Days Without a Cigarette: 35.369444
Days Without Nicotine: 0
Dollars Saved: $102.96
Time Saved: 50 hours, 6 minutes
When I was seventeen years old, my brother spent a year as an exchange student in Japan. A couple of weeks before we was scheduled to ship out, somebody noticed some problem with his paperwork and because of the short notice, he had to go to some state office to take care of it in person. We lived in South Georgia at the time, some five hours from the capital.
So I agree to ride along with him and share a bit of the driving on the ten hour round trip, on the condition that he buys me a pack of cigarettes on the way. It’s not that I needed his money, mind you, I was just still too young to buy them myself. And my nonsmoker (and pretty health conscious) brother wasn’t normally inclined to buy them for me. But in this instance it was either buy my smokes, or make the drive with nothing but country music and gospel stations to keep him company.
Anyway, early afternoon we get to the place in Atlanta. It’s on the fifteenth floor of a skyscraper and our hick asses are pretty impressed with an elevator that goes all the way up to the thirties. So we ride up to the office, he files whatever it was he has to file, and we enter into the ‘sit and wait’ period of the proceedings. He was told to come back in a couple of hours and everything would be ready.
Of course, back in the halcyon days of 1993, buildings like that had areas you could smoke in. So eventually we wound up hanging out at this lounge downstairs, where my brother can look down his nose at my burning cigarette. He’s the type that jogs every morning and goes to the gym every night, so he starts bragging about how much better his stamina is than mine, even though I’ve only been smoking for a few years.
And that gives us the classic formula of a challenge plus two brothers plus two hours to kill. So somehow or another we landed on a bet where we were gonna race one another up the stairs of this building. All thirty-whatever stories. If I made it up first, he had to buy me a pack of cigarettes with his money. If he won, he got to throw away the rest of the pack I had.
Well, I’ll shortcut through the suspense and admit that I wouldn’t be telling you this story if I lost. In fact, my brother never actually made it to the top. I got up there, smoked a cigarette, waited a few minutes, then left a penny, a nickel, and a dime on the top step in case he doubted I actually made it to the all the way. Then I headed back down to meet him. Eventually I found him seven or eight floors down, no longer giving two fucks about any bets.
But I was always that guy. I was always that annoyingly fit smoker. I hiked up mountains while smoking. Really pissed off the gym rat tourists struggling their way up a trail when I pass by them with a cigarette hanging off my lip. When I lived in New York I annoyed the shit out of my friends by always jogging up the stairs when I was leaving the subway station. I’d jog up and wait at the top for them to crest the escalator. And, of course, I’d be smoking a cigarette when they got there.
I bring this all up because a lot of people have asked if I’m starting to see the benefits of quitting in my lung capacity or my stamina. And the truth is that I haven’t. I don’t start coughing when I laugh as often, but other than that, I haven’t noticed any of the health benefits giving up cigarettes is supposed to give me. But that’s not to say they aren’t there. I could probably jog a lot farther now than I could have six weeks ago, I’d just have to jog to find that out so I may never know.
But honestly, just knowing how far I’ve come is reward enough. Quitting cigarettes is a reminder that my will is often stronger than I give it credit for. It’s a reminder that I can still surprise myself. And that beats the hell out of a few more flights of stairs.