As a closet smoker it is easier said than done. Often times we envy those individuals who walk out of the store and light up. They are not bothered by the dirty looks. They don’t care who sees them smoke. For some of us the most public place has been the dive bar. The dive bar that is dark and smokey with only a spotlight on the singer or piano player. And if there happen to be someone in the bar you knew smoking; well, you were able to make a friend.
There are many of us who even hide it from our kids and spouses. Everyone has a different reason for being a closet smoker. For us, it’s that we don’t want to hear the lectures. We know smoking kills. We know it is addictive. We know there are smoking cessations aides available. But, dammit, just let us have this one little pleasure all to ourselves. So, yes, for the sake of image, we keep our vice in the closet and not in public.
I was 12 years old when I went off to camp for the first time. My counselor’s name was Gabby. She was 19 years old, reddish brown hair, freckles and a great smile. She was very caring, funny and smart. There were 10 of us girls in her cabin.
The goal of the camp was to help girls understand the changes in their bodies, their emotions and maturing into a young lady. Each night we focused on different areas such as friendships, the opposite sex, careers, self esteem, emotions, etc.
On the last night Gabby woke us all up at midnight and had us sit in a circle in the middle of the cabin. She did not turn on any lights. She had a candle in front of her so it wasn’t completely dark. She reminded us about the different topics discussed throughout the week. Then she said, “There is only one way to get all your needs met, to give you everything your body and soul desires and I guarantee that this is a one way street, you will never go back”.
It was quiet. No one said a word. We could only hear each other breathing which was erratic due to nervousness and the uncertainty we were all feeling. No one was really scared. Gabby truly befriended each one of us. We loved her and trusted her. We kept our eyes on her the whole time. She pulled a cigarette out from her front pocket, lit it with the candle, her cheeks caved in, she pulled the cigarette away from her mouth, her lips were rounded and we could see a little bit of the smoke in the candlelight, she inhaled it in and exhaled it into the air. Our eyes moved away from Gabby and followed the smoke.
Most of us had seen someone smoke a cigarette on television or hold a cigarette in an ad, but none of us had ever been in the presence of someone smoking. She took another drag. She smoked the whole cigarette. She pulled another one out.
She gave Robin the lit cigarette, Robin mimicked Gabby, Robin handed it over to Debbie, then Cassie, then Ally to Susan to Michelle to Stephanie to me to Glenda to Denise and finally back to Gabby. Most of us coughed and sputtered. She did it again with three more cigarettes. She pulled out a new pack of Virginia Slims and placed it in the middle of our circle.
Gabby said, “It is your choice now, you don’t have to smoke, but you can take a cigarette and smoke it if you want”. Yes, every single one of us thought we were exercising free will in getting up and pulling a cigarette out of the pack, lighting it and smoking it on our own, not having to share. There was a big white cloud meandering all around us. She blew out the candle, we all went to bed and fell asleep.
I’ve never told anyone how I got started smoking, until now. No one knows I smoke.
In the 80’s, it was the golden age of smoking. Restaurants had smoking sections, grocery stores had ash trays in the aisles, and young men and women explored smoking with relative freedom, as long as they didn’t get caught.
As a minor, you could buy a pack of cigarettes out of the vending machine at a Food-4-Less if the store manager wasn’t looking, and of course everyone had relatives who were careless where they left their cigarette pack when the kids were around.
During this time, young smokers were quite common and not nearly as frowned upon as they are today, though many did their best to try discourage underage smoking. Cool kids carried cigarettes in their purse, or rolled up in a t-shirt sleeve, and never had to worry what rude comments may be directed their way from random strangers on the street.
Those days are over, and in recent years tolerance has been replaced with disdain for all smokers while many other equally destructive behaviors that were unheard of back then have come to be accepted. As long as that is the case, we will always have our little closet to escape to, unless of course we offend someone while we’re in there.
My office sits directly behind the receptionists desk. From my window, I can see the entire lobby area, including the front door. The woman who sits at the desk near the door always seems to be on the go. Right now she has a ream of paper and a cordless phone in her hand. She greets a customer and then she’s gone.
The phone charger on her desk beeps once before the call is answered from somewhere else. A moment later, she is back at her desk, spritzing herself with a bottle of cheap body spray and eating lifesavers by the roll.
She takes two more calls from her desk and then walks past my office door.
“It sure is a crazy day,” She says, before disappearing to the back with her phone in hand. She always seems to be on the go…
My First Cigarette
It was a typical Mid-western late-summer afternoon and I found myself staring at a closed cupboard door in the kitchen. I had just woken up from a nap with my head still swimming in sleep it was difficult for me to focus, both visually and mentally. I was home alone. With the lights off it almost felt like I wasn’t even there. The sheer curtains that hung in the window rhythmically clung to the window screen and then came streaming into the open space above the kitchen table as if I were standing in the very lung of the house that sporadically huffed and puffed. It was quiet. A few summer sound effects filtered through the cool dim kitchen but they seemed thousands of miles away. Maybe I wasn’t even awake. Maybe I was dreaming. Maybe I was sleepwalking.
