I have this friend…
OK, so it’s me. Here’s the thing. I’ve been hesitant to discuss this with anyone for a number of reasons. Let’s start at the beginning… And since I still have friends ask me “Who’s that Harvey guy you keep promoting on Facebook?” I figure the beginning is the safest place to begin.
In the fall of 1995 Harvey left the bright lights of New Jersey bound for college and the bright lights of a cow pasture. Seriously, this college was in the middle of nowhere. And it was a small college, too. I really did not like my time there which was, mercifully, brief. I was homesick. I was borderline depressed. I was weirded out by how strange this place was. By the end of the first semester I had had it. I was ready to quit. I don’t remember feeling like a failure for it. I remember that I simply accepted it as a life’s lesson learned and I moved on. To where did I move, you ask? I returned to New Jersey where I began to discern a priestly vocation and completed my undergraduate degree as a seminarian.
There were a few good things to come out of those four months, though. I made a few friends. One of these friends was a young lady who would meet me again ten years later and become my wife. Glad we met years later because I wasn’t a drinker when I was in college and I never would have had the courage to ask her out without a few gin and tonic’s. I also picked up a habit that about 75% of the kids at this college do. I smoked my first cigarette.
I was 17 (very close to 18) and I was at a party. As mentioned, I didn’t drink. I was the lone sober body at this shindig. Everyone around me was smoking. You see, back then, kids, we didn’t know how bad it was for you. Wait, what? I suppose I should mention that long before I started I had a personality that was just begging for me to pick up a stick and light it on fire. I come from a family of smokers. Perhaps it’s genetic? Either way, I remember like it was yesterday as I took a Camel unfiltered cigarette from a friend’s pack on the coffee table in front of me, turned to my older sister (who was in her final semester at this school) and asked her for a light. She looked at me and said “I knew it! I win the bet!” Turns out she and another sister had a wager going on how long it would take me to start up.
I quickly got used to the technique. Before long I knew how to light it, how to drag it into my lungs, how to “breath” it out. I picked a brand. This was fun! I truly enjoyed it. And at $1.65 a pack (Virginia prices), even I could afford it and I had no job! Returning home at Christmas I eventually broke the news to my mom and dad. I figured at that point I would never keep a secret like that again and my habit was always out in the open from then on. Did I know it wasn’t the best thing for me? Yeah. Who doesn’t know that? Did I think it was the worst thing for me? No. I was young and generally in good health. Plus, I always had the attitude that I’m not actively trying to live forever. Any number of things could kill me.
These babies were there for me. Stress, anxiety, new job, quitting a job, death in the family, you name it. I always knew I could light up, suck it in, and let go. But I also always knew that I would quit one day. Remember that wife I met? Yeah, she tried to get me to quit before we got married. But I tried to convince her that it shouldn’t be this way. There would always be resentment, I argued. I still think I was right. And so I blissfully continued to puff away, enjoying every drag of smokey goodness one pack a day at a time. I did try to quit once but I gave up after a week. It wasn’t a good time for me. It was summer and, being a teacher, I had a lot of time on my hands. If you’re trying to quit the last thing you want is free time.
So why did I decide to do it this time? First let me tell you what there reasons were not. Yes, they’ve gotten to be ridiculously expensive and I hate that. I hate that smokers pay higher taxes. I hate that smokers are demonized in general. I still contend that it’s not the worst thing in the world. How ironic it is that people are flocking to Colorado for legalized weed but the same people look down their noses upon the tobacco smoker. I hate that they’ve pushed us out of restaurants and out of bars. If you don’t want to be around it, go somewhere else; work somewhere else. No one owes you anything. I hate the looks you get, the leering death stares. I really hate the fake coughs as people walk by forty feet or more away from you as if to say “that thing you’re smoking is making me ill.” Grow up. You’re nowhere near me. I think by now I’ve established that I hate when people feel it’s not only OK but somehow their moral duty to ridicule smokers because those same people prefer not to smoke. I might not like your perfume or I might think you’re ugly. I would never say it to your face.
No, the reason I’m doing it now (and hopefully for good) is because of one word: sacrifice. I want to offer this gift to God, to my wife, to my kids. Simply put, it’s time. There are so many things I could use this time for, the money, the energy. Every time I’m not lighting up I could be saying a prayer. But more to the point, I know it will make the most important person in my life happy and that’s enough for me to at least try.
So I set a date (last Monday) and I bought a box of patches. So far, so good. I’ve only noticed a few occasions where I stood up from what I was doing to head outside; but I quickly realized it was only out of habit and not because I really wanted one. I’ve been chewing gum too. It’s all helping. I’ve definitely been praying. “God help me remain calm.” That’s been crucial. A lot of it is mind over matter. I’ve simply had to will myself to be OK with this. I will not take anything out on my wife or kids.
And so far I’ve only told a few people. Like I said, I’m really not interested in hearing from people about all the nasty things they thought of me before but were afraid to say. I’m sure there are some who thought I was disgusting or smelled or set a bad example. I don’t need nor do I want such people around me — not right now at least. I’m a week into this. My wife and kids have been great. My buddy Grady has been incredibly supportive as has another good friend, Gary. One of my sisters knows. She quit seven months ago and I figured if she could go that long, so could I.
So there you have it. Harvey’s a quitter. I wonder how my personality will change because of this. It’s been 20 years and I’m a little scared. I hope I can do it. I hope I can stay strong. I hope it’s worth it. Kittens, if I’m still with you when you’re old enough to read this, then maybe it was. Your daddy loves you. And Mrs. Harvey, you know I love you more than anything. I love you enough to change for you.