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I tried smoking for the first time when I was 11. I had been bullied and found solace in hanging out with a group of kids who had been singled out for one reason or another themselves. Not one of them hid that cigarettes were their vice and while they did not push me to smoke, the offer was always there.
Eventually I had one, two, three, and four. Then I had a few more.
Smoking then was a come-and-go experience. If there were cigarettes around, I would smoke, but I could go months without a cigarette. At that point in my life, I didn’t see what the big deal was about smoking. Of course I was at an age where I was invincible and cigarettes were my hobby after an exceptionally difficult day of hearing bullying slurs spew from a group of kids during gym, in the halls, at lunch, and even in class. Those days, that came and went inconsistently, were ones where I would sneak out of school 20 minutes early and hang out on the greenbelt with a group of kids who hated school, classmates, and life as much as I did and light up.
A couple years down the road, I had found a passion in running. I spent semester after semester on the honor roll, took honors courses, toyed with three different foreign languages in addition to sign language, and ran. I was running and biking every day. Phys ed became competitive with people from three other schools. We raced and took part in track and field activities. I was somehow comfortable with myself and my place in life. I had made a few friends who didn’t smoke and spent most of my time hanging out with them when not at school, doing homework, or running. My life was good.
As a teen, one statement you don’t want to hear your parents say is that you are moving again. You will be moving from a place you’ve worked hard to call home, at least in some respect, to somewhere new. The summer before my Sophomore year involved packing, house hunting, and moving. Saying goodbye to those friends who had become real friends was hard, but I hoped to find friends equally good in that new town we were set to inhabit.
Instead I found already stable cliques. I was again an outcast and befriending anyone seemed difficult. I spoke without a deep southern drawl and had a professional appearance. I also didn’t drive a Mercedes or Corvette. I carried a northern accent, spoke proper English, and drove the spare car to school. I gave it a go with cross country and did well, even though I never quite meshed with the team. I raced across West Texas and placed often until I injured my knee in the first 400 yards of a two-mile race and couldn’t run again.
It was during the rest of that term when I had idle time and met the crowd hanging out across from the school during lunch. Little L and I became decent friends. We hung out, had sleep-overs, and went to various places to soak up the sweltering sun. Little L also smoked. I didn’t see anything wrong with her smoking. My own parents smoked and I learned years before that smoking was a come-and-go part of life, or so I thought.
In January, after three months of hanging out with the smokers from school, I decided to smoke. It wasn’t that big of a deal even though I coughed a few times. I was still invincible and my friends all did it. There was nothing eluding to the addiction I was about to find. And find it I did.
That one cigarette turned into one pack and one carton, then two, three, and four . . . Finding cigarettes became easy as I discovered that I could pass as someone of age without issue in that big town. I already maintained a professional appearance and was often mistaken in school for a teacher. And so it was. I was a smoker and I didn’t stop. What I thought could be put down without issue proved me wrong when I tried to stop a year or so later.
Escaping the clutch cigarettes held on my life became a journey encompassing more than a decade. To be continued . . .