Smoking is a nasty, deadly habit. Cigarette smoke reeks, it penetrates your clothes and catches in the ends of your hair. You can taste the singe of smoke on your tongue, feel the burn in your mouth. Cigarettes stain your teeth, they stain your fingers, leave you with small holes in everything and make your health insurance premiums go through the roof. Cigarettes are a crutch, an addiction, an expensive act at playing cool.
I miss them terribly.
Not all the time. Most of the time I don’t think about it. But sometimes I fantasize about hoarding cheap, duty-free cartons of Marlboro (American ones–European ones are different) and smoking my way through my final decade of life in one, giant smoke ring of devil-can-take-me-I’m-mostly-dead-already happiness.
Anyone who has ever smoked can probably tell you their favorite part of smoking, whether it was the act itself or the sound of a match striking flint. Perhaps it was the the accompanying whiff of sulfur or the crunch of tearing cellophane. Maybe it was the way a lit cigarette dangled loosely between fingers or that first lung bracing inhalation. Though it’s the nicotine that’s addictive, it’s often the rituals that go hand in hand with smoking that are even more difficult to give up. Muscle memory and Proustian sense recall can make you long for a cigarette years after you’ve quit. My trigger is a holiday balcony. There is nothing quite like watching a sunset after a hard day at the beach, drink on the railing, cigarette in hand. And then there is alcohol.
More so even than the rituals and the addictive substances, more than just the pure physical pleasure, cigarettes and alcohol encapsulate a laissez-faire attitude that comes in spades with youth and its shadowing feelings of immortality. Cigarettes and alcohol meant Friday nights slouched on torn, vinyl bar stools with a pint of beer and a pack of Marlboro reds. It meant slices of pizza and cheap tacos grabbed in between bar hopping. Cigarettes and alcohol meant nothing ahead but a weekend of sleep and television and greasy diner food. Between you and me, I don’t miss the hangovers, though my husband does miss a good corn beef hash at Kellog’s diner. But I do miss the time-is-on-your-side kind of mentality that goes hand in hand with being young. When you are 22 and parked on a bar stool, you aren’t thinking about much more than how to get the bartender’s attention and making sure you are sober enough to get your key in the door the right way around and get into bed without knocking into the thermostat. You certainly aren’t thinking about quitting smoking or quitting drinking or what that extra wine is doing to your waistline or that pack a day is doing to your lungs.
Misspent youth has a way of making the future seem so far away that you actually can live in the moment. As much as I appreciate being older and all that brings, I do miss the carpe diem aura of youth. Back then, the future was not college funds and retirement amounts and aging parents. The future was brunch.
No, I don’t miss the smell of smoke on my pillow or the sandpaper throat that comes from of smoking an entire pack during happy hour. I don’t miss the expense or the damage I knew it was doing. I don’t miss the guilt that comes with lighting up. But I do sometimes miss feeling like I was doing something bad-ass, something against the rules. Yes, it is a stupid, dangerous way to define bad-ass, but there you go. There is a sense of childish sing-song taunt about smoking. A sense of Ha, Ha, Death. I see your lung cancer and I raise you a “Screw You!”
In the end, as it is with many, it was pregnancy that forced my hand in regard to smoking. And though I do admit to having a cheeky smoke now and again since my second son was born, the guilt I feel far outweighs any pleasure I get in sitting on a balcony with a glass of wine and a cigarette. Which leaves me with wine.
Over the years the drink of choice has gone from the cheapest vodka mixed with lemonade through the beer years and settling somewhere in the more expensive the wine, the better era. I enjoy wine. My husband enjoys wine. We enjoy it together. Wine has been my vice for the past few years. Not as bad-ass as a cigarette behind the ear, a pack rolled in a shirt sleeve, but that ship has sailed. My go-to has gone from a Marlboro on the way home from work to a glass of smooth red with dinner. But perhaps I enjoy wine a bit much. Or a bit too much wine.
My er…enthusiastic enjoyment of wine has resulted in my pants not fitting. Not in the “button is hard to get done” kind of way. Not even in the “waistband is digging into me and I risk being snapped as a Glamour Don’t” kind of way. I mean the “I can’t get them over my hips” way.
After a summer of gluttonous indulgence in the US, I was a little concerned, but not too badly; I have a few tricks up my sleeve. But this time, nothing worked. After trying valiantly to blame the density of Danish bread, the cold weather, age, medication, and karma, my husband gently took me aside and suggested it might be the increase in wine. And so it has come to this, I thought. Do I have to give up my last indulgence, my last vice? My last chance to spit in the face of aging and waist expansion and maybe-it’s-not-good-for-you-in-vast-quantities indifference? Do I finally have to choose between my ass and my wine?
It would seem so.
For the past few weeks I’ve been going into the local woods and doing push ups and lunges and triceps dips in the dark canopy of the trees where no one can see me. I’ve been trying to power walk off that extra glass of Rioja. And last week out I went out and did something I never thought I would do. I bought a pair of performance sport pants to exercise in. My husband accused me of becoming Danish. But my, they are comfortable. And really, are a few push-ups and some panting really that high a price to pay for an extra glass of Pinot?
I’ll let you know.