There are a ton of reasons for why I smoke. It’s something to do. It relaxes me. It keeps my mind off my hands that refuse to stop shaking. It gives me a chance to talk to that girl. There’s just as many reasons to smoke as there are not to. It’s funny, because I used to hate my father for smoking. I would throw his cigarettes into the toilet. Now I’m the one that gets upset when a girl I’m friends with takes a pack and crunches it. Funny how that works.
I tried cigarettes in high school; didn’t like them. It seemed pointless. I must have thought it was cool though because I’d keep doing it at parties. Cigars were not uncommon. Hell, I claimed to love Black & Milds for their taste. I guess I was trying to be like my dad while trying to find my particular niche. None of it lasted long.
It really took off when I moved into Hoboken. My friends, most of them older, would leave the bar for a quick smoke. Being by alone used to bug me, so it made sense that I would join them. Bumming a cigarette didn’t seem like the worst idea. Of course, that’s how it always begins. No one starts off an addict. I of course deemed myself the exception.
Soon enough, I was hanging out on my own. Matt wasn’t always around & Aaron and I weren’t on speaking terms. This meant I had to figure out things on my own. It quickly became apparent to me that having a smoke outside of a bar was a great way to spark up a chat with someone. It was even easier when I was the one offering. It made me rethink the phrase, ‘giving candy to a baby’. Something along the lines of ‘cigarettes to a drunk’ would probably have been more accurate.
I’m not the dullest guy out there. I knew how addictive this habit could potentially get. So I had a plan. It was foolproof and smart. It would allow me to keep meeting people as well as keep me at arm’s length from a crippling addiction. The plan even seemed to work well. I’d met dozens of girls. I’d gotten my fair share of headway. Addiction? No, I was too smart for that.
I figured that legitimate smokers go through a pack a day. I knew my father usually did. So that was my benchmark. No matter what, I would never finish a pack on my own. Even half a pack was something I dared not approach. Still, doing so took some manner of restraint. My answer for this was to give them away. If someone asked for a smoke, I’d give them three. “It’s my way of kicking the habit,” I’d tell them. Things went well, for awhile.
Now I find myself grabbing several things each day before walking out my front door. My keys are first. Then I pocket my cell phone and put on my watch. A spray of cologne became a force of habit since my teenage years. My wallet was always one of the last things I’d grab. Now, I’m always feeling my back pocket for a pack. I almost dread finding one as much as I hate running out. I can’t drive to work without one. Even then, I force myself to only have one. One can’t hurt.
Aside from the addiction, there’s something about smoking that I’ve come to understand. Smoking is the most intimate manner a person can experience fire. I absorb its essence every time I light a cigarette. In reality, it’s an entirely different composition, but I still feel its ghost. It’s what makes my commute to work fly by. It’s what helps me appreciate sex and calm me down when I have to run from something. The flame keeps me going. The fire was set a long time ago.
I was 18 when things started to finally come together. I was just beginning to get over the horrible acne situation I’d been suffering through for years. My skin was finally cleaning up. I had spent what amounted to a quarter of my life fanatically doing everything I could to get my face back. At last, I began to feel like a human being again.
It had originally started lightly when I was beginning my teenage years. Then, right when I began high school, it took over my life. I remember going to school enthusiastically ready to exploit the hell out of the experience. There were so many people to meet. I was already making a good impression. I was oblivious towards the attention girls were showing me. Alas, it wouldn’t last long. If only it had.
As time wore on, the disease spread throughout my face like a plague. I took showers twice a day. I went to the bathroom between every class period to wash my face or pat it dry with paper towels. There wasn’t a mirror or reflection I would not look into. I blamed everything.
The plague took over my life. There was not a single moment throughout the day that I didn’t think about it. It made me desperate. It emphasized all my insecurities. It started with frustration. Eventually, it led to a pure form of hatred. It was completely directed towards myself.
