I will confess, growing up, every time my parents said “don’t”, I “did”.
Smoking was one of the key examples.
I know this is totally politically incorrect, but I have had a love /hate relationship with smoking ever since I can remember…
As a teenager, my parent absolutely forbade it. Therefore, I had to do it.
I grew up in Tabacco Country. My hometown was known as “the world’s best tobacco market”. Every one smoked. Except my parents. They were the exceptions to the rule.
Daddy did smoke a pipe as he forbade cigarettes. Consistency was not important…
My Aunt Goldie, who was always my favorite adult, smoked with gusto.
Movie stars smoked. Audrey Hepburn had to to stay so thin….Clark Gable….The unforgettable Bette Davis. Katharine Hepburn. And, of couse, Bogie. Mr Humphrey Bogart. With a name like “Humphrey” you had to smoke to be cool.
Then, I went to college at Washington and Lee University. All our fraternity parties, at least during “Rush”, featured trays of cigarettes out for everyone to help themselves.
I smoked. All my friends smoked. It was our life. We lived for cigarettes.
But it was complicated. You had to smoke right. Thank God, my father at least tried to teach me the way of the world when I was 16 or so….
I’ll never forget one of the first time I stumbled home one evening, while I was in High School, after a few drinks, and my Father caught me.
He had been sitting in the den smoking his pipe and drinking bourbon himself for a few hours. Situation Normal.
He wasn’t the least bit concerned with the drinking, but he was worried about the smoking. And he, as always, wanted to make sure I was doing things right.
He said to me: “I can tell you’ve been smoking. I can smell it. If you are going to do it, don’t sneak around. If I can smell it, she can. Your Mother will just think you’ve been smoking pot, instead of cigarettes and freak out and think you are going to join the Manson Family. Go ahead and smoke. That’s why we have ashtrays in this house.”
So I lit up. And then he freaked out. He said: “My god, you smoke like Bette Davis. Give me those goddamn cigarettes and let me teach you how to smoke like a man. If you are going to smoke, smoke like Bogie”.
That was the night my Father tried to teach me to smoke like a “man”.
It didn’t take…
A few years later, I was at my desk for my work-study job at W&L in the News Office, where we all smoked like chimneys while we drank pots of coffee and tried to be sophisticated.
One of my favorite professors came in…a couple of years later, when we were social friends, he said: “I knew you were Gay the first time I saw you in the News Office. You were sitting at your desk and you smoked just like Bette Davis. I practically heard the theme music from “Now, Voyager”.
Daddy’s lessons apparently didn’t take.
God, we were obsessed with cigs in college. I can remember walking all the way over to the Law School cigarette machine, in 15 degree weather in February at 3:00 am with my friend Ralph because we were out of cigs and had to have some. This was after we had searched all our coats first to try to find at least one pack, or even one cigarette, we might have missed…We were obsessed.
I remember driving to Richmond once to try herbal cigarettes when we first heard of them. We thought they might be better for us. A way to smoke with safety. They didn’t take…
When Steve and I met, I still smoked and he didn’t try to change me. I think that’s one of the things that made us work…He let me be me, no matter how different I was from him.
We got together. Then I quit on my own. For 10 years or so….with exceptions for parties- I didn’t smoke at all.
I will say, I don’t think I’ll ever separate cigs from cocktails. It’s genetic or it’s chemical. I’ll probably always cheat if alcohol is involved…
But, I did really well for many years.
Then last year, I was diagnosed with Melanoma. On my face. And I freaked out.
After trying everything else to take small spots out, my dermatologist finally said I had to have radical surgery. I left her office and stopped at the first Quick Mart I came to and bought a pack of cigs.
I was kind of thinking, “what the hell? I have cancer, so what’s to lose?”
They ended up taking out a piece of the right side of my face the size of a golf ball. I had a “Y” shaped incision about 4 or 5 inches long with big black stitches down the right side of my face. My right eye was black and swollen shut for over a week. I looked like hell.
I looked like a cross between Frankenstein and Joan Rivers after a bad lift.
I also had a very good plastic surgeon. If I had known he was so good, earlier, I would have gotten him to do a couple of other things while he was at it. I could now have the eyes of a 25 year old. But then, I just wanted to be sure I could face the public.
I was raised to be presentational and that there was no worse sin than being unattractive. I have never been so scared in my life. Not of cancer, but of how I would look….
Thankfully, I healed beautifully…
But I still smoked once I healed. I couldn’t stop yet…And I smoked like Bette Davis, I’m sure.
My next excuse was my Mother’s decline. As soon as my face healed, her downward journey started. And I had to spend time with my sister…who truly smokes like a chimney…
I know I need to quit again, but…
Smoking is an indecent obessesion. It’s so seductive. It’s so comforting. It’s so Southern. It’s so Virginian. It’s so old Hollywood.
It’s also so socially wrong now, it pisses me off. I’m back to where I started. It’s politically incorrect and everyone is against it, so I feel this need to rebel.
Even though I take Yoga and go to the gym several times a week. At least I don’t smoke on yoga or gym days…
It’s so hard to give up the forbidden fruit altogether…
And it’s so hard to quit something that’s been such a good friend for so long…
I always said, as long as you smoke, there is always something to look forward to– that next cigarette.
But I know I have to say goodbye…
I’ve probably pissed off more people saying all these nice things about smoking and shocked more of them than when I came out as Gay.
It’s much less socially acceptable in our crowd…
Anyway. I’ve used up all my excuses…
It’s just a question of “when”….
My Father’s lesson’s obviously didn’t take….
Bette and Bogie are dead
And I realize I finally need to quit for me. Not for anyone else. Not because it’s socially unacceptable. Not because it upsets some of our friends. But for me….
I’m too much of a rebel to quit for any other reason.
I’ll just have go find the right time and place. To let go of my old friend…
I’m pretty good at that….
I’ve done it many times….