stomach. All day. It just kept coming back. I brushed my teeth, and had a bath after a really long shower. It was still there. I washed my hair, cleaned my ears and liberally applied hand cream and body lotion.

Still there.

Out damn smoke said Lady McButt. It wouldn’t go away

And for a moment I was tempted to ask G “What did you put on my cigarettes last night?”

I’d been poisoned. Maybe with guilt, or maybe it was a case of self sabotage.

The affair is over. I have just completed my fourth weekend without my sneaky friends. I’ve watched others head outside and joined them without joining them. I’ve spent smokeless evenings with friends who had previously signified an evening of smoke signals. I have had no more or no less fun.

I am done. It is over. And I’ll admit there is a slight feeling of loss, a feeling that that girl has gone. The girl who made the booking for outside, the girl who struck up a chat while borrowing your lighter, the girl who giggled while hiding around the side of the house with a friend. She will miss that little piece of excitement that comes with “Shall we have a cigarette?’

How does she know she won’t smoke again?

She’s just lost the taste for it.

Have you seen this? I don’t think it would have made me stop smoking, but it definitely made me giggle.

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