Thursday, September 3, 2009

You Light Up My Life

"Why do you smoke so much?"
"I'm trying to quit cocksucking."

I've always lived around smokers. One of my earliest memories was the comforting orange glow of my dad's cigarette in the dark, as he sat watching us drift off to sleep. His smoking habit didn't stop me from being taught that smoking was bad, just like drinking was bad, just like playing cards was bad. So I sailed through high school and college uneventfully as a non-smoker. Pretty much a square, non-smoking choirboy.

The first time a cigarette ever touched my lips was when I was around 13 or so - with my father's permission, at that. Actually, it was his idea. And no, he wasn't trying to pass on his lifelong habit to me. It was New Year's and he had taught me how to light firecrackers using a lit cigarette impaled on a barbecue stick. I had to puff to keep the ciggie alive and my firecrackers going.

The next time a cigarette touched my lips was years and years later. I had entered Advertising, which  is like entering the brimstone-shrouded gate to Dante's Inferno. Everyone from the Chairman to the messengers smoked. But even though I hung out with my co-workers for the usual after-work drinks and chatter in a cumulous cloud of nicotine, not once did I ever get the urge to light up. It just wasn't my thing.

An exception was the one time I was sputtering with rage at my Art Director. I grabbed a stick from a startled colleague and puffed furiously to occupy my trembling hands and keep them from wrapping themselves around my A.D.'s neck.

Six more years would pass before another stick would meet my lips. I had already moved out of my parents' house by then and was sharing a pad with two smokers - one of whom was my first serious lover. I don't remember whatever possessed me to light up - it wasn't peer pressure, for everyone was shocked to see me with a lit cigarette in my hand. You'd think Shirley Temple herself had lit up and downed a stiff martini the way they reacted. But that's because I had always been known as the fitness buff, the healthy lifestyle guy, the token non-smoker. I wasn't enough of a clean-living prick to lecture everyone else on their smoking habit. I didn't mind it at all; I just didn't do it myself.

I do remember that the first pack I ever bought for myself was Philip Morris (I've long since become a Marlboro man). The menthol was a literal headrush, but I was strictly a weekend smoker. Once Saturday was over, so were the cigs. The pack would remain untouched until the following Friday. No cravings, no nothing.

That all changed one fine day. I had long suspected my live-in lover of carrying on an affair with our common gym instructor, but naturally all my accusations had been angrily dismissed. So one day I decided to go home unannounced over my lunch break. I waited in the house for my lover's car to drive into the garage, and heard two car doors slamming shut. I casually walked to the front door, opened it for the surprised twosome, and wordlessly went back to the office.

Confrontations and recriminations and one "let's talk this over" session later, I was a bona fide smoker.

I haven't stopped smoking since.

As a matter of fact, I've made up for lost time by becoming a chain-smoker. Ironically, three of my chain-smoking buds - the bestest of best friends I ever had - have long given up or cut drastically down on the filthy habit. I, who was the last among them to take up the hobby, steadfastly smoke on.

I'd say smoking is a good metaphor for my so-called lovelife. It's unhealthy, it's killing me, and the thrill is long gone.

And yet...

I smoke because it's a habit. I smoke because I have an addictive personality. I smoke because the swirling haze obscures the spectre of my personal demons.

I smoke because there's no one to kiss and I don't have sex anymore, anyway. I smoke because the doctor said I can't drink any more alcohol until next year and so it is my last remaining vice. I smoke because I wish my heart were as black as my lungs.

And so I huff. And I puff. Until I blow my house down.


  1. The last thread that keeps me away from being a chain smoker is NOT to buy a pack of cigarette. I usually depend on the generosity of others. Hahaha.

  2. @Knox: My cigarettes are like sluts. Everyone's welcome to them.

  3. The only reason I quit smoking, almost a month ago now, was because guys here don't really like kissing smokers - and they lurve kissing. There you go. Now, I feel sick every day and I'm gaining weight. Ugh.

  4. Ah, Tristan, that's why I'm rather happy not to be in the States right now. All that backlash against smokers. It's shitty in Europe, too, plus a P30.00 pack here costs P300.00 there.

    I know discouraging people from smoking makes sense and blahblahblah but still...part of me says people should be free to find ways to kill themselves without government interference.

    I bet in a few years the pendulum will swing the other way and smoking will be truly rebellious again. By which time I should've already quit. Because I'm contrarian that way.

  5. Rudeboy,

    I love this story. Your style reminds me of Raymond Carver, sparse, quiet, elegant, tender.

    "And so I huff. And I puff. Until I blow my house down."

  6. You're very sweet, Kane. Thank you. I don't know about "sparse" but even Raymond Carver once objected to being edited. His story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." is something I think we've all done at one point in our lives. Sitting around getting wasted as more truths come out the drunker we get.

    But since I am an unwilling teetotaler these days, there is no in vino veritas for me. Only In fumo fantasia.

  7. i really like this post. i've been smoking since i was 17 and i can totally understand what you're going through. lately, i've been smoking a lot. i guess u could say i want my heart to be as black as my lungs too.