A little more than 20 years ago, I made the conscious decision to light a stick on fire, put it in my mouth and inhale deeply, drawing as much smoke and carcinogens into my my lungs as possible.
I did this mostly for two reasons: 1) I thought it looked really cool and 2) Other kids were doing it.
It’s reasoning such as this that makes me glad we set age limits on such things as voting for our nation’s leaders (although, some would successfully argue, I’m not sure how much we such trust most adults with this sort of privilege, either … but that’s another column for another day).
I’ll never forget the first time I lit up a cigarette. I was in Piqua “cruising” — an activity that essentially consisted of driving around the same two-block area for hours at a time, which again speaks to my decision-making abilities at the time — with several of my friends in a 1983 Ford Escort.
The whole idea behind “cruising” was pretty basic: Girls we went to high school with did not like us. At all. Maybe if we changed the venue from the hallways of Troy High School to the streets and sidewalks of Piqua, girls would start to like us. Are you starting to see a pattern with my thought-making as a teenager?
Needless to say, girls from other high schools who were cruising around downtown Piqua didn’t seem any more interested in us than the girls cruising the hallways of Troy High School. One thing we noticed, however, was that some of the girls who were cruising Piqua were smoking.
Also, they were talking to boys who were smoking!
Clearly, these cancer-causing sticks of fire dangling from peoples’ mouths had some sort of magical properties! In our minds — or at least the minds of two of us, two of our companions that night had far better sense than we did — smoking was the key to getting girls to like us.
You know, the more I think about it, the fact I lived past the age of 19 is nothing short of a minor miracle.
That night, one of my friends and I bought a pack of cigarettes and lit up for the first time. It only took one puff for me to realize there was something magical about cigarettes — namely, the tobacco industry had managed to make billions of dollars off something that tasted like raw sewage, made peoples’ breath smell like something the dog had left in the yard and had the added bonus of being fatal.
As our eyes watered, our lungs burned and the fetid taste filled our mouths, we managed to look at one another and say, “We. Look. Awesome.”
We didn’t get to meet any girls that night. Or for many, many, many nights after that. But that night began a different love affair for me — my love affair with smoking cigarettes. I would only smoke sporadically throughout the rest of my high school career — mostly on weekends, when I felt the need to look really cool hanging out with my friends — and had quit smoking for my first two years of college.
By my junior year, I was old enough to legally frequent the bars around campus, where I again saw lots of other people my age smoking and marveled at how cool it seemingly made them (I’ve since come to learn it probably wasn’t the cigarettes). So I spent my last two years of college as a semi-regular smoker.
I also spent my last two years of college not getting the girl.
Once I moved back to Troy, I would again manage to quit smoking (which, ironically, coincided with meeting my now-wife, which I was able to do without smoking a cigarette) for a number of years. Several years ago, though, I picked up the vile habit again.
All of which leads us to the past six months. After a series of health scares, I have once again managed to quit smoking. Haven’t touched one in quite some time.
I’ve stopped and started before — this time, I’m praying I have the courage to actually make it stick for good. I think this time I can truly make it happen. I want to live long enough to see my children grow old and have kids of their own. Pretty much every piece of science out there informs me that won’t happen if I keep smoking.
It’s been a difficult journey, filled with starts and stops. Which leads my to a simple lesson to kids out there who are considering smoking.
Don’t. You won’t look cool. You won’t be able to “quit any time you want.”
And you probably won’t get the girl.
Troy’s very own David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong