A Journey To Freedom with e-Cigarettes

Part One

When she woke up that morning there was a spark of excitement already permeating throughout her apartment. “This is it” she said, “This truly is the first day of the rest of my life. Hopefully, a much longer life!” She didn’t care how corny it sounded, if this works it damn well will be the first day of a new, longer, and better life.

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Melinda was, until today, a smoker. She began smoking as a teenager more than 15 years ago. Picking up her first cigarette (a Marlboro, of course) at the age of 14, she discovered for the first time what it meant to go against the rules, to strike out on her own, set her own path. And she liked it. She remembers that fateful day, the day that presented Melinda her very first cigarette, with crystal-clear accuracy. Becoming a smoker was supposed to open the door to so many “cool” things. How could she forget a day like that? And for a while it did. Now, 15 years later, Melinda realized it was the biggest mistake she ever made.

Where once, in high school, she was within a half-second of breaking the school track record for the 100-meter dash, she would soon have tests done to find out if that spot on her X-ray was lung cancer. “How could I get sick so soon?” she thought to herself. “Didn’t cancer and heart disease come laterI thought I had time. I’m not ready for this”.  But there it was; disease and an early death, coming at her like a freight train. “Cancer really is the great equalizer”, she thought. “No one is immuneSon of a bitch!”

After climbing out of bed and taking a long hot shower, Melinda headed downstairs, straight for the coffee pot and the first of her usual ‘3 cups before 8AM rule’. She knew the caffeine would give her the energy she needed to stay awake and focused, so after preparing her first cup she headed to the Den, plopped down on her thick, soft recliner, grabbed the remote to turn on the morning exercise show Melinda had recently become addicted to. Not that she was actually going to exercise, but it was comforting somehow to see other people stay fit. “Is that weird?” she thought.

Melinda wasn’t unfit. She actually had what most of her male (and many female) friends would say “a killer body”, but she didn’t work at it, not any more. Those days were gone, replaced by a more complacent, hi-tech lifestyle of computers, smartphones, and giant TV’s. Of Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest and Google+. She was naturally slim, and attractive, “the result of good genes” she would say. Only now that ‘good genes’ excuse was wearing thin, revealed to be lies, at least when it came to being immune to disease.

Newly single, “No kids thank god!” she would say whenever she felt the tugs of depression over her failed marriage, Melinda had decided that whether or not she had cancer, she was going to stop smoking. “No more!” she thought to herself, over and over as she became angry with that teenage version of herself who once believed that smoking would set her apart from all the “nerd” friends she once hung around with in high school.

Smoking would make her tougher, stronger, and it gave her the reputation she dearly desired, “The girl you didn’t dare try to push around!” And it worked, no one pushed Melinda around, for fear that they would be knocked on their collective asses. Even today, for all her attractiveness, for all of her feminine wiles, you didn’t screw with Melinda. Her ex found that out the hard way. But cancer? Melinda met her match there. Even without a positive diagnosis (yet), she felt beaten by the very idea that cancer had come for her.

Leaning back in the recliner, nursing her coffee, her memories moved to better times. Her first date with her now ex-husband, (“I thought he was perfect, not the perfect ass he proved himself to be”) that wild weekend she refused to ever regret (“memories for when I’m old, memories that will remind me that I once lived my life on MY terms”), and too-many-to-count ‘nights out’ with her dearest friends. She often returned to these better times. It felt right to do so, especially now.

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I wish I could go back to these memories and just freeze everything, look around, feel the way I felt then, think the things I thought then, be the girl I was…”. Melinda was only 29 years old on this non-typical morning, yet for the past few weeks she suddenly felt much older, and these morning were no longer ‘typical’.  “So much morbidity” she realized.

Melinda was all too keenly aware that if she had to go through Chemo and Radiation Treatments there was a chance some of her most cherished memories would become even more important to her. If she survived the treatment she knew she’d never be the same. She would forever look over her shoulder waiting for the return of this monster chasing her, relentlessly chasing her, and all because she wanted to be the ‘cool kid’.

To her, all this ‘looking over her shoulder’ bit was much more depressing than lung cancer could ever be. “We all die, some sooner than later. I just wanted it to be later, and I certainly didn’t want to have to dwell on it every frickin’ day!”

