“I’m quitting smoking,” my co-worker, Archie, announced as we were taking a cigarette break outside the Duane Reade below our office.
“Wow,” I said, as I took a drag. “What brought this on?”
Archie had always said he loved smoking too much to ever stop. “It’s my only vice!” he’d exclaim. Of course, I knew this not to be true.
He rolled his eyes. “Chad says he won’t pay for my plastic surgery if I don’t quit.”
Chad is Archie’s much older, kind and quite distinguished boyfriend. He lives a very healthy lifestyle and doesn’t smoke or drink but always lets the rest of us run around his penthouse and play Flip Cup on his marble dining-room table. I was pretty sure this plastic surgery nonsense was not Chad’s idea.
I sighed. “Archie, you’re only 28 years old. You don’t need plastic surgery.”
“Tracey. Be serious. What about THIS?” He lifted a finger to his eyelid and pointed at nothing.
I shook my head.
“Tracey. It’s all about prevention. Anyway.” He waved his hand in front of his face. “Chad said he wouldn’t waste his money on the procedure if I was going to just negate it with smoking. So I have to quit.”
I tapped the ash off my cigarette. “So when is this momentous event to take place?”
“Two weeks from Tuesday.”
“That’s…a very specific date,” I said.
He started to laugh then. “Oh my god, Tracey! Stop! You KNOW this weekend is Betty’s Fete and then next Saturday is Don and Jacob’s wedding. I can’t be going through withdrawals during all that. Don’t be ridiculous. And Mondays are just a nightmare in general. I can’t take that kind of extra stress on on a Monday. Please.” He tapped the ash off his cigarette.
“Makes sense,” I said, nodding. Like most smokers I’d also thought about quitting many, many times. I’d done the gum, which I’d become immediately addicted to and found myself having to chew it constantly like some drug-riddled pasture cow. I’d tried the e-cigarette but I found it incredibly complicated with all these little parts that I couldn’t figure out how to assemble. I’d taken Chantix which made me totally paranoid and suicidal with a constant loop running through my head of “Youhavenoreasontoliveyouhavenoreasontolive!” Once I’d taken a 6 hour seminar to quit that proclaimed to have an 92% success rate. Two hours after the meeting, I’d had a cigarette. I’d emailed the organizer to sign up for the free follow-up for failures. His reply was, “I think there’s something else going on here.”
I wish I could say I wanted to quit because I believe my body is a temple. Or that I knew it grossed people out. Or at least that it cost too much money. But to be honest, I mainly wanted to quit because it just took up too much goddamn time. I was late every single day to work because I had to smoke my ‘Gear Up For Work’ cigarettes before entering the building. In order to stick to my rule about smoking out the window in my apartment, I had to have my back to the TV so I’d have to pause ‘Beauty Queen Murders’ to have a cigarette and then I’d have to wash my hands and then inevitably refill my water glass and get a piece of cheese and then check my email and then suddenly it had been a 20 minute break. I was getting pretty sick of it.
“Okay,” I said, nodding. “I’ll do it too.”
“Oh my god, we’ll do it together!” Archie said and grabbed my hand. We threw our cigarettes down and stomped on them triumphantly.
“Great!” I said.
“Great!” he said.
He gave me the side-eye then. “”Sooo…should we have one more before we go back up?”
Living in New York, there is a good chance you can see your neighbors from your apartment, even if you don’t want to. Every night, when I sat at my window to smoke my ‘Chilling Out Through the Evening’ cigarettes, I could see the family across the street move through their upscale one-bedroom apartment. When I’d first moved in, it had just been two of them, a couple. But then she became pregnant and I watched as she grew and as they rearranged the space in anticipation of their new addition. Then the baby arrived and I watched as he moved through the stages of his young life. From being carried from room to room, to crawling, to then walking. From being spoon-fed in a high chair to sitting at the table himself and using his own fork. Sometimes during the Spring and Autumn months when the whole city had their windows open, I could hear them laughing. They played games together, ate together and had dance-parties together. I often wondered, ‘What must they think of me, sitting here alone night after night watching their lives?’ But they never looked over at me. They were too busy dancing.
The night of my conversation with Archie, I arrived home and sat myself down in front of the window to have my ‘Unwinding From the Day’s Events’ cigarette. I looked over at their apartment. It was empty. Save for what looked like a Realtor taking measurements of the space. There wasn’t even a box left. Or a toy. Or anything to show they had ever even lived there. They had moved on. This struck me. They had done so much in the past years and I’d done nothing. I was still sitting here alone, smoking, looking into their apartment. Watching life, but not really living it. Worse than that actually – watching life, but shortening my own.
I thought over my experience of smoking. There were many reasons why I smoked but I recognized the main one was the fear that if I don’t smoke now – I’ll want one later. That feeling of wanting. I hate it. I’ll do anything to prevent it. But I also knew objectively that by continuing to smoke, I was only prolonging that feeling. The cigarette was causing it.
I looked over again at the empty apartment. It was dark. The realtor had gone. Soon another family would move in and live their lives.
I realized then I didn’t want to wait until two weeks from Tuesday.
My friend Lin had sent me a link to the NYC Free Nicotine Patch Program a few months prior and I had joined. I had a collection of patches stashed away but had never used them. I decided to change that.
So that night I smoked my ‘Before Going Bed’ cigarettes and then ran the rest of the pack under the faucet. I threw them unceremoniously into the trash. I washed out the ashtray. Then I went to bed. When I woke up, I made coffee and showered. Then I slapped the patch on my shoulder. I took a look in the mirror, draped in a towel, with my wet hair falling into my eyes. I thought to myself, ‘I make this patch look good. Real good.’
Then I started my first day as a non-smoker.