As I inhaled, the menthol hit my throat, not enough to make me cough, but an unexpected feeling nonetheless. And much to my surprise, it was not an unwelcome feeling. I inhaled again-deeper this time, holding the smoke in my lungs.
It went straight to my head-I was dizzy, light headed, giggly. In my minds eye, I could see the disapproving looks from my family, my teachers, my coaches. I was the captain of the team, I was the editor of the newspaper, I was a good student. But when I was smoking, I felt cool. And, most importantly, stress free.
I stood outside with my co-workers, feeling much older than my 16 years. They would pass around their cigarettes, and sometimes a joint or a flask.
It was my secret life.
During the day, I was a stereotypical "good kid". At night, I rebelled. It was only in small ways at first. It started with the cigarettes. They were easy to explain away-if my mother smelled them, it was from the people I worked with. If she saw a pack in my purse, I was holding them for a friend. She always threatened to smell my fingers, telling me it was a surefire way to figure out if I was smoking, but never did. My guess is she already knew, and didn't need the proof.
In my mind, those cigarettes afforded my the acceptance of my co-workers. I was no longer a little kid, hanging around annoying them-I was an equal. And that meant seeing each other outside of work. I was no longer just smoking cigarettes, standing outside the back of the restaurant, killing time between customers. Now, I was smoking on someone's couch, talking with my new found friends, trying hard not to act my age.
I graduated high school and had no reason to keep up my good girl persona. Hanging out with my coworkers, most at least 10 years older than me, was much more fun. I hung out where they were and did what they did. I had no longer had lungs to keep fresh for running, and chain smoking was the thing to do. I had a cigarette attached to my fingers at all times.
I smoked close to two packs a day, it was the first thing I did in the morning and I would smoke at every available opportunity. I could easily smoke a pack on a long drive, the smoke wafting out of my window, a silver trail following everywhere I went. I loved flicking the butts outside. I was mesmerized watching them explode as they hit the pavement as I sped away.
But the lifestyle I lived was tiring, and hard to keep up with.The only constant was the partying -the friends, the bars, the specifics were interchangeable. It was me and my Marlboro Menthol Lights moving from one night to the next, trying to make it out alive worst, and relatively unscathed best. Most nights we accomplished this. Some nights, we were not so lucky.
My cigarettes morphed into whatever I needed them to be at the time-my Xanax when I was anxious, my Prozac when I was upset, my caffeine when I was tired. I was dependent.I felt like I could barely function without a cigarette moving between my fingers and lips.
It caught up with me-slowly at first, but then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew I had to stop. I got new friends, moved, stopped partying. But I couldn't bear to give up my Marlboro's. They still made me cool, I rationalized. I need them, I can't give up everything.
I struggled, I was angry, but eventually, I was done. And it felt good; It felt so good. But every now and then, I rely on my old friend. When I'm anxious or stressed, I still find solace in a pack of cigarettes. And I can slip back in, comfortable as ever, as if the smoking hitting my lungs is softly hissing, Hello, again, my old friend.