Even while thinking these terrible thoughts she would crack that half-smile that so many men (and women) loved about her. As badly as she wished things were different, she always had a wicked sense of humor, a way to look at all the horrible things that life could throw at anyone, anytime, without warning, and apply just a bit of cynical comedy to it, even when she didn’t feel particularly ‘comical’.

Despite her doctor not yet knowing what “the deal was”, as he put it, not knowing if that black spot was anything to worry about, he spoke to her as if he DID know. And it wasn’t good. “You have to stop smoking. Right now, today. You don’t have a choice.” Being Melinda she almost defied his strong ‘demands’ right then and told him that she would “smoke if I damn well wanted to”, but she instead thought better of it. “Not now.” She said. “Later.”

After her 3rd cup of coffee she was properly caffeinated to face the day. This day, THIS DAY, was going to be different. Cancer or not, today was day that Roger was coming over with what he said was something that would “change your life, for the better.” After that night at the party she believed him. Still, she didn’t tell him about what the doctor told her. She thought it would be best to hold off, until it was something she knew “for sure”. She didn’t know why she shouldn’t tell him, but she had an idea.

A couple of weeks ago Toni, her best friend since they were both 5 years old, invited her to another one of Toni’s famous (or were they infamous?) parties. Toni had these parties at least every month, and they were always amazing. Good people, good music, great food, and the possibility that she might meet someone who would become her soulmate. And, on occasion, things would happen at these soirees that some people, other than Melinda, might regret. On this night something happened that made today possible.

It was during this party that she was shown something completely new. A “sure fire way”, she was told. “to change your life” It was quite by accident too, and had it not been for her tenacity and bravado it might not ever have happened at all. “Or was it destiny?” Melinda thought. She looked at the clock on her iPhone and saw that it wasn’t even 8:00AM. Another two hours before Roger arrived. Since she tossed her cigarettes in the trash last night she couldn’t calm her nervousness as she had always done. Instead, she sunk down into the recliner and thought back at the fateful night, the party that would cause Roger to come over today.

Melinda was sitting on Toni’s sofa, the edge of the sofa actually, on the padded arm, talking with a few friends about this and that, nothing important (certainly nothing about her ‘tests’ that were coming up.) when she reached in to the pockets of her long, wool sweater she had received as a Christmas gift last year, and pulled out her pack of Marlboros. By now it was clear that most people, certainly everyone at this party anyway, frowned on smoking, making it nearly the worst thing a person could do. Melinda believed, without a doubt, that she could strip off all her clothes, right then and there, and prance around the apartment full of people and sing “The Coconut Song” by Harry Nilsson and it would be more acceptable than pulling out a cigarette and lighting up. (“Mind controlling zealots,” she would blame).

Whenever she wanted to smoke she had to go outside, on the balcony, and light up. She had done it a thousand times before, and in one swift move, a single action that contained many smaller actions, she reached into her sweater pocket with her right hand, got up from the edge of the sofa, made a half turn with whole body, placed her right foot forward and as smoothly as glider moving through the air above the beautiful meadows in the north side of town, she was up and out the slider door and onto the balcony in a virtual blink of an eye, cigarette already moving up to her lips and her Bic lighter already displaying the fire she needed… ready to set the tobacco tightly rolled up in paper tube on fire, and begin the ritual she set out to do.

Melinda took that first drag and filled her lungs with the nicotine-infused smoke she loved so much, her nerves relaxed like butter being tossed onto a hot skillet, and that part of the brain that needed the nicotine released messages to the rest of the body that said “Relax, we’re good.” With her eyes closed, and ignoring all that was happening around her, she slipped away, however briefly, into that special reality that only a cigarette smoker could experience. One of solitude, calmness, and utter loneliness. Not like in the old days when everybody smoked and even the non-smokers tolerated it. Not that she had any memory of such things, but she had heard about them.

But, at that moment, a memory (moments old) flashed across her brain, causing her eyes to open, her hearing to sharpen, and her mind to focus sharply in a nano-second. “What was that?” she thought to herself.

In the brief few seconds it took to go from the edge of the sofa to the railing of the balcony, she swore she saw someone smoking at the dining room table, where the living room met the dining area like so many ‘open floor’ apartments had these days. “What the hell?” was all she could muster before her head spun around to look back inside and directly where she thought she saw something she couldn’t have possibly seen. But she did see it.

