You can’t change the one you love. Your significant other isn’t a fixer-upper that you can repaint, renovate, and redecorate to suit your whims. Loving someone for who they could be, should be or as you see them in your dreams isn’t love: it’s self-absorption that says more about your own flaws than theirs. To totally massacre President Kennedy’s famous call to action, ask not what love can do for you, but what you can do for love.
And so, I quit smoking. I haven’t burned a tube of carcinogenic vegetation since last week. As I write this, I am chewing Nicorette like a piranha chomping on a piece of Amazonian explorer ass meat. My jaw actually hurts from squeezing every last gram of nicotine from a gum that tastes like the candy they give out in hell on Halloween to little demon spawn wearing frightening Miley Cyrus masks. I’m happy about it. Sure, sometimes I crouch in the corner and sob. Every so often, I feel like tearing off my skin, balling it up, and lobbing the wet mess at people blissfully enjoying a smoke on the street. But I’m happy about it. Mostly. Kind of. Yes. Yes!
And she made me look so cool, so gritty and rock and roll. She tasted great with whiskey, and after a hearty meal, and first thing in the morning when I needed a kick. I knew she’d never leave me, and she’d keep me company when I was lonely, or up until five in the morning hack writing. Ours was a relationship devoid of the threat of rejection. We had planned on having many beautiful tumor babies together. But now, I’ve kicked that bitch to the curb.
My reason for quitting smoking was a small moment a few weeks ago. I’ve tried to quit in the past, but have always fallen off the wagon. I took drugs to break the habit. It’s called “Zyban.” I didn’t know at the time that “Zyban” is actually the antidepressant “Wellbutrin” re-branded by the pharmaceutical industry. Those scamps! It’s comforting to think that these drugs are so powerful, and the human brain so complex, that they even surprise the scientists who invent them. I can imagine the joy when these pill doctors told their marketing department, “Oh, and guess what else we just discovered we think this drug can do!” So I took it and totally wasn’t depressed, even though I wasn’t depressed to begin with. Also: I quit smoking, because I was too high to care. Then I got a head-to-toe rash and my doctor told me, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Oopsies! Stop taking them!”
It’s a powerful addiction. My father died of lung cancer. He had been a smoker his whole life, and he loved his cigars. He accepted his illness, quietly, as a consequence of his actions. It’s such a powerful habit that the first time I took him to chemo, I had succeeded in turning the shock of his diagnosis into a reason to quit. I had been smoke-free for two weeks. As I settled him into one of dozens of recliners at the chemo center (which felt like a WalMart, with aisles of people hoping the medicinal poison would kill the cancer faster than the cancer itself), I remember kissing him on his head and walking outside. A walk became a run, a run to the closest convenience store I could find, where I bought a pack. And careful not to catch the disapproving gave of any of the bald zombies leaving the Chemo-Mart, I hot boxed three smokes. I swear, the first calming drag gave me a hard-on. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I was smoking the cancer stick or if it was smoking me. It was like a mutiny: my lips trembled with fear, tears of betrayal welled up in my eyes, and I inhaled, deeply, anyway.
I’m quitting because the current woman I am dating asked me, politely, a few weeks ago, to brush my teeth. Up until this point, she had never mentioned my smoking. She’d even let me smoke in her decidedly smoke-free apartment. We’d go out, and she’d ask if I had to pick up a pack before we left for wherever we were going. There was no nagging, no lecture, no finger-wagging. No ultimatum. But I love kissing her. It’s embarrassing to admit. She’s like dessert. If the sense of touch could be communicated in colors, her lips would be a detonation of wild flowers. So I’ve quit, while she’s out of town. I’m writing, eating baby carrots, and chewing. Chewing, chewing, chewing. She didn’t ask me to change. I’m just doing it. Because it’s not about me.