The first time I smoked, I was a rebel, angry and stupid.
Whew, it felt weird writing that first sentence, but yes, it's true.
I smoked not because of peer pressure, but maybe because of a little bit of subliminal marketing from television ads. Okay, it was a lot. I don't blame my dad even though he was a chain smoker. He often smoked two to three packs of Phillip Morris a day. (May he rest in peace). For all that has been said and done, I made that dumb decision myself.
Mostly, what brought me to that moment, to that decision, was a mixture of runaway emotions that are quite normal for rebellious and hormone infused teenagers. I was a curious, confused and hormone laden boy monkey.
When I think about it today, I recall that moment of planning, of figuring out where to buy, how much they cost, where to smoke, and what brand. In hindsight these were pretty, pretty stupid and trivial matters, since I was caught!
Now, that was not part of the plan!
The brand that I chose was Philip Morris, the green menthol ones which are longer than Marlboros and quite cheaper. Why? Because I saw them a lot at home. I thought to myself: I'm going to start with something familiar. Besides, they were affordable at 20 pesos for a pack of 20. This was in the late 90s, so that was about 50 US cents a pack! The thought of stealing from my father's cigarette pack also crossed my mind, but I knew I'd get caught.
The first problem to overcome was where to buy them. We lived in a middle class subdivision in the Philippines and I was quite naive. (Okay, very naive.) I was thinking quite falsely and innocently
- "What if the storekeep calls my parents right after I buy?"
- "What if I go to jail for buying?"
So I came up with the insidious idea to say, "Somebody asked me to buy it for them"
In my mind, I was reciting to myself an imaginary dialogue with my targeted store.
- Me: "I'd like to buy some cigarettes please," quite casually.
- Storekeep: "May I see your license to buy cigarettes." said the storekeep quite sternly.
- Me: Quite cooly "Oh, I don't have any, somebody just asked me to buy it for them."
As naive as the dialogue now sounds, that was my way of thinking about it then.
To my surprise, it was actually easier.
Nobody cared what you bought. Nobody asked any questions. None.
So right after school, I bought a pack quite easily and also bought a lighter. Now the trick was to smoke when my parents were out of the house. That day, all of my plans seemed to be working out all right. Dad was not yet home, mom was shopping. So, I climbed on top of our water tank, which was as high as the roof of our two story house.
The view was awesome.
It was like playing with Google Earth for the first time. I saw nearby cities and houses and neighbors' houses I hadn't yet met. I felt the power of the wind move my body gently. It was like a gentle nudge from an invisible force.
I am afraid of heights. Climbing that tower felt exciting and exhilirating. The throbbing in my chest felt stronger. Bright yellow and red imaginary exclamation points were popping up everytime I moved my arms or legs. It was a new, unknown and exciting feeling.
After I soaked all of the new sensory inputs in, I sat down and got the cigarettes.
You see, as stupid as I may have been at the time, at least I had the sense to think that smoke flies outwards and upwards. If I stayed on top of the water tank, I somehow felt that nobody would smell it at all.
So I did this several times, timing whenever my parents were out.
Finally, I got caught.
Yes, the smoke does flow upward and outward, but the smell stuck to my clothes! As soon as my mother caught me, she told me to go down the water tank, like, "Danny !%!%! Go down the water tank!"
A new type of exciting feeling came over me, but this time, it wasn't awe or that feeling of danger. It was fear!
"So, you want to smoke? Do you even have a job?" (I was a teenager)
"This is what we give you money for?"
"Give me your pack of cigarettes."
I don't have any. I lied.
"What do you take me for, they're in your pockets. See, it's bulging!"
"Now you want to be a big man?"
"Here smoke them all at the same time!"
I shook my head.
Then my mom, tore all up the cigarettes like they were pieces of paper.
Brown and white pieces scattered on the floor just beneath the base of the water tower. At the time, I was thinking, "What a waste."
"Clean them up."