May 24, 2017:
This week marks three years since I had my last cigarette. I started smoking when I was seventeen, and could not quit until I was thirty-three. I have no idea how many times I tried to quit, and I certainly tried everything. In the end, e-cigs worked for me. Well, that’s not entirely true. Embarrassment is what worked.
I dedicated myself to smoking only e-cigs. That was embarrassing. They’re called e-cigs, after all. A little unnecessary light glows at the end of the stupid things to make you feel like you’re doing something, and all you’re really doing is puffing on a tiny fog machine laced with nicotine. E-cigs moved the smoking habit of which I was already ashamed out from behind the garage and into bathrooms. Sure, I could smoke them wherever, since they technically pose no harm to other people (a definitive conclusion on that has not yet been made, actually), but who in the hell actually wants to be seen blowing fog machine out of their lungs after sucking it out of a toy version of a cigarette? Many people do, I suppose, as there is now a vape shop on every street corner.
Glad I realized it was dumb before it became cool, otherwise I’d still be sucking in undetermined amounts of nicotine in a bathroom stall near you.
But, in the end, I caved to embarrassment and just gave it all up. I know that it would take only a single cigarette for me to fall off the wagon, so I’ve maintained a state of complete avoidance for three straight years.
I still can’t believe that it’s been three years. When I was trying to quit any of the other countless times, I felt like a single year was impossible. But I’ve been kicking ass for three years, going on the rest of my life.
I rule. And I feel damned good about it.
Quitting smoking was damned near impossible, and one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, no doubt about it. I have what feels like countless stories of laughter and frustration involved in my 16-year struggle to quit smoking.
File this one under “laughter.”
I once tried quitting by using nicotine patches. Before I tried them, someone warned me that they cause “the weirdest dreams you’ll ever have.” I didn’t believe this person, but I can confirm that they were oh so right. I’m not saying that this will happen to everyone who wears a nicotine patch, because I’ve administered them to countless patients in my nursing career, and none of them have mentioned their dreams. Even when I ask about them directly.
But, fourteen years ago, I used nicotine patches and immediately had some of the weirdest, most vivid dreams of my life. And I still remember every detail.
Two specific dreams still stick with me. They weren’t scary, awful, or anything other than strange. Just strange. And the only thing stranger than the dreams themselves is their staying power. After each of these dreams, I woke up and it was the first thing on my mind, as though it were an important emotional event from the previous day, like your own wedding.
In fact, I was getting married in the first dream.
The scene was strange enough. I was wearing a tuxedo while standing unnaturally still next to a priest. I stood at one end of a large, coliseum-sized hall, except that the ceilings were only as high as those in a typical house. There were lines of folding wooden chairs in front of me, assembled in the typical “bride-side, groom-side” fashion of a wedding, but these chairs were endless and filled with faceless, silent people I couldn’t identify. Slowly, silently, my bride-to-be started walking up the intensely long aisle toward me.
Silence. No music, no conversation, nothing. And the bride was my first prom date from my freshman year (I went to three proms in my high school career; I should have lettered if there were a letter for prom). This did not sit well with me in the dream, because I still remembered the fact that in real life, this girl had slept with my sister’s boyfriend, causing both relationships to end in a very sudden, startling, and vomit-inducing fashion. Long story short, this girl was a terrible, terrible slut, and my sister’s boyfriend was an ineffable loser (though we didn’t realize it at the time, both my sister and I were much better off without these people). But here I was, getting married to this terrible slut in this strange, silent venue, and I couldn’t be more indifferent. After an unnaturally long procession, she finally reached me, and we faced one another.
Then, the weirdest thing happened: nothing. Absolutely goddamned nothing. In my dream, nobody moved, no sound happened, no action occurred. This lasted for a few minutes. Think about that. Dreams are constant motion, action, movement, change…my dream paused completely for what felt like several minutes. I didn’t even look around the room. I just stared at the terrible slut, waiting for my brain to decide where to go from there. The unbridled imagination of my dreams hit the pause button.
The dream finally resumed after I reached into my lapel pocket and pulled out my vows. I didn’t read them aloud, I read them to myself. In my own mind, I recited what marriage to the terrible slut meant to me, and I made promises to maintain this union of souls. No one else heard a word of it. The maddening silence was maintained as I basically read in my dream.
