I’ve never smoked consistently. In fact, I only ever smoke when I’ve been drinking or when I’m ridiculously stressed. I am addicted to so many numbing or comforting behaviors — binging sugary treats, imbibing bottles of wine, clicking “Add to Cart” repeatedly on online shopping sites — that it’s actually rather amazing I never added sucking on cigarettes to my repertoire.
I appreciate the sulfurous scent of a struck match held fast against the unfiltered tip. I enjoy the sensation of smoke entering my body, wreathing around my lungs, squeezing out all the oxygen so that I suffocate for a heady instant. I get a quick mule kick from the hits of nicotine and other unnamed, unknowable substances the burning delivers. Then comes the calm, the stillness, the release of the exhale. It’s an existential rush.
That’s at least in part because it’s a deadly habit. My mother’s father, my Grandpa Charlie, smoked for decades. It was a simple, legal way to dampen the searing chronic pain of a spinal injury suffered in a construction accident. When we visited, my brother and I used to vie for the honor of running to the corner store — a local establishment in small-town Massachusetts where everyone knew everyone else and so never questioned why children were buying cigarettes — to pick up his daily pack of Pall Malls. He let us use the change to procure our drug of choice, candy. In 1986, the habit caught up with him. He fell and shattered several bones in his arm that were riddled with cancer spread from his heavily diseased lungs. We lost him seemingly in the time it takes a struck match to catch and flare into flame.
So I’ve not procured a taste for this particular destructive ritual. I’m keenly aware that a single cigarette smoked allegedly shortens one’s life span by four minutes. I’ll keep it an occasional indulgence and only ever consciously make that trade-off — short-term self-gratification for 240 extra seconds of breath.