I unleashed my hate throughout sports. I vented by hitting the football practice sled as hard as I could. I remember the coaches applauding the big guy on the team. They’d talk about how hard he was hitting the sled while overlooking me as I gave it my all. I never said a word as I silently attacked the bags as if they were the answer to all my problems.
Eventually, it made me a horrific hitter. I had the perfect form. The ferocity was unmatched. After practice, I would take off my pads and discover massive bruises surrounding my shoulders. I hit so hard that I hurt myself. It made sense that opposing high school players left games injured when they faced me. Even if they didn’t, we would soon erupt into fights simply because the malevolence of each hit seemed to express some form of ill will or unsportsmanlike play. I was far from dirty though. I was simply driven by anger.
During lacrosse practice, that same big kid and I would go at it. I remember him looking at me in shock as I knocked him off his feet. After a few violent games, the coach even stopped practice to compare me to the big guy. The coach pointed out that I was both small and thin. Sure, I worked out daily, but he explained how I couldn’t have weighed more than 120 pounds. He then directed the team’s attention to the big guy, who was several feet taller and weighing in at least 60 pounds more. He talked about the size of the fight in me versus my actual size. He neglected to explain what it was that fueled me though. That was something that most people overlooked. It was my secret.
During class, I was usually reserved. In others, I was the clown. I must have been trying to get whatever attention I could. I’d later realize that I was definitely looking for attention, but in all the wrong ways. I took self deprecating humor to the next level. It wasn’t the best way to go about high school. My self-esteem was one of the first things to go.
The plague heartlessly tore through my confidence. It’s what made me run away from Natalie. It’s what made me question every chance I had at kissing a girl. It took every doubt I had and amplified it to the extreme. I never stood a chance.
The most brutal stretch was my Junior year. I was emotionally scarred. I second guessed myself at every turn. It made sense that I would develop a stutter. I turned to it out of desperation. I wasn’t aware of what I was doing, but my body, my confidence, they were reflected through the way that I spoke. I remember stammering in front of girls as they awkwardly looked at each other. It wasn’t a true speech impediment, I simply felt dehumanized. I was essentially repeating words mid sentence. The stammering was completely unnatural. It’s what made it so odd.
The funny thing is, it’s when you stop looking for answers that you find them. It was Senior year when I began to go to tanning salons. I thought that at the very least, it would make the plague less visible. It seemed to work. As a result, I started to worry less. As the stress dissipated, so did my need to pay attention to my face. With that, my face inevitably cleaned up.
The answer that seemed to elude me for so long was stress. I worried non-stop. I worried about what other people thought. I worried about how badly I looked in front of girls. I even worried about being the only one with the issue. I thought I was alone.
I wish I could go back and talk to myself in those days. I’d tell that poor kid to stop. I’d tell him to never touch his face again. I’d explain that everything he did was contributing to his issue. It was his own fault. He was constantly touching his face. He was looking for answers when it was always inside him. I’d tell him, don’t worry what other people think. I’d say, “The only thing that matters is what you think of yourself.”
As I look back, the experience I went through may have been for the best. I can’t imagine the type of guy I would have been had I not been so sincerely humbled. I went through hell, sure, but it made me appreciate the situation. It helped me understand what a lot of people go through. I could easily relate.
As a result, I don’t consider myself a true asshole. I like to think that I don’t value women solely on their looks. It’s why I’ll sleep with a woman twice my age. It’s why I’ll take a girl to the bathroom who had a bit of a tummy and was bad at kissing. Some of the girls I’m friends with will call it low standards. I don’t see it that way.
I look for one good quality in any woman I talk to. Almost everyone has one. The only real thing that turns me off is unfriendliness. It’s when someone thinks they’re better than the other person. It the kind of person who won’t give someone the time of day. That’s more unattractive than being unable to fit through a door.
So I appreciate the humbling experience for what it was. I can’t imagine being one of those guys who would treat women as if they were invisible. I hate to think that I could have been the type to go for the most superficial of girls. The five years I suffered were worth it. It was far better than spending a lifetime chasing faces.