Will I Be Pretty, Will I Be Rich… Will I Be A Smoker?

Some little girls fantasize about finding Prince Charming and having that perfect wedding day. I couldn’t wait for the moment I was old enough to have my first cigarette. The future may have been an unclear notion, but one thing I knew for sure – when I grew up, I was going to be a smoker.

I don’t know what my first spoken word was, but the first one I learnt how to write was “mother” and the first one I could read was “cigarette”. I learnt how to read and write by myself one summer, before going to school, and I couldn’t wait for my mother to come home so I could show her my new skills. Funny, she wasn’t as pleased as I expected, especially when I pointed at the cigarette image in my book, mentioning it made me think of her.Perhaps it was the fact that my parents and most adults in my family smoked; perhaps it was because my mother smoked during her pregnancy; perhaps I associated the habit with the idea of grace, beauty and femininity. In those early childhood years, I regarded my mother as the epitome of elegance and beauty, I wished I could grow up to be as pretty and refined as she was. I was fascinated by the way her slender fingers held the cigarette, how she delicately pulled it out of the pack with her long colourfully polished nails. Smoking did more than complete her image, it defined it. I even went so far as to ask my grandmother why she didn’t smoke, and I had no idea why she called smoking a disgusting unhealthy habit. It simply made no sense.

Soon enough I started to see my mother for the deeply flawed human being that she was. But my desire to start smoking didn’t disappear. I was 12, almost 13 when I had my first cigarette, and if you asked me back then, I would have said it was long overdue.

I remember everything about it, the night, the planning, the taste, the emotion… the disappointment.

We were on a school trip and two of my friends and I decided it was time; one of them changed her mind, but the other girl and I were determined that was the night. We went to the chalet bar and realized they only had the one brand of cigarettes – they weren’t among the better ones. But it wasn’t like we had a choice… we were up on a mountain. We blamed the terrible taste on it and we concluded that it would be a whole different story once we got our hands on better cigarettes. We were somewhat right. We smoked several cigarettes that evening in the crisp mountain air, staring at the dark quiet forest. We didn’t even need to hide, nobody suspected the star pupils of doing anything wrong; besides, the teachers had their hands full trying to control the 10th graders.

I had dreamt of that first cigarette, and it was mostly disappointing when I smoked it. Was that what all the fuss was about? Much as I hated to admit it, I didn’t like it. I didn’t feel sick, I simply didn’t like the taste.

But I did like the way the idea of smoking made me feel. I did like that I was among the first in my class to start smoking. I did like sneaking around with my friends. I did like the fear of getting caught and all the ingenious ways of hiding it. During the following years, I smoked occasionally, almost daily even, without becoming addicted to it. I was handy with the needle and thread, so all my bags had a hidden pocket for my cigarettes. Some of my classmates did get caught, and knowing we were friends, my mother and grandmother warned me there would be terrible consequences if I dared try it before I was 18. My reaction was to start stealing cigarettes from my mother just to prove she wouldn’t notice. And she didn’t notice, not even when I smoked in her own home. I even tried my luck, smoking at the window in my room, when my grandmother wasn’t home overnight. I got away with it. In fact, I never got caught.

I was almost 15 when I knew I had to stop. By that time I no longer wanted to be a smoker, not in the real sense. It was summer once more and I left my home angry and frustrated after a big fight with my grandmother. I wanted to vent about it to my friends; I wanted a hug from my boyfriend; and I also really wanted a cigarette… It was time to stop. I had seen most of my friends become avid smokers by that point and I didn’t want that for myself. It wasn’t worth it. Much as I had fun smoking when most of them weren’t, once everybody did start smoking, it lost its appeal to me. The summer after my high school graduation, my mother offered me a cigarette. I was old enough not to have to hide my smoking, she said. I was her daughter, so surely I must have been a smoker as well. It took a while to convince her I wasn’t.

In my childhood, I knew I would be a smoker. I was wrong. I am not a smoker, and I am happy I was wrong.

My mother continues to smoke. She identifies herself with her addiction, and she sees absolutely nothing wrong with it. I know – because she has admitted it – that in a way she wishes I were a smoker as well. She also admits she never suspected I smoked when I was 12, and she laughs when I tell her I used to steal her cigarettes. The same way I wanted to smoke more when she used to tell I wasn’t allowed to do it before I was 18, she wants to stubbornly hold on to her addiction now that doctors tell her she needs to stop.

