One of my first pieces of fiction writing for the blog.
He was full-fledged now. No leading in. He was officially an addict. A two-pack-of-Nicoderm-CQ-a-day-yellow-finger-nailed-patch-wearing junkie. He had tried his best, he really had. He had desperately wanted to quit and still to this day wanted to quit. But he was exhausted. Nothing could take the edge off quite like that first drag of a cigarette. But no, he couldn’t. Not now. Not after 46 days, 7 hours, and 15 minutes of not having a cigarette. That’s the thing about addicts, no matter how long it’s been since their last hit or fix or whatever it is that you wanna call it, they can always tell you when it was. It had been so long since his last drag, but he was still trying his best to resist the cigarette’s sweet siren call. He’d used it all, the gum, the patch, even hypnotherapy, a desperate cry for help that had made him feel ridiculous in addition to putting him out a good 150 dollars; but, nothing seemed to cut it. There was always something more, something just under the surface, an itch that needed to be scratched, a problem that couldn’t simply be chewed away. He needed to feel the warmth of the filter pressed between his dry lips. He needed to inhale, to suck life from the cigarette and exhale the promise of a robotic drone of a voice and an early grave. That was how he had tricked himself to quitting in the first place: that voice. Not so much the fear of death, that had always seemed an irrational fear to him. Death was inevitable. He had always felt this way, however it was his fear of the tracheotomy that had sworn him off cigarettes. The thought of the knife cutting into his throat, the scar that would never quite heal. Those were the things that scared him. Not this antiquated idea of a shadowy figure that would come to pay a visit all too soon, forcing him to leave this world even sooner. But fear as a tactic had only worked for so long.
In times of despair, he would often recall fondly the last time the sweet filter had graced his lips. He allowed himself this, and only this, the memory of his last cigarette. The ash from the tip of the cigarette had danced its way to the ground where it lay, writhing as it was devoured by the lifeless colors of autumn. The cigarette from which it had fallen dangled from between the bony knuckles of his hand. Its orange glow grew intense for a brief moment, a sort of S.O.S., a cry for him to inhale before it met the fate of its sons and daughters, among the cool wet leaves of the crisp fall night. He had raised the cigarette to his lips, not knowing it would be the last time he would do so. He had sucked in, breathing life into the treacherous cancer stick, which would undoubtedly be his end. He had to stop, he told himself. It was becoming an addiction, he thought. He scoffed at the mention of the word “becoming”. Becoming would’ve been ages ago, he joked. This was, if even in the stages of becoming, the last stages, he told himself. It had transformed since then, since this imaginary phase of “becoming an addiction.” Addiction seemed like far too sweet a word to describe this thing that controlled his body. It wasn’t simply addiction that made his body ache with desire.
Now, weeks later, that dismal fall night merely a memory, he knew there was something worse than addiction. Although weeks ago he couldn’t imagine anything more painful than this feeling that had grabbed hold of his body and wouldn’t seem to let go. He needed even more desperately now to break free from this new feeling, the sickening feeling of withdrawal. They went hand in hand, addiction and withdrawal; or, rather, withdrawal just confirmed his status as an addict.
The worst part though, the real kick in the teeth, was those commercials for solutions to problems like his, like commercials for the patch or some new kind of gum to control his cravings. He’d tried them all before, but each time he saw those goddamn commercials he thought there might be some kind of hope, something that he’d missed the first time around. There wasn’t. It was always the same bullshit, pre-packaged and sold by some leggy blond who’d probably never smoked a cigarette in her life but only eaten them to burn holes in her stomach to control her weight. The very same falsehoods he had hoped would offer some sort of salvation always brought him back to that autumn night that reminded him of that sweet taste made all the sweeter by his own resolve to not give in. It was tempting him, this memory, a harmless image in his mind that brought him closer to relapse… but no, he couldn’t think like that. He was determined not to. Instead, he thought about those smiling faces in the ads that had brought him to this current state of frustration. The GQ-esque man with silvering hair, always smiling with glistening white teeth, giving a thumbs up or some other generic sign of approval. The successful business woman in her “classy” beige pant suit, her hands full of non-descript paperwork, gazing up towards her blond highlighted bangs, her eyes in a roll as if to say “Smoking’s the last thing on my mind.” He looked at these faces and recognized nothing familiar in them, nothing even human in their eyes. This man, that woman, these people were nothing like him. He knew because he had often searched for a likeness as he gazed in the mirror day in, day out. He’d hoped to god to be greeted by the man’s charming smile or the woman’s exuberant eyes or at least something like it. Yellowing teeth he could never seem to get clean no matter how hard or how often he brushed, bloodshot eyes from yet another night struggling in a losing battle against Mr. Sandman, these were the things that stared him in the face every night and every morning. These faces in these ads, they weren’t him. They weren’t anybody. They were a mockery of his struggle, of every addict’s struggle. The man in the ad’s blinding white teeth seemed to ridicule him as he glanced in the mirror, turning his gaze from the model’s shimmering teeth to his own that had grown yellow despite his brushing three times a day and frequent visits to the store for yet another unsuccessful whitening kit that turned his teeth simply a more pale yellow than the previous shade.
To him this was more than about the ad, it was greater than corrective dentistry, it was a sign of failure. It was a stain on his record. He struggled with this; he fought the idea that it was simply him, that it was his fault, that he had failed. He hadn’t.
He looked up from his cup of black coffee. He stared at the clock through his oily strands of hair. He glanced up at the night shift waitress, standing under the unforgiving light of the diner. He nodded to her to refill his half-empty drink. She ambled to his place at the counter. She poured his coffee. He looked outside at the black of night. He clutched at his empty breast pocket.
“Christ, I need a cigarette.”