No one bothers to ask why.
I don’t care if they don’t ask. It just makes me wonder what justifies their assumption that I need help.
I get sneered at without provocation. I have people whisper behind my back and spit at my shoes. And I’m not gay, fat, retarded, immodestly dressed, or any of those things which also do not justify being treated this way (I am also not a vampire, werewolf, or witch). Unless you count female, which is an excuse for being treated any of the worst possible ways.
Here’s the truth: I smoke.
Regular tobacco cigarettes. Not hash or anything similar. I do it in the privacy of my own home or outdoors away from passersby. I don’t blow it in people’s faces and I don’t leave embers or cigarette butts on the ground. I don’t pressure people to come over to the dark side and start smoking as well.
Honestly, I don’t see why it should be anybody’s business but mine. Yet, somehow, it always is. I have been accused of burning holes in the ozone and causing innocent people to get lung cancer. But topped by all accusations are the self-centered do-gooders who march up to me when I’m on a break from the noise of the outside world, and I’d really just rather be by myself. Without even taking a moment to consider that their company might not be welcome, they shove a package in my face and exclaim, “Hey! I’ve got this great book about how to stop smoking!”
If I decide to engage with them rather than stare them down with a cynical expression, I always give them a chance to back down first. “Thank you, I appreciate the gesture, ” (which I do) “But I don’t want to stop.”
“No, seriously. I have a few friends who used to smoke and they said this book really helped them.”
Was I speaking alien? “I don’t want to quit.”
The concept doesn’t seem to register in their brains. It’s as if there’s consensus that anyone who smokes regrets it terribly, and wishes they could quit but can’t because they’re addicted.
And don’t even get me started on the belittling of my intelligence.
“Did you know that smoking can kill you?”
“It’s written on the box.” In large, friendly letters.
Sometimes, when I hear someone yell “Smoking kills!” I am terribly tempted to shout back, “and so do people! And guns! And the flu!” But I can’t. I always have to be the bigger person and show respect to those who don’t deserve it.
“Did YOU know,” I sometimes add, turning to the person when I’m really fed up, “that it can also cause asthma, heart attack, COPD, and stroke?”
Once they recover from their confusion, they return to challenging my actions. “Yet you do it anyway.”
You know what else can cause asthma, heart attack, COPD and stroke? Stress. Living. Breathing. Going to the bathroom. But I don’t see people shoving books at people who take deep breaths.
Should I live my whole life in fear of what may or may not happen? Should I believe everything I see and hear in the media and make life choices based on that?
And there’s another type of person who thinks teasing is an effective way of communication. “Do you know what Mark Twain says about smoking? ‘Quitting is easy, I’ve done it a hundred times!'”
As if I haven’t heard that one a hundred times.
The worst is when it’s raining, and I’m outside taking a cigarette break watching people’s sympathetic faraway glances fall upon me and then move on. Oh, poor thing, if only she would stop smoking she wouldn’t have to be out here. I don’t mind so much, I like the rain. I don’t like being judged.
“You wouldn’t have to be out here in the cold…” someone starts.
“But I’m being considerate,” I snap before they can finish their sentence.
“It’s the law,” they reply.
“People broke the law before laws were invented,” I retort. “I am being considerate.”
In the tension hangs the assumption that since I smoke, it’s not possible that I’m a good person.
So I feel I need to say something.
I smoke. I don’t want to quit.
And I don’t owe anyone an explanation.
© 2011 Liora Sophie
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