seventeen years

About two and a half years ago, I made the decision to quit smoking.  Actually, no – scratch that.  About five years ago, I made the decision to quit smoking.  I’ve only been successful for the past two and a half years.   When I finally did quit, the cost of cigarettes was taking its toll on my monthly grocery budget.  At approximately $30 a carton, I spent nearly $100 every month on cigarettes.  I hear the cost of smokes has nearly tripled in some cities.  Mine, however, is not one of them.  The price might have doubled here in Jacksonville but then again, I’ve not been paying attention.  There’s no need to anymore.

The first few weeks of being cigarette-free were more of a mental struggle than a physical one.  I won’t lie, though.  Even now, I still miss that kick I would feel in the back of my throat that signaled to my brain, “It’s almost in!”  Every single drag from a cigarette kicked the back of my throat.  I loved it.  My throat is tickling now at the thought of it. 

Is this what an alcoholic feels like?


Mommy, how many years did you smoke?

I hate answering that question.  Because my daughter is 9-years old and practically unable to remember anything for more than 3 minutes (much like myself, but that’s for another reason), she asks this question every few months.  And I always tell her the truth.  The disgusting, uncomfortable truth. 

Seventeen years, baby.  Seventeen years.  That equals half my life.

That’s a long time.  A very long time.  During my years as a smoker, I suffered recurring bouts of sore throats, laryngitis, pharyngitis, sinus infections, and bronchitis that were usually brought on by colds that never went away.  I caught colds fairly easily, too, like every 3-4 months.  I would cough and clear my throat just as naturally as my heart would take a beat, never considering how sickening the sound of me could possibly be to nearby ears. 

I was a waif, never able to get my weight up to 100 pounds.  My metabolism and my nicotine habit earned me a reputation of being the girl with the eating disorder.   My smoking habit covered up one of my health issues for many years.  The low blood pressure I suffered from was hidden by the rise in my blood pressure when I smoked a cigarette, thereby putting me in the normal range.  Only when I seriously tried to quit over and over and over again did the reality of low blood pressure make itself known to me.  This usually happened in the form of losing consciousness and passing out.  During one attempt to quit, my body was so sick that my doctor kind of suggested that I start smoking again as my inner workings were not quite ready to deal with the physical blows of withdrawal symptoms.  So I lit up a cigarette and felt justified in my failure because, well…doctor’s orders.  Kind of.

Yes, I smoked while I was pregnant.  Yes, I was lucky to give birth to a perfectly healthy baby girl…a very LARGE and perfectly healthy baby girl.  For the first three years of her life, she was about 80% deaf in one ear and 60% in the other.  The guilt that racked me from the inside out was cleared away quickly when the pediatrician explained that it was a very common issue with babies and mine just happened to go undiagnosed for so many years.  As unfortunate as that was, I felt relief at the fact that it wasn’t my fault.

Because so many things could have gone wrong and would have been my fault.  So many things.


I have dreams about smoking.  And I enjoy myself very much in these dreams.  Then I wake up and feel almost apologetic because I enjoyed it so much that I wish I could go back to sleep just to catch up with the dream and get back to sitting around the table with my friends, having a cigarette and a good laugh.  One dream was so realistic that I woke up crying and wondered how I was going to break it to my daughter. 

Your gymnastics tuition will now be paying for my cigarettes.  I’m sorry, Elle.


Elle started her gymnastics class the same week I quit smoking.  I was a single mother receiving no child support and therefore couldn’t afford to smoke and send her to the gym.  And I promised Elle I would quit, that she could have my cigarette money to pay her tuition.  There is no way I can take that away from her now.

she's like a monkey on the uneven bars


About Dena

I'm a suburban Clevelander by way of Oklahoma City, by way of North Florida, by way of Southern Maryland, by way of Upper Michigan, by way of Northern Italy, by way of Lower Michigan, by way of Texas. Because of living in so many places, I have something in common with almost everyone I meet. I love reading, writing, and American history (especially reading or writing about American history). I'm interested in culture of place, historical trauma, and writing about the kinds of histories most people don't know about.
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One Response to seventeen years

  1. Aunt Debby says:

    Dena, I loved that story and the honesty which makes you a real hero because you have stuck with it even though
    you liked it! Very neat!

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