I smoked my first cigarette when I was 13 years old. Although I had moved from Omaha when I was 11, I was back visiting Tyler, my best friend from elementary school. From 1st through 5th grades, Tyler and I were inseparable. With Tyler, there was always an adventure to be had. Riding our bikes across town - outside the zone set by our parents. Discovering the sewer tunnels that ran under the city. Ducking into the pawnshop to buy Chinese flying stars. Sneaking out of his house (and later my house) to go see girls after curfew. As a young kid, Tyler was just cool.
It should come as no surprise, then, that I smoked my first cigarette at Tyler's house. (A couple years later I drank my first beer there, too). We were standing in the back of his house over by some bushes where a few years earlier we had gotten in trouble for playing with matches. In my memory, Timmy and Brent were there too, but that may be wrong. The cigarette was a Marlboro Red. Is there anyone out there whose first cigarette wasn't a Marlboro Red? I am sure I coughed my lungs out, but I still remember getting that light-headed nicotine high. I felt cool.
I didn't start smoking two packs a day or anything, but I would smoke occasionally over the next few years. When I was a freshman in high school, my family hosted Marta - an exchange student from Italy who smoked. We bonded by smoking late night cigarettes and talking away the hours. I still remember one night when my Mom, who was an early riser, woke up while Marta was still in my basement room. We freaked out that she would think we were doing something other than smoking if we were caught. We stayed quiet until we could hear my Mom go to take a shower and Marta could sneak into her room.
I started smoking regularly when I was 16 and moved to Italy as a high school exchange student. Most of my Italian friends smoked. It was legal for me to buy cigarettes. I attempted to hide it from my host family, but I assume they knew. This was the first time in my life when I smoked every day, but it would not be the last. I quit when I went back home, so I could play football, but once the season was over, I began to smoke regularly again.
Somehow, I managed to request and receive a smoking room during my freshman year in college. This amazes me now that a state college allowed smoking rooms (it was the last year). This was probably my favorite time as a smoker. Our room quickly became the room for people to hang out in. There were times that I would come home and my room would be packed despite the fact that neither Paul nor I was there. A few times, our guests even went so far as to clean our room. (It was disgusting). Because our SA refused to come into the room, we could drink in there too. By this time, I had a pack-a-day habit.
I did manage to quit my last semester in college. I cut back at first and then quit entirely after my 22nd birthday. After college, I moved back home and started working at the local grocery store. After about six months at home, I was planning to move to Italy to work as a tour guide. On the day I was leaving, my friend Sam dropped me off at the airport. I was flying stand-by (my sister is a flight attendant) and I didn't get on the flight. I didn't have a cell phone and neither did Sam. I couldn't get a hold of anyone on the phone (at the time, I still knew people's phone numbers). In my imminent frustration (the least of which was not getting to Italy in time for an interview I had set up), I bought a pack of cigarettes. Although I only smoked two cigarettes, the pack was in my pocket when I got to Italy and I became a smoker again.
After I left Italy, I started law school. Like it was in college, I made most of my friends through smoking. I quickly made friends with Toni, Matt, Lauren, and Tim smoking in between classes. These people became my best friends through law school. Others in our class knew us as the smoking group. Rightly or wrongly, smoking defined me at that time. Plus, smoking was great for studying. As I got to the end of my third year, I knew I wanted to quit, but I knew I would have to wait until after the bar exam. I finished the bar exam on July 30 and smoked my last cigarette on August 1.
Following the bar exam, I soon moved to DC. In DC, I was a non-smoker. I was helped by not having friends who smoked. The bars in DC were smoke-free and I rarely went out to smoky bars in Virginia. Once the nicotine was out of my system and I didn't have any habit cigarettes in DC, it wasn't hard to be a non-smoker. When I lived in Fredericksburg for a few months, I was even able to go play poker in a very smoky bar without much temptation.
Things changed when I started with the Foreign Service. I was going out a lot with my classmates and many of them smoked. I don't remember the first one I had, but I'm sure I was drunk. I bummer a smoke off someone one night. Later it would be come two cigarettes in a night. Then, I bought a pack so that I wouldn't always be bumming. I never was more than a social smoker, but I was definitely back in the habit.
When I finally got to Belize, I vowed to not smoke. That lasted five days. Once again, I started being only a social smoker, but then I bought a pack. And then I smoked a cigarette at home on my back porch. And then I was a smoker. It got bad enough that I decided I need to quit again. Just before I went home for Christmas, I quit cold turkey. Again, I had no problem at first, but a few months went by and I got really frustrated when I couldn't get my new TV to work. I smoked a cigarette and felt better. (I wish smoking didn't make me feel better, but it really did). The same cycle repeated itself and I am now a smoker again.
I started taking Chantix today. Chantix is a quit-smoking drug that is designed to turn off the sensors that make smoking enjoyable. During the first week, I can keep smoking, but I am to set a quit date for a week out. I have decided to make next Thursday my quit date. I will smoke my last 'last cigarette' on Wednesday night. I will be headed to Panama for a week vacation and I should have the nicotine out of my system. I will stay on the Chantix for 3-6 months in order to prevent those urges down the road.
Wish me luck.