Before I was born, I was on nicotine. My dad chain smoked—I don’t blame him—it was a cultural norm. My mom grew up in smoke in England. Pregnant with me, she didn’t notice my father’s cigarette smoke—I don’t blame her either.
I craved and satisfied my addiction it without knowing. All I had to do was walk into the house or get into the family car and breathe. Until I went away to college in ‘67, I had never held a cigarette. Then I found myself hanging around dorm rooms of chain smokers, just breathing it in. The moment I realized what I was doing, I pointed at a red pack, “Give me one of those.” A month later, I was a chain smoker too. My biggest expense was cigarettes.
New Year’s Eve, 1974, I quit. I still have smoking dreams. I wake and think I should be seeing the burning end, the trailing smoke; a panic dream to come out of: thinking I must have dropped the cherry among the sheets. Panic can place a memory. I have them all the time.
I also smoked pot—started in ’67—so I weaned off cigs kinda easy (except for those cigarette dreams). I quit pot in ’86 after I lied to my daughter when she told me I smelled like a skunk. No smoking anything until 2003—old classmate visiting, she talked me into it. Now I smoke it a few times a month.
I don’t like the potent kind of pot we have these days, the kind that might get me out in the street yelling at cars with my panties on my head. I like the lightweight stuff. I want the easy coherent high that makes me want to eat a piece of fruit and write an essay. I like the act of rolling the joint around my fingers, using matches, cupped hands, getting comfortable in a favorite chair, tapping ash, relaxing, anticipating the smooth mindset. I take a puff and get the poison-satisfaction of smoking; inhaling smoke, blowing out a stream, watching it billow.
I’m addicted to the physical act of smoking and I’m more afraid of nicotine products than I am of cannabis agriculture. I choose the lesser of the two evils, the altered state, so I can smoke. Most of my days I don’t smoke. However, every day I do crave a smoke. Asleep or awake. Every day.
The reason for abstention is freedom. But they got me young, got me before I was born. It’s not on them. It’s on me to abstain. I bargain with my freedom. I could do without the high, but the act of smoking—hot smoke burn, two finger hold—still has, still has me.
As a boy, Richard C. Rutherford learned storytelling from coon hunters who whittled and spit, recalling moon phase, moisture, and wind (dry as a popcorn fart), black-and-tan cold-trailers, rattle-headed pups, and blue-tick tree dogs who could set down under an old oak and just go to preaching. He has daughters, so he’s a feminist. His stories can be found in Hypertext, Fiction Southeast, Red Fez, Catamaran, The Writing Disorder, Stone Coast Review, Visitant, and Cardinal Sins, among others. He has a large collection of stories.