Guest Post: Erika Saboe – A Cigarette Memory

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The following is a social media post by one of the best personal essay writers I’ve encountered. This one was written without any idea it would be retransmitted elsewhere. I can only imagine how vivid the words would be if she didn’t write casually. The pictures are ones I made to help her see humor in her struggle to stop smoking.

I’ve been a smoker the majority of my life. I grew up in an era of it being perfectly acceptable. I can remember being 11 or 12 and walking to the rinky-dink gas station across Old York Rd and buying a pack for about a dollar. Smoking on the porch of the lunch commons at my high school. I actually remember smoking on an airplane!!!

My father was diagnosed with stage IIIB lung cancer in 1999 or 2000. I was living in Memphis at the time and probably smoked about 2 or 3 packs a day. This was when you could smoke just about everywhere still without stigma. I didn’t know what IIIB meant, had to look it up on the interweb I had on my Sega Dreamcast (ha!). Then I really got it, like a cinderblock to the face.

My dad asked me to quit and it was a no brainer. I stopped that very day. Was there ever a better reason? NO. I also chose to end my relationship at the time and haul ass home to care for him while he was sick. I spent the next 6 or so months by his side until he passed. And after stayed smoke-free for a good long time. Years.

One day I saw an old friend I hadn’t had the pleasure of hanging with for a long time. He smoked. I threw an ashtray on my table and said, “I’ll have one with you for old time’s sake.” Stupidest idea ever. It started me smoking again for another 15 years. I tried many times to quit. It never took.

I always said, “How will I find a better reason than the first time when my dad was told he was going to die and asked me to quit?” And anytime I tried to quit it seemed impossible. Nothing was enough to make it stick more than one day.

I hated smoking but loved it. I rationalized that it was one of the few vices I had that gave me momentary peace and comfort, but what a line of bullshit that was to simply give me an out to not try. I thought about quitting again all the time. No day was ever right, no reason ever great enough.

I was at the tail end of a work week. Got a fabulous new job a month or so before. Told myself when THAT happened it was my sign to quit but even then I couldn’t. Not a big enough reason to my psyche I guess lol.

Anyway, I was running low on smokes and had this crazy idea to just not buy any more when they ran out. I was already contemplating heading to the convenience store to get another pack when I realized it was Mother’s Day. Thought to myself, “let’s give mom a gift she will really appreciate and stop.” I’ll admit I wasn’t 100% sold but figured I would give it a try.

And shortly after was about out the door to replenish after weakening when I saw what the date was on my watch. It hit like a prize fighter’s knockout punch. It was also my late father’s birthday. Wow. What a crazy coincidence… or was it? I kept looking for a big enough reason to stop again and never could, but it was Mother’s Day and my dad’s birthday all at once. Could the stars align any better to tell me it was the day without being as tragic as the first time? No.

It has been 4 months. 4 months after 15 years of smoking since the 1st quit. 30+ years of smoking total. I haven’t caved once and while at times walking by someone smoking smells delicious (while also repulsive) I have no desire aside from Pavlovian urges brought on by ingrained routines.

It was so hard to quit for so long. And then a day presented itself. That’s really all it takes. Finding the day or reason that flips the switch. When that occurs it becomes the easiest thing imaginable.

If you want to smoke I don’t judge you. It was a vice I loved for a long time. As I said there was an age where it was par for the course. I hope for the people I know who still do and want to stop that they keep their eyes open for the perfect day, and I really want it to be bittersweet like my most recent, rather than tragic and traumatic like the first.

 

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