Keep breathing

Today is all about air. I can't seem to get enough of it. I keep gulping and gulping huge deep breaths but I never seem to get full. It's such a relief today -- the idea of smoking a cigarette is disgusting, instead of interesting or inviting. I actually do NOT want to smoke a cigarette. I'm pretty sure I didn't want to yesterday, but I was simply feeling the urge intensely, to the point of distraction. I was watching people smoke today on my way to the gym. I didn't envy them. I really meant what I said about never wanting to have a first day of no smoking again. It truly is the hardest, although there are moments when the idea of NEVER having another cigarette sends me spiraling into despair. Fortunately I found a perfect solution to this particular nastiness. I visualize a foul, poisonous creature that's trying to kill me. So I'm fighting back. It's a fight to the death. I must kill that little sonofabitch before he kills me. And if I keep breathing and I keep fighting, I can get through this. I imagine a day will come when I won't even think about smoking or cigarettes or other smokers. At least I hope that day comes. But I won't hold my breath.


I can't do it, but I will do it

It's only been eleven days. It feels like years. It feels like I lost something I really needed. How crazy is this? I know I've quit smoking and I made a vow that it's forever -- I'm never ever going to have another cigarette. Ever. Not one. But I keep feeling like if I just wait a little longer, it'll be okay to have a smoke. The urge, the drive, the god awful NEED, is really almost too much. I'm whining. But other quitters will understand.


Stories told by flowers: New York

I was thinking about how to choose what to write about. Everyone has oodles of stories, lots of things happen in a person's life. My sister had coffee with Jim Morrison after a Doors concert in Phoenix, one of my friends moved to Dublin just because she loves Ireland (and Guinness) so much, another friend was living in Japan teaching hip hop, and my brother drives all over the southwest finding new butterfly species -- see what I mean? Really interesting stories.

I have so many photographs of flowers, must be because I love flowers -- in my garden, in the forest, in parks, in my neighbors' yard, doesn't matter, I just love flowers. So I've taken lots of pictures. There are stories here.

These were taken early, early in the morning at the New York City flower market. Many years ago, the fresh flower market stretched for blocks and blocks, now it's down to just the one block. Nevertheless, it's incredible when the delivery trucks are being unloaded: Thousands and thousands of flowers, all colors, all shapes and sizes.

I watched the other early risers making purchases -- flower shop owners, florists for the big hotels, and regular folks like me. I couldn't get enough of the smells; and they were so wonderful mixing together with the coffee shops on the block. Sensory delights, mmmmm.

Kim and I go to New York once in a while to visit Allison and Carl. We've been there in the summer and in the winter. Someday I'd like to see New York in the springtime. Allison says it's really pretty then and in the fall too.


For always

I graduated from high school in 1966 and, at the end of the summer, started college at Arizona State University. My best friend Cyndi and I had already started hanging around with a group of college kids we had met in our senior year. At the beginning of the school year we attended parties with these friends and that’s where we both met Kim. Cyndi and Kim started dating and I was dating Kim’s best friend Ross. So we were a foursome. And we were hippies; it was, after all, 1966. Ross and I lived together for a while during that year but eventually we went our separate ways. I moved in with Cyndi and he moved in with Kim. Then Cyndi and Kim broke up as the school year was coming to a close. Kim and I found ourselves alone together more and more and had a little flirtation going on – feet accidentally touching, eyes locking, well, you get the idea.

Two of our friends wanted to go to San Francisco. It was the “summer of love” and I had a great old car just perfect for a road trip. We pulled out the back seat, filled the empty space with pillows and set off. Our many adventures will have to wait for another time, suffice it to say we arrived safely.

That was the beginning of our love affair. We spent two wonderful weeks together exploring the city. Then Kim left for Europe and I went home to Scottsdale, to my mother’s house. When he returned he stayed with me until it was time for him to start school again. I wasn’t going back – I had spent that time learning about Scientology, which, unfortunately, was to become increasingly important in both our lives. I did courses at the mission in Phoenix and then went to England for more. When I got back to Arizona Kim and I were together for a short time. I left again to join what is called the Sea Organization, a Scientology group that requires complete lifetime dedication from its members. I was gone a year and a half – that was all I could take. And I was pregnant. And not married. And I didn’t know where Kim was. I hadn’t seen or written to him for about two years and now was wishing I knew how to get in touch with him. I found out that he had gone to Scotland to work for one of the many Scientology organizations. So I wrote him a Christmas card and casually told him about my situation. He dropped everything and came to Arizona to marry me. He didn’t care one bit that I was pregnant with someone else’s baby. He never even asked me about it. He only wanted us to be together – white picket fence, rose bushes, and all that. He was ready to be my baby’s father. Meanwhile, I was going through a rough patch, full of fear and worry, probably connected to hormonal upheavals. I wasn’t very helpful or communicative and eventually my mother persuaded Kim to leave. (I found this out years later – Kim would gladly have stayed and patiently seen me through whatever nasty business was going on.)

