Last night I had occasion to recall some lines from a now old Moody Blues song. Words that, as they always do, brought back a long ago memory:
The first time I quit smoking was in 1969. It didn’t take. With no small amount of determination I had given up the habit for over two weeks, until one evening, standing beside the pool table at Aurora’s Irish Club (I actually do remember this moment) when the girl I had been dating informed me that this would no longer be the case. Among the many thoughts going through my head at that moment, the one of greatest significance was “Okay, I’ll show you. I’ll have a cigarette”.
There’s a guy on the radio in Milwaukee who maintains that rationalization is the second strongest human motivation. I believe that he is correct.
It turned out that I bought my very last pack of cigarettes in June of 1971. I got it from a vending machine near the bar at the Fox Valley Country Club. To complete the purchase I inserted two quarters; 50 cents, which I thought to be an outrageous amount when compared to the price of a pack of Pall Malls at any grocery store or gas station. Despite the high cost, I never finished that pack.
Willpower? The truth is that I was scared, and fear can be a powerful motivator. A few days prior I had watched a medical drama on TV (Dr. Kildare? Marcus Welby perhaps?) wherein a patient suffered, and eventually succumbed, to lung cancer. This all too graphic depiction had scared me pretty badly.
I had at that time, a smoker’s cough. I wasn’t aware of this but I was told so afterwards by virtually everyone. I also had just then the beginnings of a mild summer cold. So on June 15th, I’d been coughing pretty aggressively, and that evening, alone in the bathroom, I managed to cough up a bit of phlegm and lurking within was the teeniest, tiny streak of bright red.
My mind immediately fastened on the previous TV episode and I was convinced that I was about to suffer the same fate. I did have a cigarette before going to bed that night, vowing that it would be the last ever. And it was. As I said, fear is powerful. For most of the next week I carried that half full pack of Pall Malls in my shirt pocket, and each time I automatically reached for it, I was reminded of how frightened I was and stopped short. Too frightened, in fact, to go and see a doctor.
The irony of this of course was that had I seen a doctor, I could’ve relaxed and enjoyed the summer and fall of 1971 a bit more than I did. There was no danger of reverting – after about 6 or 7 days the urge disappeared, never to return.
Eventually I began to realize that a considerable amount of time had gone by and nothing seemed to be wrong, and so I moved past it. But to this day I cannot hear the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin” without recalling the cloud that shadowed nearly everything I did during the remainder of the summer and into the fall of that year.