Once a long time ago, I wrote a column about how I was a late sleeper. Later, I became an early riser, but people who had read and remembered the column thought I was still the late sleeper I had once been. I felt like a fraud.
Another time, I wrote a column about how I quit smoking. I wrote about the agonies of getting off the weed, how all I could think of was having a cigarette and how consumed I was with breaking this habit. People wrote in to commiserate. Junkies said it was harder to quit smoking then to quit dope. Alcoholics said the same thing about booze. I felt very proud of myself. And then I went back to smoking. Once again, I felt like a fraud.
I did not go back to smoking right away. I waited six years. They were great years, years in which I did not miss smoking, years of running and fresh breath and nary a cold. I wondered if it was the running that made me so healthy or merely not smoking, but either way I was terrifically healthy. And arrogant.
I had nothing but contempt for smokers. I considered them weak, slaves to their habits, fools for slowly killing themselves. Sometimes when I met one I would slyly mention the fact that I had quit, that it had been tough--oh, so tough--but I was healthy as a result and would probably live longer than they would. This made me many friends.
My contempt for smokers knew no bounds. I would stare at them on the street, feeling nothing but pity for them and admiration for myself. I would look back into the smoking section of an airplane and want to stick out my tongue the way a child does--na-nanny-boo-boo. And I thought it was unfair that smokers got to sit in the back of the plane--which is where you sit if you want to survive a crash. Sometimes I wanted to sit there, but I did not want to be around smokers. I would rather die than be taken for one. I was, after all, better than they.
And then I smoked. It started slowly and for reasons I cannot explain. I did not miss cigarettes. I did, though, miss smoking. I took a puff here, a puff there. I assured myself that it all meant nothing. Then I took to borrowing whole cigarettes. Still, I thought it meant nothing. Then, on a flight to Israel en route to Beirut, I bought my first pack in six years. Still, I thought it meant nothing. After all, there was a war on.
But I was hooked. I had become the person I used to loathe. I was the one in the smoking section of the plane. I was the one who was weak, who was stupid, who could not figure out the message on the side of the pack where it said, more or less, that smoking could kill you. I was the one who thought that other people got lung cancer or emphysema or heart disease.
I found that the world had changed during the six years that I had not smoked. It was full of people like me. Some people wanted to send me out of the room. People just straight out told me I was a jerk. I hung my head in shame. My son, who had forced me to quit smoking the first time, clearly thought less of me and, after a while, so did I. Sometimes I sought out the company of smokers, only there were precious few of them and they all wanted to quit. On short flights, I sat in the nonsmoking section. I tried to pass.
In fact, the only gratification I got was from cigarette ads. Only in the ads did smoking seem wonderful anymore. Only in the ads did people not bring up the little matter of lung cancer. In the ads, people did not laugh at you for smoking or look down at you for being weak or wonder, as my son did, why I would do something that was damaging to myself--and why, as long as I am at it, did I promise to quit and then not.
But now I have--again. I have been off the weed for four days now. It is easier this time than last, but not by any means easy. I miss cigarettes, find writing tough, am short of breath and have gained, just in the last four days, about 35 pounds. This time, though, I will stay off cigarettes forever and this time I will be more tolerant of people who cannot kick the habit.
If they want to kill themselves, it's no business of mine.