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Fourth Annual 29th 2006-05-31

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Diaryland

11:48pm. It'll be my birthday in a few minutes, you know.

I'll be 32 on Wednesday, the 31st of May, born right around the time that Londoners will be getting home from work, and Californians will be having their first fag break of the day. Except, because it's California, they'll eschew the cigarette, and head over to some oxygen bar or something healthy like that. Honestly, Californians don't know how to have any fun. Actually, as of tonight at midnight, neither does Toronto.

I was never a terribly heavy smoker. I had my first one at 17, and I think I was seventeen and a half when I had my second one. It kind of made me sleepy, and I didn't feel so hot afterwards, but 17-year olds are notoriously stupid, so I kept at it. Besides, the smokers were friendlier than the non-smokers.

They had these things back then that we called 'poverty packs': packets of 10 of the short-length cigarettes favoured more by boys than girls, (which may have something to do with size fears, but is more likely to be something about looking awful with a manicure). Anyway. I think it was months before I bought my first one, and it may have lasted me a couple of very stale weeks.

When I was nineteen and a half, I started dating a nice Italian boy who drove an '86 Daytona and smoked du Mauriers. With him, I developed a fairly paltry two-pack-a-week habit, though mostly, it was something to do when we weren't making out. It's not like we had much more than that in common. Besides, those were also my journalism days, and I think Managing Your Finances 101: Smoking and Drinking on a Journalist's Salary was offered as a second year elective.

I never really got beyond the two or three pack a week stage, and about 5 years ago, I brought it down to one a week again. I enjoy a cigarette with a drink, or during conversation under the sun or under the moon, but I was never an inside smoker, and I very rarely smoked alone.

A year ago this month, I was in London and I bought a carton of Berkeleyís at Heathrow. In August, I was in Iowa, and I bought a carton of Capri Menthols, those super long, super thin, fabulous cigarettes that do look fantastic with a manicure, especially when you're wearing heels and flirting and holding them just so. Anyway, my rate of smoking was slow enough that I didn't have to buy Canadian cigarettes after each trip, as the foreigners lasted a good long time. Then, my brother died.

Lord, that sentence is like the preface for every bit of my life now, isn't it? Then, my brother died. The only thing I remember about those first few weeks, aside from the inimitable pain, was the crying jags, and the amount of time I spent on the porch, inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, exhaling, and asking the ashes why why why inhale exhale why.

Two weeks later, I was in San Diego, forever with a lighter in front of my face, clutching my slim friend in every hand-waving Ė and theyíre all hand-waving Ė conversation I had. I was forever on that balcony that surrounded our reserved area, forever blowing out a plume of smoke in what I imagined was a sophisticated manner but was more than likely just gross.

From October to December, I smoked more than I ever had before. Every meal ended with one or two or six. Every night had me outside, regardless of the weather, staring at the sky and blowing smoke at God. I was starting to smell it in my hair Ė something that usually only happened if Iíd spent the evening in a smoky club, chatting up the guys in the band and holding my cigarette just so.

In December, I went to London and got booked into a non-smoking room. My friends are smokers, I told myself, as I did something Iíd never done before, and got myself re-assigned to a smaller, less luxurious room that had the benefit of an ashtray. I didnít worry too much though, because Iíd never stayed in a hotel in London that didnít have a window that wouldnít open. Obviously, thereís a first time for everything, because that window was locked tight. Not a wisp of decent oxygen Ė hard to come by in London anyway - was getting in.

Oh, poppets. It was so gross. I knew Iíd had enough when my shoes Ė my beautiful, beautiful red suede shoes Ė started to carry their own special, carcinogenic scent. General health? Who cares! But, my shoes! Thatís just wrong!

By the time I got home, I was sick, I was tired and I was just so done with eating my menthols for breakfast. Firstly, I was completely grossed out, and made sure I sealed everything I owned in a giant bag with two boxes of baking soda on the bottom for a couple of days. Then and only then, did I send it all to the cleaners. I mean, really. Did you expect me to take it all smelling like that? Mostly, though, I was just so over it. Three months, two trips away, a few broken rules, and more burned out lighters than I could ever imagine; Frankie was still gone.

After that, in a very lazy, very non-purpose kind of way, my smoking eased back down to the strictly social patterns Iíd always employed. Of course, because I was in no mood to be social, the carton of Berkeleyís Iíd bought at Heathrow on the way home lasted until April. I bought a couple of packs of Capriís in New York in April, and they lasted until the beginning of May. And then I just didnít buy anymore.

God knows, this is more of an opportunity-knocks kind of thing, rather than any kind of firm decision on my part. And honestly, I really shouldnít have that much trouble, should I? Even at my worst, when I would sit down purposely to smoke my face off, I still donít think I hit the amount that the average daily smoker takes in. And honestly, I donít have so much trouble Ė not during the weekdays, anyway. But there are moments at night, when the sky is clear and you can see the stars, and I think about sitting a spell, flicking with my right and twirling a lighter with my left. The weekends Ė the social ones that arenít so distant from each other anymore Ė offer new bits of fidgets and regret. Last Saturday, I went out to dinner with friends to celebrate my impending birthday. The food was fantastic, and the wine was plentiful. Two of the party were smokers, and when they excused themselves to go outside for a wee one, I longed to go with them, because it was just the perfect time, the kind of moment when I knew that a cigarette would taste just right, fit just so.

There are actually a lot more of those moments than I realized, you know? Especially now, with the heat of summer upon us, when it is so easy to spend long, humid evenings on a patio somewhere, sipping chilled Chablis and noting the time only by the number of red-tipped sticks left in the matchbox.

Am I quitting? Yeah, I suppose. Will I ever have another one? Probably. Iím nothing if not self-aware. But Iím hoping that that other one is really just one and only one, and I hope itís far enough in the future that I can get through this bit of bramble free and clear. But Iím not even going to think that far. Itís enough, for now, that I had my last one several weeks ago, and am refraining from buying any. Tomorrow, Iíll hopefully refrain a little more, and add another day since my last one.

I turned 32 a few minutes ago. And so, I start another year. And another day.

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