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Smoke Free: Eight Days and Five Minutes
But Who's Counting?

by Liz Flaherty

 Dont do it when youre upset, overly stressed, dieting, going on vacation, starting a new job, moving into a new house, getting married, getting divorced, getting an empty nest, not getting laid ...

Okay, so I made some of that up, but it is in essence what my doctor tells me as he scribbles out a prescription for the antidepressant that is reputed to help with smoking cessation.

I dont know when in the hell youre going to do it, he says, his mellow voice sharpening, but do it. I dont mind you dying of a stroke or cancer or a heart attack, but Id like for it to be forty-fifty years from now.

From the slippery side of fifty, I like that last bit the best of anything he says in my annual lecture on come-on-you-dummy-quit-smoking.

He hands me the prescription that looks like little sets of hieroglyphics, punctuated with his Crooked-Line-O signature. It keeps you from being grouchy and gaining weight, he says. Sort of. Sometimes.

Ill do it, I promise him and myself, when work calms down and after vacation. I will.

It is April.

Work calms down as much as government-related work ever does. Vacation comes and goes, a week of relaxation and ice-creamy bushwhackers at beachside bars, helpless laughter and glorious sunsets, and Marlboro Lights extinguished in a bucket of sand outside our non-smoking condo.

Suddenly it is June. But work is a bear again. And Im fat. I have been losing and gaining the same thirty pounds for most of my adult life, blaming childbirth for the bulky times, though my youngest child is twenty-seven and starting to get cranky about it.

This is one of my heavy years, when I wear the fourteens on the high end of my closet while the eights and tens languish on the low end with my mother of the bride dresses and the light green jacket that doesnt go with anything. If I didnt smoke, I have convinced myself and tried to fool others into believing, I would be at least a size twenty-two, and I have no room in my closet for more sizes. Even if I got rid of the green jacket, the eights and tens would quickly fill in its spot.

My husband, who has not smoked for over four years, says nothing about my continuance of it. He never sighs or sniffs the furniture or insists on non-smoking sections in restaurants. When we arrive at a destination after hours on planes and in smokeless airports, hes sympathetic to my desperation. Go out and smoke, he says. Ill get the luggage. Which car rental did you say?

It is July. There are reunions on both sides of the family. We host the one on his side, everybody shows up, it rains, I need to smoke. I will stop soon, I tell my son when he comes to the reunion. Maybe my birthday.

I turn fifty-one during the first week of August. I do not quit smoking. Im still unhappy at work, Im still wearing size fourteens. I still like to smoke. Its my only vice, I reason. And no, I will not consider either coffee or bushwhackers vices. Bushwhackers are a vacation anomaly, coming but one week a year; coffee is pure sensory pleasure, sunshine and sweetness in a cup.

On a sunny day in September, our country is attacked directly for the first time in any of our memories and everything changes for us all. For a heartbeat in time, the world stops turning, and when it starts up again, its somehow changed direction and none of us knows which way to go.

Ive built my life on the cup being half-full, rainbows even after torrents of rain, laughter in the face of adversity. But my rose-colored vision is darkened on that autumn day, given shadows and rage and bitterness. I continue to smoke—what earthly difference can it make in the scheme of things now?

On Halloween, we have no Trick or Treaters at our house back its dark country lane. None, that is, except our two youngest grandchildren. When I tell them I dont have any candy because Grandpa ate it all (yes, I made that up, too, but I dont want to tell them Ive forgotten Halloween) they dump their plastic pumpkins full of treats out on the living room floor and share them with us.

And I think, I want to see them grow up. Just as I dont want terrorism to jeopardize their future, I dont want smoking to rob them of their grandmother. They have already lost one, my son-in-laws mother, Martha. I know shes watching me from her heavenly post. If I leave our grandsons with only their grandfathers to spoil and cherish them, shell make me pay.

I take my first pill that night, after I send my grandsons home with seriously lightened pumpkins and quarters in their pockets, and have taken them every day since. As I write this particular paragraph, I have been smoke-free for eight days and five minutes. It has been comparatively easy, providing the other half of the comparison has to do with bamboo under fingernails and breech birth without drugs—both at the same time.

Food will taste better to you if you dont smoke. This doubtful lure has been promised ever since the surgeon general first posted warnings on cigarette packs.

Well, I dont care whether it tastes better or not—and so far, it doesnt—Im going to eat more of it. I now know why there was a safety campaign on a few years ago about giving lollipops to small children: it was to ascertain that there would be enough of the candies to go around to people who are trying to quit smoking. I like Tootsie Pops, I must admit, though the stick is too skinny to satisfy my finger-hold, and after a couple of bags of them, the roof of my mouth hurts. But theyre tastier than fingernails and the ends of pens and pencils, less painful than the inside of my lower lip that Ive chewed raw, not as annoying as gum.

Page Two

©2002 Liz Flaherty for SeniorWomenWeb
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