A long, long time ago I smoked a cigarette. Actually part of a cigarette. More like a couple puffs. I wanted to be cool. Everyone was doing it and at the time I guess I was a "jump off the bridge" kind of gal. And to be fair, cigarettes and cancer were not synonymous at the time.
I was in college. On summer break. Meeting friends for cocktails at a trendy bar by the beach. It was way cool. I was not. Not by half. I've always been that person who is friends with everyone. My philosophy is: I like everybody I meet unless they give me reason not to. The people I was meeting at the trendy bar were some of the cooler people I went to school with. They were incredibly cool and sophisticated and fast. I am fairly certain I was none of those things. I'm pretty sure they wanted me around mostly because I made them laugh.
There was only one problem. All of them smoked. I did not. I had dallied in the art of cigarette holding once in high school. A friend and I sat in her father's home office and lit cigarettes and pretended to smoke. We took one puff to light the sticks and then ended up trying to see who could keep their cigarette lit and the ashes from falling off the longest. We wanted to look like we knew what we were doing. My friend had read somewhere in a contraband copy of her oldest sister's Cosmopolitan magazine that it was sexy to learn the correct way to light a man's cigarette in a bar. Before you get too crazy, it was the mid-70's, and cigarettes hadn't become the devil incarnate yet. Our lesson lasted for a total of one cigarette each. My friend's mom came bursting into the room spraying a can of air freshener and opening all the windows saying how stuffy it was in there. She never said a word about all the smoke or the pack of cigarettes, minus two, sitting on the desk. We got the message.
So, that night as I got ready to go meet my friends I bowed to peer pressure and stopped at the store to buy a pack of Virginia Slims. If I was going to smoke it wasn't going to be the Tarryton 100's or Winston's that my dad smoked. It had to be a girly cigarette. I almost didn't do it. I felt like a criminal. I was not a smoker. I was not that girl. I was the Catholic school girl - Candy Striper - Good Girl - who didn't do things like that. For one night I decided to be bad. I was going to smoke. Or maybe just pretend to.
I opened the pack of Virginia Slims and pulled a few of the cigarettes out and threw them in the trash on my way out of the store. It had to look like I had had a few on my way there or smoked all the time when I pulled the pack of cigarettes out of my purse in front of the cool ones. I drove on the freeway thinking the whole time that maybe I should smoke at least one cigarette before I got there, just for practice. I had heard from many people that their first cigarette left them coughing and sputtering. I didn't want that to happen. I couldn't bring myself to do it and waited until the last minute (in the parking lot of the trendy bar) to light up. I lit that puppy up and took a nice long drag burning halfway down the cigarette as I sucked in all the smoke. Never one to do anything halfway, I held it for a minute and tried to blow it out of my nose like I had seen my dad do many times. I ended up coughing it out instead. I took another long drag and finished off the cigarette. I felt really dizzy and a little sick. Next thing I remember was waking up to the sound of a horn blaring and my car seat on fire. I had passed out and my face had landed on the car horn button. I looked down. I had dropped the cigarette between my legs onto the cloth driver's seat. It burned a hole clear through the velour and was still smoking. I panicked and jumped out of the car. I grabbed my sweater and beat the seat until there was no sign of the lit cigarette anywhere except for the gaping silver dollar sized hole staring back at me. I grabbed my purse and tossed my car keys to the valet who had been watching me curiously from his post and ran inside. Everyone was there. Cool as ever. Smoking. It's a wonder I could even see them for all the smoke in the bar. It was like walking into a giant fireplace. My pals waved at me and I made my way to the corner table and sat down. The cocktail waitress came over and took my order. I wanted a Shirley Temple so badly, with lots of cherries, but I ordered a plain 7-Up instead. No booze for me. I was still feeling light-headed from that cigarette. I also wasn't 21 yet, but my sister and I looked exactly like each other and her I.D. came in handy at times like this.
My 7-Up arrived and I took a sip. And another. I tossed the straw onto the cocktail napkin and sucked the rest of it down. My throat was dry, my eyes were burning from all the smoke and my stomach wasn't feeling so great. I hadn't eaten all day so I could fit into my super tight ( lay on the floor and have your sister pull the zipper up with your dad's wrench) and - oh, so sexy - Gloria Vanderbilt's with the swan on the pocket. I decided that 7-Up and cigarettes were not a good combo meal. I excused myself and headed for the lady's room. I spent a fair amount of time in there. Most of the night. I never talked to my friends. I never even really saw my friends. Someone came to check on me and to bring me my purse. Another friend came in to tell me the bar was closing. I made my way to the parking lot and fresh air. I got in my car which smelled like an ash tray and drove home, crawled into bed and swore I would never smoke another cigarette again for the rest of my life.
The next morning my dad was sitting at the breakfast table with my pack of Virginia Slims lined up in front of his coffee cup alongside his more manly cigarettes. I sat down next to him and pretended like I hadn't seen them. He looked right at me, called me by my full name, and pointed at the pack of cigarettes waiting for an explanation. I looked over at him and said, "I wouldn't smoke those in public if I was you."