Last August, in Rome, the naked Francesco walked from the bedroom out to the main room of his flat. It was midnight. I roused myself and followed, and then lingered in the door, watching him as he fingered the decanters of various brown liquids. He refused to drink in front of me, and resented me for this. "Let's have some glasses of fine water" he said, as he pulled out a Chesterfield and lit it.
I hadn't smoked for nearly two years, hadn't even thought about smoking. I walked behind him, picked up the pack, and gestured it towards him. "Posso?" He shrugged and flicked the lighter.
I thought about what I was doing for a split second as I drew the cigarette to my lips.
You don't want a cigarette. You want a moment. And it was true. That is what I wanted. A picture perfect Hollywood moment. The classical music, the window seat with its cold marble perch, the two of us, naked and without words, just our cigarettes and our gazes and our glasses of fine water, on a late Roman night.
Two days later, I found myself in an art store. I had gone there to buy souvenirs, little antique etchings for my neighbor and my mother, but instead I asked the dealer if he had any Piranesi. He locked the door of the shop, and together, we laid out print after print. It was manic and consuming and so, I consumed. "I'll take that one." I said it like I did these things all the time.
Moments later, $2,500 poorer, first edition Piranesi in hand, I walked into a café, shaking. Wondering things like, Will I live on the streets but have good art? I ordered a cappuccino, and as the cashier tendered my change, I asked for a pack of Chesterfields.
"Piccolo." Just the small one.
By nightfall, I had smoked the entire pack. Ten cigarettes, just like that. I didn't even like them. But I knew. I knew this pattern and I knew me. And so I made the sacred pact.
No smoking in America.
A week later, having returned home to San Francisco, gut struck and heart broken and lonely, I made a sharp right off the sidewalk and into the middle of the street, instead of the left towards my apartment. Without thinking, propelled by need, towards the liquor store. I was dying of something, had been dying of something since the plane lifted its wheels off the holy Roman ground of Fiumicino International, and I could not tolerate this feeling one more second. Cigarettes killed things like this, I remembered. And this, this needed to die.
Halfway there, in the middle lane of the three-laned Bush Street - exactly equidistant between the entrance to my building and the Food Fair Market - I caught a glimpse of Jorge in the store window.
Jorge, the shopkeep, who over the years had sold me countless bottles of the always-warm-always-on-sale Crane Lake Merlot, stockpiles of Jameson, and approximately 451 packs of American Spirits Yellow. Jorge, who paid too much attention to the recent changes in my purchasing habits. Jorge, who was - quite unfortunately - proud of me.
I stopped. Turned back around. Went upstairs. I took the seven flights of stairs instead of the elevator for extra burn. Then I meditated, cried, and watched Broad City.
No smoking in America.
Right before Christmas, a few smoke-free American months later, I met a man. It wasn't the intentional Tinder-fueled affair I had become accustomed to settling for. It was different. He was different. The night before our first date, he texted This feels serendipitous. By our second date, I had assumed the pet name of Muffin. Some time before our third date, I told Laura about this and other important things, like the size of his penis and his passion for social justice. She said something like "fall on your knees and pray to the gods because this one is going to gut you." Or at least, in retrospect, that is what I heard. What I hear.
I'm in for it.
And I was. True to Laura's premonition, after a few weeks, there I was. Gutted. The Woman Formerly Known As Muffin. I lost ten pounds. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. But I found I could smoke. And so I did that.
One night, my mom smelled it on me. I shook my head, angry at her for reacting, angry at her for reflecting back to me the shock I was feeling in my own bones. This isn't me.
I had broken the seal in Italy. And there I was, breaking something bigger in America.
I often feel like there is a miniature all-consuming insatiable dwarf living inside of me.
Whereas before he looked like a 50-foot-tall-ten-headed-twenty-armed monster who had four Twinkies in one hand, cigarette burning in another, Jameson chaser in a third, he's now something cuter, smaller, single-headed, double-fisted. He's a happy little guy, an adorable cartoonish Porky-Pig-turned-addict, who sometimes thinks it's fun to drink 10 macchiatos a day, or shove 6 pieces of gum in his mouth at a time. He likes to carry two La Croix in my purse just in case, he's been known to order 5 books at once from Amazon while I'm stuck in traffic, and he has an insatiable appetite for doTerra.
Usually when he does these binge-y things, I pinch his pink cheeks and tell him it's totally okay. I tell him we're still just human, him and I, and at least it's not what it used to be. He's a pet, not a monster.
Secretly, I wish he'd just die already. I imagine some Looney Tunes episode gone terribly wrong, blood everywhere. He would never see it coming.
To be clear, I don't smoke, and I haven't started smoking again. I smoked Peter Cigarettes. Because that was his name and he was why I did it.
I smoked the first few the night Peter told me he didn't want to be an addict about the relationship, which I interpreted as his interpretation of me. I'll show you addict. Days later, I smoked another few after the emergency call with Leon, my psychic, when he told me sure enough, this Peter was already gone, according to what my Higher Self was showing him. I smoked another that night as I left Peter's house, speeding up Highway 99, knowing I was okay, knowing it would hurt even more tomorrow. And I smoked them two days after Christmas, as I observed from the toilet of the Newman Truckstop Starbucks that the motherfucker had lied to me about his holiday travel plans. There he was at home in Visalia with his dog. Instagram can be so insidiously cruel.
Back in San Francisco, I stopped caring what Jorge thought. "Stop being so observant" I told him the night of the 28th. He stopped.
I stayed up all night. Unable to sleep. Consumed and consuming. The same old ache of rejection, the same insatiable hole only something toxic could fill. In bed, smoking cigarette after cigarette, staring at nothing.
On New Years Eve, after my yoga class, clad in Kundalini whites and a carefully wrapped turban, I hopped in a cab with one of my friends, and there it was: my old friend, Stale Cigarette Smell. Only it wasn't coming from the cab driver. It was coming from my jacket. I spent the next 137 seconds praying she didn't notice, didn't ask "are you smoking again?" Because technically, in my mind, I wasn't. I was taking a break from cigarette sobriety. And I didn't want to have to explain it. To anyone but me, it would have sounded like bullshit.
Later that night, I had my last Peter Cigarette. I bid a solemn farewell as they swam down the toilet, and made another sacred vow.
No smoking in Rome, either.
To be continued.
This is part 1 of a 3-part series on my experiences with cross addiction. The final part, Part 3, will be published around mid-April. Part 2 is linked below.