I’m not sure why I can’t shake the brief and non-exciting moment from my brain.
Its memory lingers like a persistent flu bug or unreachable itch.
I have no idea what her name was. My best guess would place her at around age 20, of average height and average appearance—whatever that means.
All I know is she ordered two packs of Players Special, smiled politely, and left the store.
The entire exchange lasted perhaps 15 seconds and yet it felt like a full two minutes that I stood there and bit my tongue.
As most readers comprehend—biting my tongue on saying what I think is not a common occurrence for me. But I did.
I wanted to scream out, “Don’t do it girl, don’t buy those cigarettes.”
But I didn’t.
I wanted to yell at the cashier, “Don’t do it sir, don’t sell her those bloody cigarettes, dummy up and stop killing people.”
But I didn’t.
Instead, I did the Canadian thing, “politely” shut up and minded my business.
I reminded myself to keep that personal promise not to lecture people about cigarettes.
As a young man, I quickly tired and became very annoyed with my mother who would constantly nag me,with worried heart, not to turn to cigarettes as she had.
“My sweet Charlie-boy, please do as I say and not as I do—and stop smoking. I don’t want you to damage yourself like I have. I don’t want you to kill yourself with cigarettes.”
But I didn’t. I didn’t listen and I didn’t quit—or at least not soon enough.
Now those cigarettes are killing me slowly and it is no fun.
It was that specific lack of fun that motivated me to stop in the store.
I needed to borrow a phone book to call my appointment and inform them I was going to be late.
The battery in my car was dead and so I had decided to walk to our meeting.
After all, it was only about six or eight blocks away through my neighbourhood and down lovely Bernard Avenue.
However, the reality of how bad my lungs are from advanced emphysema had not sunk in that morning before I left the house, and so I bravely set off for the ‘short’ walk.
Within two blocks I knew there was no way I would make the appointment in time.
Stopping once a block to fight for air was slowing me down dramatically.
As I leaned against a telephone poll trying to get some oxygen in me cars drove by with drivers staring at me like I was a drunk or a junkie hanging on to simply stay standing.
I wanted to wave my handicap driver’s sign so people would know—but I realized at that particular point I really didn’t give a damn what anyone thought.
Fighting for air is a terrifying feeling.
It is hard to describe the thoughts that run through your brain when you actually think you may never get any air again and that you are literally about to die on the spot.
Some may claim to have an Earth-shattering awareness overcome them at that point, or an epiphany of wisdom.
Not me—all I recall is terror and fear and a desperate prayer that comes out as “Please, please let me breathe.”
Once the young lady was done and gone from the store I looked at the remainder of the long line of lottery ticket and cigarette purchasers ahead of me and decided I was best to simply keep walking slowly rather than wait to ask to borrow a phone book they probably did not even have.
As I slowly wandered down the street again, I started contemplating my situation.
How had I been so stupid as to get myself to that point?
My father’s old line—“Too soon old too late smart”—kept playing in my brain. I hated my dad because he was always right.
I thought about how in two weeks I will once again venture down to the lung transplant clinic in Vancouver and meet with specialists there to discuss whether or not I will qualify for a double lung switcharoo.
Either way I am scared.
I am afraid of not qualifying and then slowly suffocating and I am afraid I will qualify and then go through all of the not fun challenges of surviving (or not) such an operation.
I am also afraid I am not actually brave enough to face either.
And I am mad.
Mad I never listened to my mom or anyone else that warned me about smoking.
Like anyone so young, I simply figured that I would be the exception, that I would be immune to side effects of sucking cigarettes into my body.
I am also mad that no one can really say for sure how or when I got emphysema.
There used to be the theory that emphysema was solely due to smoking but that is certainly no longer the case.
The causes of emphysema now include genetics, environment, exposure to chemicals, etc.
Since my mother died of emphysema and my brother now has it, there is certainly that factor to be considered.
I also spent 20 years in photography darkrooms sucking in toxic fumes. The list goes on.
As I leaned against a bus stop for air two blocks down the road, I saw a newspaper lamenting the latest debate about legalizing marijuana.
The irony of the latest debate rattled in my head.
Regardless of one’s position it’s absurd that the same government dictates that one bad habit should be illegal and the other not.
There is no logic that smoking pot should be against the law yet cigarettes legal. Consistency would see either both made legal or both illegal.
There is no denying cigarettes kill. I know they have helped kill me.
That was a choice I made. A dumb bad choice. I’m not sure that if cigarettes were illegal that would have stopped me from starting.
Sadly—laws do not regulate logical, smart actions by others.
And sadly, neither do wise words by a mother, or even a total stranger.
All of which I guess is my way of saying that I probably should have said something in the store to that young lady and sales person.
I should have. But I didn’t.