GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND — I've shared most aspects of my remake with you this year, but not how it really started--when I quit smoking.
Except for a hand-rolled cigarette at age 12, when I was learning about adult things, I had never smoked a cigarette until August, 1971. Thirty and balding, I was on a boat while visiting friends in Bermuda. I was sitting in the fighting chair of a sport fisherman, my feet propped up, book in hand.
Right by my feet, on the rail, was a pack of Kools. I remember the abandoned pack had only a few cigarettes in it; even a slight breeze would have blown it seaward. So I picked it up, a bit curious. Until that moment, I had not smoked cigarettes because I hated the smell of cigarette smoke.
I put a Kool in my mouth anyway, lit it tentatively, turned my eyes back to the book and inhaled, deeply.
That Kool was the most powerful, and oddly wonderful, drug I'd ever taken. I tried to read, but could not for an instant. And then I began to read and puff.
That night, when we returned to shore, I bought my own. At first, the "rush" was the only reason I smoked. A nice, legal drug trip. Then, as the immediate pleasure diminished, something almost as nice replaced it: Cigarettes gave me something to do when I was nervous or restless or insecure or frustrated.
In 1979, weekending with a nonsmoking friend, I got out of bed at 3 a.m. and drove around a strange town until I could find someone to sell me a fix.
The next day, I deliberately ran out of cigarettes again to prove my willpower, but the cigarettes won. The first drag tasted very good, but was followed by the bitter aftertaste the mind can deposit when it loses an important battle. These things were stronger than my will.
The quitting attempts started. I went to a hypnotist. She was expensive. "That's part of the therapy," she said. Right. I quit for about an hour and kicked myself for being so weak. I bought some of those graduated filters. No help there. My self-esteem went down another notch.
And then my mother called and asked me to fly home--a problem with my father's health. We knew Dad had emphysema. His doctors had forced him to give up cigarettes for pipes 20 years before.
We knew the emphysema had slowed his activities down, too. But we didn't really think he was too sick. By 3 the next afternoon, we knew he was dying of a lung cancer that had spread and formed an inoperable tumor in his brain. He died in two weeks. I smoked a lot the day of his funeral.
My habit became more self-destructive. I smoked more when I was worried. I smoked more when I sat down at the typewriter, and a lot of my time is spent at typewriters.
I tried dozens of times to quit--even made it three months one time, but never once quit thinking about cigarettes. The first puff had to be as rewarding as a heroin addict's long-overdue fix.
In December, 1984, my continual throat problems sent me back to a doctor for about the 20th time in four years. Without much thought, I asked the doctor for a nicotine-gum prescription, something a friend had told me about, and without any resolve I chewed the first piece as I drove home. Out of curiosity. The gum tasted absolutely terrible, and it burned nearly as much as smoke down a raw throat.
My plan was very cautious. Rather than swearing off, I'd simply go hour by hour and see what it felt like. Each time the urge came for a cigarette (and they came frequently; I'd been smoking more than three packs a day), I chewed, and the urge went away. For the rest of December, I chewed nearly 20 pieces every day and made it through the Christmas holidays without smoking once.
I wasn't at all sure, however, my smoking habit was ended. There is no hunger like the hunger for nicotine, and I didn't believe gum could really take that away. Then a favorite aunt was taken to the hospital with pneumonia.
Edna, her eyes bulging from the strain, was gasping for air when I first saw her in the hospital. Down the hall, other people were enduring the same suffering, tubes down their throats, respirators replacing lungs, all of them smokers at one time in their lives.
I used my gum a lot that week, too. But I also decided not to smoke again. And though I kept gum in my pocket for nearly a year, using it for about six months, I haven't smoked yet.
Quitting smoking was the hardest thing I have ever done. But that victory probably means more to my health than anything I have done in this year of remake. Please tell your friends who smoke to keep trying to quit.
Beginning 34th Week Waist: 43 inches 33 3/4 inches Right biceps: 12 3/4 inches 12 3/4 inches Flexed: 13 inches 13 3/4 inches Weight: 201 pounds 168 pounds Height: 6' 1" Blood Pressure: 128/68 118/60 Pulse: 64 54 Bench press: 55 160 Hunk factor: .00 .62