She got it in her head that they’re all wrong, there must be another reason for her health issues. Throughout her life, she lived with the conviction that smoking might only damage her lungs. Now she has to face the fact that various complicated gastrointestinal problems are the unexpected consequence, even if her lungs aren’t in trouble yet. She is in pain and the doctors keep changing her medication, as her situation worsens. She is constantly hungry, because she can barely eat. She suffers, because she always enjoyed good food. She suffers, because she looks in the mirror and cannot stand what she sees – she went through life as an attractive woman and she still cares about her looks, but the woman in the mirror looks old and scary.

Almost two years after she was diagnosed, she still cannot accept that the universe is not against her, trying to deprive her of her most cherished pleasure. She blames the doctors for not coming up with some miracle cure which would restore her health and allow her to keep smoking. She blames everyone who managed to quit smoking – the mere decision to do so is perceived as a betrayal of the self. She tears into anyone who tries to tell her life might be worth living even without cigarettes. That’s all she talks about, there’s nothing and no one she will listen to, and it all comes back to the unfair universe which has singled her out.

A month ago, she has finally reduced the number of cigarettes, after yet another medical scare. She has confessed to having no intention to quit, even if she was told repeatedly that she needs to. Since she wasn’t miraculously cured within a month, she has proven herself that they were all wrong. Reason and common sense no longer play a part in it.

In some ways, I have nothing against smoking. I even dated smokers, but I couldn’t do that again; nor could I be in a committed relationship with one. That’s just who I am. I believe we have the right to be as self-destructive as we want, as long as we don’t destroy others in the process. In other ways, it’s a pet peeve of mine. I feel furious whenever I see parents smoking in the proximity of their young children or pregnant women lighting a cigarette.

I was in my early thirties when I finally told my mother she was no longer allowed to smoke in my home when she visited. It caused yet another rift, but the same way she is allowed to make her decisions about her body, I am entitled to do the same for myself. I will occasionally pick up an open pack of cigarettes and sniff it – I love the way tobacco smells almost as much as I hate cigarette smoke.

I am not trying to teach a lesson. I’m only sharing a story about choices. Think about the point where choices you make for yourself might also become choices you are forcefully making for others, for your children, for your partners. They deserve the same prerogative – to choose what they want for themselves.

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30 Replies to “Will I Be Pretty, Will I Be Rich… Will I Be A Smoker?”

  1. Hi Anna – finally made it back to comment about the post.
    – it is a miracle you were able to walk away from smoking (so to speak) at 15 – not the norm for early exposures
    And that is cool how you sewed pockets to hide them.
    Reminds me of a time (one of the few times) I was stupid and got caught – I walked in with tube socks on (Tom boyish hanging out with friends around 8th grade age) and the pack of cigarettes were right there in my tube socks – –
    Busted! Big time

    It all worked out and I am curious as to how I bought my own cigarettes in 8th grace? I smoked on and off through high school and when college came – finally started the quitting process – which for me went about four years – I was teased by colleagues for “quitting again” and then one day I finally kicked it.
    What did it for me – (with lots of prayer) was partly realizing how much I loved it and how smoking was a part of my lifestyle – the hand and mouth activity –
    The conditioning (I see this in hindsight) but at the time – they were also changing formulas (late 80s early 90s) and they were getting me sick – the avoidance of pain and feelings like shit is a big motivator –
    People I smoked cigarettes with (I never could do pot) wel they still have their cigarettes and some folks will be smokers for life.
    I am mixed how I feel about the damage they do – now that I have seen (through my research and life experience as a counselor and educator) have seen what sugar does tonthe immune system – what chemicals from tainted food can do to the GI and overall body – and the impact of stress on hormones and cortisol spikes – (karoshi is death from overwork)
    Then if people ha e “heavy metals” and pathogens in their body – well I am not sure how cigarettes come into the card hand –
    And my advice is that if someone is so conditioned and of a certain age 🙏
    It might be better to let them live their life with their habit and spend their days the way they want to

    CS lewis once said something about why he went back to his pipe smoking – it was because while not having his pipe he could not stop thinking about it!
    Ha
    Sadly I know a dude who started smoking a pipe because “CS Lewis toked on one so it has to be okay”
    Ugh! We know better nowadays – or should !
    Anyhow – there is an intimacy with any vice and quitting might not be the elixir for health that we expect – and well…
    Wish her the best and sending good thoughts here way
    😊🌸