All of a sudden I realized why I was at this cupboard and I was scared. I was about to do something that that would change my life forever. I was about to make one of the biggest decisions of my life. I was about to make the biggest mistake of my life and yet I felt like I had no control, no choice. I felt like I had to do this. And so I did.
In this cupboard on the top shelf just out of sight but just within reach was the last pack of cigarettes my father had bought before his sudden death about three years earlier.
I held the pack in my hand and thought about the times I had fetched my dad’s smokes for him. Or the few times I was given a dollar to ride my bike a few blocks to the gas station to buy a 75 cent pack of cigarettes and 25 cents worth of candy. Of course that only happened when my mother was not home and my dad was too busy or lazy to walk to the gas station himself. As I study the pack I realize it’s open. “He smoked his last cigarette from this exact pack.” I mumble under my breath. I held the opening to my nose and deeply inhaled the sharp musty scent of stale tobacco and grinned. I fished a cigarette out of the pack and carefully, gently laid the pack back on the top shelf as if I were returning a fledgling to its nest. My mother didn’t keep matches in the house, and my dad’s Zippo had long been liberated by my sister, so I was forced to get a light from the gas range. With the cigarette placed carefully between my lips I turned the knob and could hear the rush of gas between the clicks of the ignition. The flame zipped on in a quick ring of fire and I lowered my head to light up. The cigarette sizzled as it ignited and I squinted while I drew in the smoke because some of it reached up and stabbed me in the eye. I immediately choked and sputtered as my lungs rejected the acrid fumes of that nasty little stale cigarette and I thought I might pass out. I took another puff and wondered if I was addicted. I heard that you could get hooked on cocaine or heroine after doing it just once and I thought tobacco might be the same. I felt like I had no control. I didn’t want to smoke; I had to. It was a need. I needed nicotine. On my third puff I didn’t choke and I began to relax as the receptors in my brain started to hum. I was quickly adjusting to becoming a smoker when I thought for an instant that this was wrong. I mean just a few years earlier I was begging my father to stop smoking and was crushed when I learned that my sisters smoked. I hadn’t been around smoke since my dad died and now all of sudden as if through some weird combination of destiny and Voodoo I was having nicotine cravings. While I was philosophizing I had unnoticeably smoked the entire cigarette. Realizing my mother would be home soon, I lit another smoke and started looking for the Lysol.
While we are closet smokers, we do not generally smoke in the closet. It’s one thing to take out the garbage and sneak a smoke, but, what about at work or in public places? Do you go behind the dumpster and smoke? Do you go in your car and smoke? Going in the car and smoking is difficult because of the smell. It was always great to hang out in a dive bar in the dark and smoke. No one paid attention, there was too much smoke. There are people who walk out of a store and light up. Not us closet smokers. Closet smokers look for the most isolated place to smoke. Although, there is the group of smokers down the street at another building to join. Sometimes hiding in plain site works really well. Have you become an expert at finding places? How do you find them?
We’ve been closet smokers for many years. It’s always a challenge to hide the smell of the smoke. One of us lived in California and made great use of the lemon tree. A fresh lemon removed all smell of smoke off the hands. It was great.
These days we rely on Febreze. What a wonderful concoction. It gets rid of the smell. We use it all the time.
We’ve tried candles. They aren’t very reliable.
Oh, what we do to light up and not let anyone know about it.
What do you use to hide the smell of smoke? Do you make it a game? Have you found the perfect combination that clears the air, takes the smell off the clothes, and gives you minty fresh breath?
Of course, smoking outdoors isn’t as difficult in getting rid of the smell as smoking indoors is. However, sometimes smoking indoors is necessary. There are certain occasions that call for smoking inside. Thanks goodness for ceiling fans. They help clear the air.
Oh good, everyone is asleep. I can sneak a smoke right now.
Closet smokers do not announce that they are going on their break. While others join the pack to the break room, a closet smoker will quietly slip out. A closet smoker disappears and then suddenly appears at their desk. Other signs of a closet smoker are the numerous packs of life savers, tic tacs, and gum along with aromatic lotion. My habit is to hit the bathroom after sneaking out for the smoke. What do you do or what have you seen?
We will give you one. We know you are out there just like us. We are educated, professional, philanthropic, law-abiding citizens with families. And we smoke. No one knows it. The taboo of smoking has shoved us in the dark shadows away. We all know that smokers are fun and enjoy socializing. We decided to reach out. Let us know who you are. Share your stories. When was the first time you smoked?