A Recovering Smoker Speaks to Her Former Lovers

Carrie here again!! Awhile back I asked Miss Ellie Spence to share a poem she wrote about smoking, as well as an essay that accompanies the poem. Miss Ellie is a retired 8th grade teacher, who currently teaches at the Marin County Jail. She writes a column called "Off My Rocker" for the Novato Advance. Thankfully, she obliged. So without further ado, here is the work of Miss Ellie...


You were the first.
My lungs lost their virginity
to your seduction.

You were there for me
at all the high school dances.
"Smoke dreams
while a cigarette burns."
My own stalwart soldier
who never went to war.

MR. L AND M...
Mysterious lover,
known only by initials.
Best friend
whose fire brought peace.

Cowboy, who worshiped my mouth,
you were my strength.

Slender Sapphic lover
who liberated ladies,
I was your slave.

A lover so frail,
I had to have
two of you in my bed.

A cheap date,
my last affair.
You were my shame.
Secretly, we embraced
in dark places.

A Toxic Affair

Like many people of my generation, I had a toxic affair with cigarettes. It began at age thirteen when I lost my virginity to a pack of unfiltered Camels. Although my first experience resulted in dizziness and nausea, I loved the fact that I could impress a boy when I casually asked him to light my lipstick stained cigarette. Having smoked for forty eight years, I was not an occasional puffer, but a deep passionate lover of the weed. In my lifetime, I figure I have smoked 233,280 cigarettes. That's a lot more than the times I had sex. Cigarettes were a much more passionate addiction.

Cigarettes were everywhere when I was a teenager. Heavy smoke lurked behind stalls of foggy high school bathrooms and in the last three seats of the Muni bus in San Francisco. Smoking also lessened the stress at high school dances. If I didn't know what to say or I was stuck leaning against the wall because no one asked me to dance, I could light up a cigarette. One time I tried to imitate a scene in a Betty Davis movie, where her lover lights two cigarettes in his mouth, passing one on to her. Unfortunately, excess saliva on my part resulted in my date's wiping shards of wet tobacco from his lip.

Like offering my body to a toxic lover, I gave myself completely to my habit. There was no thought of possible abuse, only the pleasure of the moment. As I moved deeper into my addiction, I embraced Mr. Marlborough, a handsome cowboy who touched my lips. L & M was a mysterious partner, known only by initials.

I smoked while I nursed my babies. When I returned to college in the late 60's, I smoked in my psychology class. I remember inhaling deeply as I learned about operant conditioning, extinguishing my cigarettes in an empty tuna fish can I brought along for the occasion. As my father was dying of lung cancer, I took a break from the vigil to sneak a smoke on the porch. While recovering from my divorce, I was constantly emptying filled ashtrays, each butt representing an attempt to quell pain and frustration.

When the Surgeon-General's report was published and smoking became less popular, I embraced Mr. Carleton, a weak lover whom I met in dark places like doorways and porches. He was with me when I hung out the window of a non-smoking host's bathroom.

I did not quit smoking for health reasons. I stopped for the same reason I started. I wanted to be part of the "in crowd." I was tired of brown tinges on my drapes and my teeth. Besides there was no comfortable place to smoke. It was cold standing outside to puff in the wintertime. When a man I was dating remarked that kissing a smoker was like licking an ash tray, I decided to file for divorce from my toxic lover. I told myself that smokers use bad grammar, have low IQ's, and show a yellow first joint of their middle finger. I went to my doctor and got the patch.

Addictions die hard. When I smell the sulfurous odor of a wooden match and the sweet, smoky aroma of a cigarette, my lungs yearn for the old days, and I miss my old lover. Its somewhat like seeing a happy couple holding hands across the table in a restaurant and wishing I was still married to my ex-husband. Fortunately, I know that both relationships would be toxic.

Image to the right courtesy of fazen
Image to the left courtesy of Kevin Pelletier
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About the Author

MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.