* * *
This is it, I tell myself. This is the big junkie moment that I told myself wasn't going to happen, but knew in the back of my mind probably would. I'm tearing open a garbage bag to retrieve the partial pack of cigarettes I threw out only that morning. It's right where I expected it to be, settled warmly in the embrace of a day-old banana peel. Right where I left it when I tossed it away and tied up the bag, telling myself not to come back for it later. I fish out the little box and toss the rest of the garbage back where it belongs. I smell the pack. Sweet. Overly sweet. The scent of rapidly overripening banana. The scent of failure, I tell myself, smiling.
I know I don't need this, but my body thinks I do. I know that I could still turn back. I could throw this pack right out the window and instead chew a piece of nicotine gum from the collection I've kept around for such occasions. I know, from experience, on a primal level, that the piece of gum might well take the edge off, but will be ultimately unsatisfying. The only thing that will make the world right again is smoking a cigarette. A real, live, cigarette. It's not like these are even good cigarettes. Just pieces of crap I buy for emergencies, just something to tide me over. To see me through. Just one last smoke before I give them up for good. I do a quick calculation in my head. It's been about ten hours since I had my last one. I feel simultaneously proud and depressed at realizing the number.
I sit at the window and wonder what would have happened if I had taken the extra step of trashing the pack outside my house, or just flushed the remaining cancer sticks down the toilet. Would I be out there, right now, trudging through the rain down to the corner store so I could pick up a fresh pack to get my fix? Or would laziness have won out and would I have made it through this craving, which I know in my mind is due to fade eventually? Either answer is feasible. And no matter which one would have been the case, the craving always comes back, and I have to make the same decision all over again.
One drag. The smoke tastes sour in my mouth. Bitter. I long ago stopped enjoying the flavor. Two drags. I once joked to my sister that the curse of the smoker is that you don't enjoy food for very long any more. The lingering flavor of the best meal in the world just turns to ash in your mouth as you light up that necessary post-meal smoke. Three drags. Any second now...and there it is. The world slams back into focus. The haze lifts. I'm in my right mind again. I really didn't need this smoke, I tell myself now, even as I resolve to finish the rest of the cigarette. I could have made it. I could have toughed it out. I'll just wait 'til next time to stick to my guns.
The big problem is, there's no consequence to this failure. It's just one more cigarette in a long line of cigarettes just like it. My life after the smoke will be the same as my life before it, except I'll be a whole lot happier afterward. The real trouble doesn't come until later. I think about all the dangerous things that people do, and I think about how safe I play it. How I never put myself in harm's way. Except I do, but I just don't know it yet. I don't bear any scars for my behaviors. No marks to show how I live so dangerously. I choose the invisible killers: tar and ash to smother my lungs, fat building up in my arteries, a sedentary life to waste away all the useful parts of my body, leaving behind nothing but fat and salt and toxins.
I watch the smoke billow and curl as it leaves my body, drawn out the window to be dissolved in the rain. Evaporating, just like the rest of my life. One day it will all be better. One day I'll have it all sorted out. I'll straighten up and fly right. I just need that perfect time, that perfect moment, when I don't have to think about anything else, and I can just worry about putting myself back together, doing everything right. I suppose that, in the meantime, another cigarette or two won't hurt.