Archive for September, 2016

Attendance

Posted in My Poetry, Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 30, 2016 by sethdellinger

The minister in silent thought
among the stone markers
on the misty morning
frowns his face,
surveys the flock.

Three years, four years,
I know you still.

Shuffling gently now down
the weedgrown path
his moving hand brushes
the obelisks, the mausoleums,
the taller-than-they-weres.

Ten years, twelve years,
have you found yet a home?

Pausing at the gate
turning ‘round,
the elms at the edge of the clearing
shimmer with Northern wind,
the load of winter
promised the branches.

Twenty-five years,
I wait still to join you.

Her stone is tilted to a wavering angle,
watersluiced and mosswearing.
The world recedes in the blackness of memory.

I Loved Smoking Cigarettes

Posted in Memoir, real life, Uncategorized with tags , , on September 9, 2016 by sethdellinger

I love smoking cigarettes.  Or at least, I did.  I smoked my first cigarette at age sixteen and my last one at age thirty-one, and in between was never anything short of a constant, unabated love affair between myself and cigarette smoking.  And it was very consensual.

 

As a little kid, both my parents smoked and I hated it.  I bugged them to quit, heaped guilt upon them.  The evidence that smoking killed you was just heating up and becoming a major story.  The idea that my parents were doing something to hasten their own death was more than I could bear. I was a righteous little dude.  But even in the midst of that phase, I remember being at the supermarket with my parents, looking at the multitude of brands of cigarettes with exotic or evocative names and packaging and thinking to myself, If I was a smoker, which of these would I choose?  I was fond of Alpine and Kent.

 

The righteous little kid phase passed, as they tend to do.  My friends began to experiment with the kinds of things young teenagers experiment with.  I was hesitant.  I gave halfhearted lectures on the dangers of smoking, but it never would have made a difference.  We were barreling toward rebellion and all-out substance use whether we knew it or not.

 

I “smoked” my first cigarette in my friend Mike’s Ford Mustang in the enormous church parking lot beside my house, when I was sixteen years old, at about eleven o’clock at night.  It was a Marlboro Red.  Mike had been smoking for quite some time and was very experienced; in fact Mike had begun doing everything before us and was being very polite about helping us catch up.  I put “smoked” in quotation marks because I did not actually inhale the smoke from that cigarette; like many novices I actually had no idea I was not 63514_1593589805396_348923_ninhaling.  Now that seems somehow impossible—to not know the smoke is not entering your lungs.  But it was very much the case.  I wanted to smoke and was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t cough like I expected to, but disappointed when I didn’t “catch a buzz” like I had heard so much about.

 

I “smoked” in this fashion for a surprising amount of time—perhaps a month.  My girlfriend at the time had started smoking a little before me, as our group of friends all slowly picked up the habit, and it felt good to be part of the crowd.  Plus, the eternal truth: I thought it looked cool.  I thought it made me cool, and in many real ways at that time, it did make me cool.  At that time and in that place, there could be no question that to be a smoker was preferential to not being a smoker.

 

One afternoon, a bunch of us were hanging out at the drive-in theater.  That sounds weird, but it was an actual thing we did.  The drive-in near our house had a concession building that was open during the day and actually doubled as a pizza shop (with pretty darn good pizza) and a pool table, jukebox, some video games, and a cigarette machine.  For a few years, it was the go-to place for my group of friends.  Anyway, I was there with my 167955_1781791590323_329476_ngirlfriend and a group of people, and I was walking around the pool table, shooting a game, smoking, and being cool as hell, when I noticed my girlfriend and her bestie looking at me and laughing.  I went over to see what the deal was and she said to me, You’re not inhaling!  I was floored by this information.  How could I be sucking the smoke into my mouth and not inhaling?  Needless to say, I was mortified.  I didn’t smoke any more cigarettes that day.

