On the Friday before the Sunday before the Sunday when you quit smoking, take a moment to calculate the number of days left in your life.
Use a reasonable number of years, a number that won’t guarantee you’ll be incapacitated or hopelessly infirmed, a number that some of your relatives have reached. Be realistic.
If you’re 41, try using 50.
Open up the calculator on your phone, or, if one’s handy, fire up an adding machine.
50 x 365 = 18,250.
Stare at the result for a few seconds, as it can’t be right. Try a different calculator; the results will be the same. Google “number of days in a year” just to confirm that you’re not misremembering that basic fact.
18,250. Huh. That’s--
Well, that’s not a lot.
Add 5 more days to account for leap years, even though there will be more than five ahead of you. Write that number on a sticky note and put it in a place you can see.
On the Saturday before the Sunday before the Sunday when you quit smoking, decide that you’ll no longer purchase prefabricated cigarettes. Keep an empty box from the ones you used to smoke for storing the ones you’re going to roll now. Drive to the place a few miles away where you know you can buy tobacco in a can. Inform the cashier of your plans. Purchase some blanks and a small plastic stuffing machine, not a good one like the one you had in high school, but a small, pocket-sized one that will do the job discreetly.
Stop at a butcher on the way home and buy a chuck roast. Use some of the rolling papers that came with the can to fashion a few cigs, brushing the loose, sweet-smelling brown curls from your lap. Lick ’em shut and fire one up in the butcher’s parking lot. Exhale. Damn, you could get used to this.
On the Wednesday before the Sunday when you quit smoking, wake from a fitful sleep at 5:00 am. Decide to go to the gym. Marvel at the sheer number of fir coats in the lady’s locker room. Spend 40 minutes on the elliptical. It'll be a bit easier than it was last time, but your heart rate’s still pretty high.
On the way out, notice a posted sign for a 5K run taking place the next day. Pause in your tracks and envision yourself doing it. Remember that you’ve always wanted to run one, and said that you’d do it someday, bucket-list style.
Casually mention the 5K, and your impulse, to your new friend, your friend who was an acquaintance for nearly two decades. You have many of the same friends, so talking is easy, and the memories flow like refilled glasses of still water at a restaurant lunch. Talk about the times you played each other’s bands’ release parties. Share photos and the fliers you made. Marvel at how neither of you really remembers much about any of those nights.
“So, let’s do it,” your friend will say. Blush for a moment, then find the website to sign up. Print the registration forms and write a check for $50, covering the both of you. Paper-clip the lot together and vow to get a good night’s sleep.
On the Thursday before the Sunday when you quit smoking, wake up around 6:30 am. Registration starts at 8:00, and the race starts at 8:30. Remember briefly that it’s Thanksgiving, and that you’ll need to get your kids and drive to West Virginia in a few hours. But, that’s a future too far away to even picture, so find some workout pants that will be good to run in, a nice yoga top, and your silver jacket, the one you wear as a layer for skiing. It’ll be surprisingly warm, maybe the warmest Thanksgiving you can remember.
Wait in the queue. Share a Gatorade pinched from a finish-line bucket. Do an actual spit-take when your friend says something so funny and subversive that you wish you’d thought of it first. Thank the kind lady who gives you a tissue to clean yourself up.
Run some more, and put on the playlist you thought would help. “Kickstart My Heart” is a real pumper! Walk.
Run, and pace yourself along to the beat of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk.” Walk. Maybe skipping would help?
See a mom pass you with a stroller. Fantasize about riding in the stroller.
See a dad pass you with his 2-year-old son atop his shoulders. Fantasize about sitting down on the curb.
Turn a corner, and realize that the end is near, if not in sight. Just this one hill to go. Vow to yourself that you can run it from here. You can do it! You are running a 5K!
YOU are RUNNING a 5K!
Walk, then realize the finish line is there. You can see it.
Pass your friend, sitting atop a bail of hay. Cross the line and walk over. “What, have you been here for like, 15 minutes?” you pant.
“Pretty much,” your friend will say.
Drive home and deny you could “feel the smoking,” as it really was just your legs, not your lungs, that held you back.
Arrive in West Virginia and eat all the stuffing you want because you ran a fucking 5K. Find a long-expired Tylenol 3 in your purse and hold it in your cheek like a rub of snuff. Have another glass of cab and drift off to sleep, waking only to comment when you think it’ll be funny.
Who knows if what you say will be funny.
On the Saturday before the Sunday when you quit smoking, come home from West Virginia. It will be the best Thanksgiving you can remember -- no blow-outs, no moments of tangible tension. The kids will be going back to their dad’s, so get in touch with your friend. Make plans to play bass later on, and fire up the Music Master you bought a few weeks earlier, as you’re a short-scale bassist now, after having been a short-scale person for so long. Smoke a few of your rolled cigarettes. My god, they taste so good!
Notice that your fingers now have a yellow-orange stain, one that won’t wash off. Consider grabbing the Fels-Naptha from the laundry room, but don’t bother. The stain reminds you of Kurt Vonnegut, who smoked Pall Malls for days on end, hunched over a typewriter, then drew asterisk-buttholes for Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday.
On the Sunday that is the Sunday when you quit smoking, wake up around 7:00. Marvel at how sleeping ‘till 7:00 is now “sleeping in.”
“The new normal,” as moms of millennials say.
When your friend asks when the smoking will stop, exhale a cloud of that tasty lovely grey smoke and say, “How ‘bout today?”
Look at each other and nod, then make the plan.
First, dump the blanks into the trash. Save two.
Empty a sizable mound of brown-curled sweet tobacco onto a plate, then throw the rest of the can in the trash. Pocket the $30 your friend gives you, as the can is fairly new, and your friend offered to pay for the troubles.
Stuff a blank with the little stuffer. Seems good enough. Destroy the extra blank. Discard the excess tobacco.
Smoke that last cigarette and oh fuck, it’s good.
As it should be. Note the time: 10:37 am.
Throw away your ashtrays, as guests can use something else for parties. Take a sledgehammer and break up the little stuffing machine. Pop champagne and drink it outside while picking up tiny shards of plastic.
Until day nine or so, count the days. Tell your co-workers. Text them if needed. Take the high-fives. After a while, forget how many days it’s been, and start to think in terms of weeks, only occasionally thinking days.
On day 33, write about it.
Subtract. 18,222 days to go. That’s a good number. You’re strong now. Strong enough for the both of you and anyone else.
And it will all be worth it.