So in February 1970 my daughter Allison was born, healthy and beautiful. I took college classes offered on TV (a very new thing then) and I did a little work for the local Scientology mission. Gradually I completely lost contact with the mission and the other Scientology organizations and went about my life raising my daughter, with my mother’s help. I went back to college and was working on getting a degree when friends in California asked me to house sit for them the summer of 1975. I had not spoken to Kim since he left my mother’s house.

I knew that he had returned to work for Scientology in California and I wanted to marry him. I wrote to him and told him I was coming for the summer and that I was now ready to get hitched. He wrote back saying “YEAH!!” Off we went, Allison and I to stay in Claremont for the summer. About a month before Allison and I had to return to Arizona Kim told me he wasn’t ready to leave what he was doing right at the moment (turns out he had joined the Sea Organization). I said we’d have to call it quits right there because it would be much harder at the end of the summer. Sadly, Allison and I went home to Tempe, without Kim.

Seventeen years went by. Kim had married someone and they had two children together. They left the Sea Organization so they could raise their family. They divorced. I had also married. That marriage lasted about 4 years. Allison was in college when I divorced my first husband, sold the house and bought a small condo. I lived there and worked and kept to myself for 3 ½ years, thinking about Kim all the time.

My friends heard about Kim so often that finally one of them said “Put up or shut up.” I knew that Kim was the only one for me and that if he didn’t want to be with me I would be better off knowing it so I could just get on with my life.

But 17 years had gone by. We hadn’t kept in touch at all, nothing, no letters, no phone calls. How was I supposed to find him? He could have been anywhere. That was the summer that Sleepless in Seattle came out. As I watched it I knew what I had to do. I simply had to find him. I started with L.A. area phone books, looking up Scientology organization numbers. I didn’t call any of them, not in the beginning. I also wrote down a few numbers for Hawkins, still not making any calls. I was terrified. What if he said “Cathy who?” or “Oh please, not again.” Or “It’s great to hear from you, I know you’ll just love my wife and kids, can’t wait for you to meet them.”

Then I saw a movie that had been out a while but I’d never seen: Home Alone. There’s a scene where the little boy is in a church on Christmas Eve, talking to his neighbor. The man said he came to watch his granddaughter in the Christmas pageant on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas day because his son was angry with him and he wanted to avoid a confrontation. The man said he wanted to make up with his son but was scared of what his son would say. The little boy said, “What have you got to lose? He might still be mad at you but he might be glad you talked to him.” Well, that did it.

I started making calls from the phone numbers I had collected. I ran into several dead ends. But one day I called the place where I thought Kim had last worked. I asked for him and was transferred to the woman who had taken his job. I asked her if she knew his address and would she forward a letter if I sent it to her. She said yes to both.

It took another bout of nerves to write the letter and I tried very hard to sound nonchalant. I mailed it and waited to see what would happen.

What happened was that Kim got my letter, went through his own ordeal over what to do, decided to call me (my number was in the letter, of course) and we were married a month later.

After trying for 26 years to have a life together, we finally made it happen on October 3, 1993. We’ve been blissfully married for 14 years (okay, maybe not blissfully the entire time, but certainly now we are sure that this is exactly right). Our rings are engraved with Pour Toujours, for always.

This is the short version. There are innumerable side stories. Another day perhaps.

Is quitting easy?

