The first time I quit smoking wasn’t because I coughed sometimes when I got out of bed in the morning. It wasn’t because the house stank, the stale smoke smell clinging to the walls like tartar on teeth. It wasn’t because smoking had become uncool and I already wasn’t cool. The first time I quit smoking was because I wanted to climb mountains.
I started climbing the week after I quit. Every day I’d embark on a trek up the Himalayas. The first day, I lasted eleven minutes. The next day I lasted twelve, then fifteen. Soon I was climbing for 36 sweaty and strenuous minutes, surrounded by an eerily unnatural phenomenon, the health club.
All around me were rows of black machines- biking machines, rowing machines, running machines, and climbing machines. Some of them buzzed. All of them hummed.
In four weeks I was speed climbing, 62 feet a minute. There are 5280 feet in a mile. That meant I could cover a mile in about an hour and a half on a machine in a climate controlled environment. I could do this.
While I climbed my electronic mountain, I often thought about mountains. In Valencia, Venezuela, where I spent a lot of my childhood, there were mountains all around us. I remember the time when my older brother, Brian, ran away from home. Ten years old and he stomped out of the house, up the road to the mountains, a half of a mile away. I don’t know if he climbed. The important thing was that he had the option. When you climb a mountain, cross the ridge, descend on the other side, you can’t be seen. It’s a full separation from where you were.
“Aren’t you going to go get him?!” I yelled at my mom.
“He’ll come home.” she said and sat down on one of the kitchen chairs and lit a cigarette.
I learned smoking from her. It was how a person waited. I suppose I am like her in that way, always wrestling with time. I think about the past and there’s so much I want to relive and there’s so much I want to forget. How does a person reconcile those opposing impulses? They smoke. I think about the future, what changes are coming. But it’s so hard to see change and newness until it’s sitting like a smiling dog in your memory. So what does a person do while waiting for the future to arrive? They smoke.
After all the months of not smoking, of going to the health club, we, Terry and I, were in a car crash. We weren’t killed or maimed. I don’t know if it was with the loud pop of impact, the sound of crunching metal or the wild spin we took, that I decided I needed a cigarette.
The other times I quit was when I was pregnant, well mostly, anyway.
And now, I’m going to quit again. It’s not because I’m having any more children, because I’m not. It’s not because I’m worried about my health, because I’m not. It isn’t because my boys are always on my back about it. It isn’t because it’s gross.
The reason I’m quitting is because I don’t want to be like my mother. In some confused way I’ve been holding on to her, cigarette by cigarette. I don’t know how I’m going to do it but it’s time to let her go.