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Yvette 🙂 How nice of you to come back to this one, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the subject. You’re right, I was fortunate to stop smoking when I did, especially since it was a spur-of-the-moment thing. Being stubborn and not wanting to be part of the herd – even if I wasn’t totally immune to peer pressure – was part of it, and I think rising costs also factored in too 😀 .
      You were mentioning buying cigarettes at that age… thinking back, that was quite funny. It was the ’90s and nobody bothered to ask us our age. At some point, a law about selling cigarettes and alcohol to minors was passed, but no one really minded it, not even our parents. All of us were sent to buy these things for our parents, there was no difference between that and buying bread or milk, and I don’t think anyone really thought twice of it. Whether we started smoking or drinking… well, that had a lot to do with how we were raised. I remember this funny incident, some exchange students from Sweden visited our school for a week or so and we had to take them to the theatre one evening. They showed up drunk, taking full advantage of how easy it was to buy alcohol, they got sick, oh what a scandal that evening 😀
      I can just see the 8th grade you getting busted 😉 I never got caught, those secret pockets worked wonders. They were a must really, my grandmother always went through my things; luckily, she wasn’t too thorough or creative (this will make for a fun post some day).
      Thank you for your good thoughts, Y. I agree, people need to be allowed their vices; it has to be their choice and their right, regardless of what we’d like. I don’t expect my mother to ever quit smoking, apparently not even pain is a strong enough deterrent. But after analysing everything, I must admit that her refusal to take responsability and the need to blame everyone for her condition, not to mention her overly critical attitude towards anyone else who cannot/won’t quit their bad habits still anger me…
      I like the way you summarized all those health risks 🙂 Personally, I’m trying to avoid addictions (other than coffee 😉 ) and strive for balance.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi – thanks for the nice reply – and I could talk about this topic for a while – and seems we both might have some future posts ideas ignited here– hahah
        __
        and my neighbor shares something that helped us a lot.
        When his dad was alive – the doc sent him and home and said “you can stop drinking alcohol and love longer” or “you can stay drinking alcohol and live less years”
        and my neighbor said his dad told him that in his life he wanted what he want and he enjoyed his drinks and hoped the son would respect him for it (and I think he did)

        and so at a certain point – people will just need to do what they do and let the consequences fall where they may.

        ttys

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s such an interesting story, it’s not often that people can handle such a situation well, much less respect the other person’s wishes. In the end, we can only make these decisions for our own selves and bodies.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. so true so true – and side note – was thinking about this post and I do recall I had 8th grade baby-sitting money (and 9th grade) and also – recall a pack of smokes would last me a month sometimes –

            Liked by 1 person

              1. Well my “source” was my cousin Kathy – she was older and more like an aunt – and she smoked the generic brands for a while – yuck – but free was free – hahahah

                Liked by 1 person

      1. thanks and please do let me know if you have any “jeans” or “blazers” writing snippets – or even a pic –
        later this month (when i recover from the lady by the river book plugs – ha) I will do my what to wear post on that theme

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ll see if I can find something jeans related, I don’t think I have anything on blazers. And I will mention your LBTR giveaway, I think I might borrow a photo or two from your posts, if that’s ok with you.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. oh I am super excited that you will post about it- I did mention it to Mark and hey – I will email everyone later –
            but thanks and use any photos that you want.
            I just finished prepping the very last post for this sunday – and whew – a little burned out with it – but this time of promoting was a true pleasure and a long awaited time.
            so cool.
            so cool
            so cool

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post, Ana! Both my parents were heavy smokers and didn’t quit until they were in their late seventies. I tried it for a while when I was a teen but thankfully gave it up quite soon. My husband still smokes and I can remember times when he and my parents would light up, you could hardly see across the room for smoke.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can remember such times as well, those smoke-filled rooms… and I relive them each time I visit my mother (her husband also smokes). They can do what they please in their home, but none of that in mine, not anymore 🙂 …

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating stuff Ana, I really identify with your early smoking years, except I didn’t quit, I sometimes believe that there are smokers and non smokers, anyway…. I really enjoy reading your stuff, always so well laid out 😀😀

    Liked by 2 people

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