There's at least one person who believed it's easy to quit smoking. His name was Allen Carr and he actually wrote a book called The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. It's a very subtle book. It quietly and completely erodes the bubble of blissful denial that a smoker lives in. It tears apart the smoker's self-inflicted brainwashing. It keeps whacking the smoker in the face with stuff the smoker knows is true but has conveniently tucked far far away. Carr points out: Certainly no smoker started out to become addicted. Certainly no smoker said, "I want to be a slave to cigarettes for the rest of my life." I know I sure didn't. When we start smoking, when we're just 'experimenting,' when we're fighting with our parents and teachers over who will be the boss of us, when we're struggling with an identity idea, we certainly are NOT going to stop and say to ourselves, "hey wait a minute, this is nicotine we're talking about here, this is very very addictive stuff and the tobacco companies don't give a flying fuck about whether or not I die from smoking this shit not to mention that it costs a bloody fortune." Carr keeps hammering away, bringing up all the things the smoker wants to ignore. And he should know -- he was a 100/day smoker for 30 years. He speaks from personal experience.
As with any attempt to undo brainwashing, the important thing is to find the key that holds all the pieces in place. Somewhere there's a tiny shift that forces all the other denials and stupidities to crumble. I'm not sure I even know what or when or how, but I do know that reading this book thoroughly undermined any ability I had to delude myself another day.


One hour at a time

When I woke up last Monday I thought, "This is the day I quit smoking forever." Kim made coffee, handed me my cup and I sat down in the dining room. I did not go to the patio where normally I'd chain-smoke through my morning coffee. I also didn't say anything about my decision -- too scary to say it out loud. It's hard to break a 40 year routine. At least it is for me. Maybe there are people who can just say "that's it" to something and change their entire life around and be fine with it. Not me. I'm such a creature of habit, and not very good habits at that. One of the things that's been a help this week has been thinking about how I never ever want to have a first day of not smoking again. Ever. Never. The first day is agony, although every day has been grueling for short periods. The mindless urge to light up a cigarette is so incredibly strong, almost irresistible. Lighting up is ingrained at this point. It's a matter of brainwashing. And I don't mean brainwashed by the tobacco companies, oh no, I did this to myself. You'd be appalled at what goes on in a smoker's mind. Like feeling relief to see other smokers outside by the ashtray; being sure that not coughing means that the 20 cigarettes/day aren't hurting you; thinking of smoking as a reward for hard work; believing that cigarettes make you feel calmer. I used to run a mile every day just so I could say, "See, smoking's not so bad," as I'd light up after my run. And here's the most ludicrous one of all: so what if it kills me? I gotta die some way. But that's exactly what brainwashing is -- thinking that insane things are sane. Denial and denial and denial. Refusing to look. Head up and locked.
I did it to myself. But it took me years and years, it was slow, gradual, insidious. There was a long period of no thoughts at all, just casually lighting up one cigarette after the other, not worrying about it. When you're young you can do that. You can take drugs, smoke cigarettes, drink as much booze as you want, stay up all night dancing and partying. When you're young you don't think about death coming for you. You don't see the stupidity in the things you're doing. You don't wonder about the consequences, what will happen later because I did this today. If you think about it at all, it's only to say, "don't be an old fuddy-duddy, have some fun!" It's a terrible dilemma: young and foolish and full of yourself or careful and self-disciplined and stodgy.
So I'm taking it one hour at a time. When the urge bites me, I take a few deep breaths and say to myself, "I'm free."


Living without cigarettes

I've smoked since I was 13, started with Camel nonfiltered. They were really nasty. A person had to work hard to keep smoking after the first one. One cigarette should have been enough and would have been if not for the "gang." I hung out with a slightly tough crowd, not the really mean, really tough bunch. My friends might ditch school occasionally, might drink beer on the weekends, but they weren't bad kids. I don't think they even would have hassled me if I'd chosen not to smoke, but I wanted to fit in, I wanted to be like them...they were cool, Fonzie-cool.
Last week I celebrated my 59th birthday and realized how incredibly stupid it is to continue doing something I hate and that makes me ashamed. I had quit about 5 years ago and managed to go without smoking for 9 months. It was so easy to start right back into it; maybe I had just the slightest twinge of guilt and embarrassment, but that wasn't as important as having another cigarette. If you've never smoked a cigarette, or if you tried it and didn't stick with it long enough to become addicted, you cannot know how awful it is to be a slave to cigarettes, how horrible it feels to have to check your pockets before leaving the house because you can't leave without that pack of smokes, how disgusting it is to have that smell on your clothes all the time, how hard it is to enjoy kissing when you know you taste worse than garbage, how ridiculous it is to keep putting poison in your mouth hour after hour. You cannot know. And you cannot make someone stop by telling them these things.