I can’t remember how long it was until I tried it again–but probably less than 24 hours.  I still had some cigarettes.  I waited until my entire family was asleep and I went outside our house.  It was probably around 9 or 10pm.  I sat in the mulch along the side of our house and lit a cigarette.  I sucked the smoke into my mouth like I always had been, and then consciously tried to suck it in even further.  BOY HOWDY.  It happened easily but the reaction was large.  My lungs kicked back and coughed it out, but there was also an instantaneous physical elation. A soothing, a numbing.  I took another drag and the buzz started to settle in.  The buzz is called that for a reason; my body everywhere began to buzz, to hum, to tingle.  I decided that if this was going to be my first ever buzz, I was going to make it a big one, so I began to “hot box” the cigarette–smoke it in quick, successive hits, allowing the nicotine to hit my system as fast as possible.  About a minute into it, I essentially blacked out–my vision began to creep away from me at my periphery, my head began to spin, my whole body went numb.  I slumped over in the mulch.  I have no idea how long I remained that way.  When I finally began to return to my senses, I had only one overarching thought: I must do more of this.

And that’s it, that’s what does it (at least, for me): the buzz.  I doubt I’d have smoked enough to get addicted if it weren’t for the buzz.  The buzz disappears quickly with repeated use, so we tend to forget it.  We get addicted and then we think THAT’S why we smoke, or many other reasons we make up for ourselves.  We forget how massive those early buzzes are.  They are like freakin’ narcotics.  The blast of my first dozen or so nicotine buzzes were unlike any sensation I’ve experienced before or since–and I’ve been down a few roads in this life.  It is an intense, euphoric high–but one that lasts only a minute or two.  By the time you’ve chased that high for one or two packs of cigarettes, it vanishes, replaced by the crippling addiction.  You still think you like smoking, but all it is is scratching an itch.  We find scratching pleasurable, too, but only when there’s an itch.

After Mike, I was the second of our friends to really start smoking, and a few of them gave me some pushback, refusing to lend me money for a pack of smokes.  But eventually they all came along for the ride–eventually almost everyone I knew from my hometown came along for the ride.  We were Red State Pennsylvanians.  It was just something you did.

I’ve written extensively about my alcoholism, and how drinking formed who I was for so very long, but in almost all addiction literature, nicotine gets short shrift.  It shapes your life in so many ways, but since it doesn’t actually inebriate you or ruin your life in any blatantly visible ways, it’s always the also-ran to the more dominant addiction.  And so it would be with me.

I smoked cigarettes while leading a “normal” life from the age of 16 until 20.  We partied.  We did crazy things.  I had a lovely teeneagerhood filled with cars and girls and cigarettes and, yes, booze that didn’t control me.  We exerted our rebellion by smoking–in malls, in parks, in basements.  My girlfriend and I would take drags of smoke and blow them into each others’ mouths–it’s actually quite sensual.  We learned to blow smoke rings, and bought cigars.  We thought we were grown ups.  We thought the whole world was nothing.  We thought we’d never die.

Around age 20 I became physically addicted to alcohol, which naturally altered my relationship with cigarettes.  It actually made me need them more.  While my body’s need for alcohol was the dominant itch by far, the prospect of having alcohol but no cigarettes was damn-near terrifying.  I now needed to jump through hoops to ensure I had a steady supply of TWO drugs at all times.

Against all odds, I was able to quit drinking very early, at the age of 25.  It was a no-brainer that I would continue to smoke cigarettes, though.  Alcohol had been ruining my life and killing me–the general theory seemed to be that I needed to keep smoking to not risk relapsing on alcohol.  And who knows?  That may have been true.  I managed to stay successfully sober, after one relapse, but I continued smoking cigarettes for another seven years, until age thirty-one.  Many people told me, around the time I quit, that they had really associated me closely with smoking; that I had been the person who got them 33919_1384782511500_5306327_nstarted, or who made it look fun and enticing, and that some people even thought of me as a smoker before they even thought of me as a drinker.  Smoking was a big part of me.  Alcohol or drugs take you over because of how they alter your personality, but cigarettes defined me more than most people give them credit for.

When I quit drinking, I mourned alcohol like a loved one who had died.  When I quit smoking, I didn’t mourn it–I missed it like an amputated limb.  Seven years later, some days, I still do.  If I walk through a cloud of smoke someone just blew out of their lungs, often I am disgusted, but sometimes, if you catch me on just the right day, I stand in the cloud of smoke and breathe it deep.  Who knows why these things are true, why or how they happen to some and not to others.  To me, it’s a mystery–but maybe only because I don’t want to know.

(I quit smoking on September 20th, 2009, with the aid of Chantix.  If you’d like to read my blogging of it, all the entries associated with my quitting smoking can be found here: https://notesfromthefire.wordpress.com/category/chantix-diary/ )

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