Friday, July 16, 2010

For the last time, I said Parliament Lights, not Marlboro Lights

July 16, 2010

Rule #2
Cigarettes: I’m finished – I vow from this point on and for the rest of my life not to smoke another cigarette. It’s unhealthy, unattractive, offensive and inconsistent with my views on health, well-being and happiness.

December 10th is a day I’ll always remember – If I really thought about it, I could come up with the exact year, but whenever this date comes along, I remember certain emotions of my childhood vividly. My dad quit smoking for the first time on this date.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been giving my parents hell for smoking cigarettes. I would constantly harass them about how important it was to quit and how much I disliked it. I can’t be sure if it was my perpetual nagging that finally caused my dad to quit, but I didn’t care, as long as he didn’t do it anymore.

A few years later, my dad, in an effort to provide a better situation for the family, drove a truck back and forth between Colorado and Washington. He said he started smoking again to keep him awake during the long drives. However, not too long afterward, he quit for the second and final time and I have very few memories of my dad having ever smoked after that. In fact, it amuses me when his best friend comes to visit Las Vegas from Washington State and they’ll sit at a table in some random casino, both with cigarettes in hand – his friend puffing away and my dad, looking ridiculous with this foreign object sticking out of his mouth, not inhaling any of the smoke. Seeing this, one would probably guess that my dad had never smoked a cigarette in his life given how unnatural it looked for him. Men are so silly when they get together.

My mom has smoked as long as I can remember, but did finally quit recently and has turned into one of the most obnoxious non-smokers you can imagine. Every bit of smoke makes her nauseous and she talks often about how she is so happy she quit and how she can’t be around smokers, etc. I am fine with however she chooses to be as anything is better than the half pack to pack a day that I know she has smoked for 30 years.

Rightfully so, when I started smoking in college, my mom talked about how she couldn’t believe I became a smoker after all the hell I gave them when I was a child. I didn’t count as a real smoker though – I was a social smoker. I only smoked when I drank. I can quit at any time because I’m not addicted to nicotine, I just enjoy the act of smoking.

Whatever, Tina. 10 years later, I was a smoker.

I have a friend who is a chiropractor and very active in the arena of health and well-being. He never gave me direct feedback about his disappointment in the fact that I was a smoker until after I decided to quit. He was the first to make me realize that, like the drinking, I used smoking as a way to keep people at a distance. When we talked about it further, I was very surprised to find out that his parents have smoked his entire life. In fact, the only thing he has ever asked from his parents is to quit smoking; that nothing else they could ever give him would be as important to him as this one act. They still smoke to this day. He has a true hatred that boils up inside of him when we talk about it. He tells me about the humiliation he felt whenever his friends would come over and his parents would light up. He talks about his frustration for his little sister and his adorable dog that have to inhale the second hand smoke on a daily basis. He gets angry when discussing the blatant disrespect shown by smokers in bars, restaurants, etc. It’s as if each one has a gun and is shooting innocent people one by one every time they pull out their lighter. His description of how it made him feel made me realize the truly offensive part of smoking cigarettes more than ever before.

My sister-in-law is having a baby. She is due August 23rd. It will be the first child in my immediate family as my only sibling is my older brother. He and I haven’t gotten along for years. We have a cordial relationship that remains as friendly as possible around our parents so they don’t worry about the fact that we’d really just rather not be around each other. There is, of course, a tremendous back story to this that I will get into at a later time.

On June 6th of this year, my mom and I threw my sister-in-law a baby shower. A lot of planning went into it and I was the hostess for the event. I even wore a dress. Afterwards, I did what I normally did to de-stress and went to the Suncoast Casino to sit at a slot machine, have a drink or three, play some Keno and enjoy a few smokes. I only had two cigarettes left in the $6.24 pack of Parliament Lights that I insisted on buying once every few days. I smoked one and started thinking about my unborn nephew. I was wondering what he would think of me as an aunt. My sister-in-law and I get along just fine, but aren’t close by any means and my brother, well, I’ve already told you how that goes.

I thought about whether or not he would like me. I wondered if I would fall into the role of “Cool Aunt Tina” or if I would be estranged from his family as I am from my brother. I thought about him and all of his influences as he grew up. I wondered what kind of belief system would be instilled in his head as he lived through those first 5-7 precious years when what we hear and experience becomes our personal truth. I wondered if he would be intimidated by me, like my sister-in-law is, or if he would dislike me, like my brother does. Maybe he would simply not understand me, like my mom. Perhaps, if I was really lucky, maybe he would love me unconditionally and without judgment, like my dad.

I lit the second and last cigarette in my pack.

I thought about the world that he was being brought into. Not just in Las Vegas, but society in general. I was curious as to whether or not my brother would get off unemployment by the time he was born. I thought about my sister-in-law’s job and if she was going to be forced to be the primary bread-winner; having to get back to work as soon as she could after giving birth so that they could afford all the things the little guy would need. I thought about him growing up in a society that is panicked about a health care crisis that we have created and whether he would understand the war that was going on when he was born. I wondered if the same war would be going on when he was a teenager, a young adult or a father of his own. I was also reminded again and again why I don’t want my own child.

I finished my last cigarette and realized that all I could really worry about as far as my relationship with my nephew was the kind of influence that I could be on him. I thought about all the feedback he is going to receive throughout the years and all of the different beliefs that are going to be thrown at him as he grew up. I wondered which ones he would chose to follow and have faith in. I wondered about this little man and how he was most likely going to end up being a perfect blend of his mom and dad, with maybe just enough of his Aunt Tina’s spark to keep things extra interesting.

I decided in that moment that of all the things I wanted for my nephew, it was a clear desire for him to make smart and healthy choices in a world that doesn’t always encourage that kind of free-thinking that moved me to put out that cigarette, throw away the empty pack and never light another one as long as I lived.

Plus, I was tired of my fingers being yellow and smelling like garbage.

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