Then I finished. And the dream paused again. Once again, nothing but nothing. And, since my vows weren’t actually recited, no sound had occurred in my dream for quite some time at this point.
Then, as though it were perfectly appropriate at this point in the ceremony, everyone stood up, got into a single-file line, and approached me and my presumably new bride to congratulate us. At a regular rate and rhythm, these strangers came up to me and congratulated me by shaking my hand and saying, “Congratulations, Mike. You must be so happy.” I knew none of these people, and they all spoke in the same tone. Nobody was congratulating the slut, because she was no longer there. She didn’t walk away or anything, she was just no longer there.
Finally, a face I knew approached. My dad stepped up to shake my hand, but I held up my hand and said, “Hold on, I have to see this.” I turned to my right, and in the wall was a set of sliding glass doors, like those that lead out to the back deck on someone’s house. On the other side of these sliding doors was an olympic-sized pool. On the opposite side of the pool was a line of wet cats, just sitting there, still and staring at me.
The dream paused for a few moments more. I just watched wet cats in stillness as time ticked away in my mind.
After what felt to be hours passed, one-by-one, the cats jumped into the pool, swam to the other side that was closer to me, and jumped out dry. As the dry cats jumped out of the pool, they formed a single-file line that walked through the opening in the siding glass doors and right by me on the opposite side of my receiving line of strangers. As each cat walked by me, I patted it on the head and counted out loud. When I got to seven, I looked back at my dad, who nodded at me approvingly. He said, “That’s a good sign, son.”
And that was when I woke up. End of dream.
My second dream was the very next night, and it was much shorter.
I was a bouncer at an enormous dance club. I walked through a dense crowd of people dancing, drinking and flirting all around me. I looked around at everyone, observing for signs of trouble. The walkie-talkie at my waist belt suddenly sprang to life.
“WE NEED YOU OUTSIDE, NOW! WE HAVE A SITUATION!”
I sprinted through the crowd, shoving people out of my way. I finally reached the front door and knocked it down with my shoulder, quite unnecessarily. I was greeted by what at first seemed to be a satisfying scene.
There was a group of other bouncers, and one of them, the one who called me on the radio, had a person in custody on his knees on the sidewalk. I saw this person had been subdued, and I felt a great relief, like a tornado had missed our farm or something.
The bouncer who had the person in custody said, “We finally got you. Any last words?” The bouncer was instantly recognizable to me as the actor Eriq La Salle of the old TV show “ER.”
The person he had in custody was Justin Timberlake. This made perfect sense to me somehow. Justin Timberlake answered Eriq La Salle’s question with a simple shake of his head.
“Alright, then. Let’s do this!” exclaimed ER’s Eriq La Salle.
Eriq La Salle then pulled a gun out from behind his back, held it to Justin Timberlake’s temple, and pulled the trigger. It all happened quite quickly. But there was one problem.
An empty chamber. Eriq La Salle’s eyes grew wide with fear and panic. I remember a wave of impending doom crashing down upon me.
Justin Timberlake let out a maniacal cackle, jumped up onto his feet, and did this strange, kinda Michael Jackson-like spinning dance move. He then extended his arm out to his right at about head-level and pointed straight down. Between his index finger and the ground appeared (from absolutely nowhere) a spinning cloud like the Tasmanian Devil cartoon produces, but instead of Taz appearing when the cloud came to a halt, an enormous person-sized grenade appeared.
There were many shouts of “Oh shit!” all around me, even from my own lips. We watched helplessly as N’Sync’s Justin Timberlake heaved this enormous grenade at the dance club behind us.
The grenade struck the building about halfway up and exploded. The explosion, however, only caused the middle layer of the club to explode, and the top of the club fell down and came to rest perfectly on the bottom portion of the club. The explosion split the sign that once carried the name of the club.
I don’t remember what the original name of the club was, but when the dust settled, what was left of the sign said one word.
Then I woke up. I think I quit nicotine patches later that day and went right back to smoking, as I should have.
But still, thank God I quit. And I celebrate anyone else who escapes the addiction of smoking. Quitting smoking is easily one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.
But at least there are some good stories…