She needed to make sure that what she saw was real. She directed all of her attention to the man at the table. Sure enough, just as plain as day, she was seeing this man sitting there, smoking.

As she stared, this mysterious interloper whom she did not recognize from any previous party,  he continued to bring his cigarette to his lips, inhale, and then exhale…over and over. “Wait a minute. How come HE can smoke inside and I can’t?” she thought to herself. She realized she was utterly alone on the balcony. She was, without question, the last smoker of the group, and she felt like a criminal, or at least someone that was ‘criminal-lite’. Melinda did not like this feeling. Not at all. And now that there was someone else, someone smoking inside the apartment, and she felt betrayed.

If stares could kill then surely this mysterious smoker would be dead. She studied him for some minutes, forcing herself not to go back in, not just yet. She tried to figure out why no one was saying anything to this smoking man, and no one had moved away from him either. “This is so strange” she thought. Melinda entertained, however briefly, the possibility that someone spiked her drink, that what she thought she was seeing wasn’t really happening. Surely there was no way Toni and Gwyn would allow this man to smoke while forcing her to the balcony. But that thought left almost as soon as it arrived. If she knew anything at all, it was that Toni would not allow someone to smoke inside her apartment and not allow Melinda the same right. “Impossible” she thought.

As she watched the smoking man she couldn’t stop thinking that maybe she was missing something important. So she started looking him over, from the very top of the smoking man’s head on down, and played a detective game she made up on the spot.

What is he doing differently? Why is he allowed to stay?”, to discover the answers, to solve these questions, was the goal of her new game. And she played to win, always.

She noticed the smoke rising above his head, thick rich plumes of smoke, but for some reason the smoke rose only a couple of feet and instead of reaching out and spreading through the entire room as her own cigarette smoke would do, this smoke went up and simply disappeared into thin air. Melinda was becoming more confused as she watched. “What kind of cigarette does that?” she wondered.

Slowly moving her line of vision from the quickly disappearing smoke, down to his hairline, and then his eyebrows, his eyes, nose, lips, “this was a handsome man” she thought to herself (and then immediately chastised herself for thinking it), she noticed the cigarette itself. The source of all this confusion. The smoking man’s cigarette “was one of those black ones” as Melinda put it, “He’s smoking a fancy black cigarette. But that shouldn’t make a dif__”, and then, right there, what she saw next stunned her so completely she couldn’t move.

A blue tipped flame!

Wait. What? Since when does a cigarette burn with a blue flame?” she demanded to know. “This is nuts!”

Melinda tossed her barely smoked cigarette to the ground, stomped on it, picked up the now dead cigarette butt, and placed it in the napkin that was previously under her drink, rolled it up and stashed it in one of her sweater pockets. She was about to storm into he room, make a bee-line to the handsome man with the black cigarette with the blue tip, and confront him, and the rest of the party-goers. Melinda wanted some answers.

Deciding it was time, moving again like a panther this time, gliding from the balcony to the dining room in one long singular movement, she got within a foot of the man and suddenly stopped. Before she could open her mouth she realized she had no idea what to say.

Hey you! What are you smoking? Why are you allowed in her and I am not? What’s going on?” she said to herself. Realizing that sounded more than a little crazy and more than a bit childish, she thought better of it and said nothing.

Instead of berating this man she knew nothing about she backed away, slowly, and sat down on the far end of the loveseat that was just a couple of feet away from the dining room table and continued to watch him and those around him.

While watching the smoking man Melinda’s mind drifted a bit. (She was doing this a lot lately) She began to remember all the times she had been to her best friend’s apartment over the years and how many times she had to “excuse” herself to the balcony. It didn’t matter if it was raining, snowing, or the dreaded “hazy, hot and humid” days, if she wanted to smoke she was directed to the balcony. No exceptions. “Filthy habit!” she thought. “But I love it anyway”.

Melinda’s friend Toni was a smoker at one time as well, but she gave it up after meeting, and falling in love with, Gwyneth, a 10th-grade History teacher at the high school Melinda and Toni once attended (but not at the same time. Gwyn was barely 30) Gwyn didn’t want to make a life with a smoker, because as she put it “Toni will die before I will, that’s a fact, and the last years of my life will be spent all alone, and sick from the second-hand smoke too! It’s just not worth it. If she wants to be with me, she’ll stop smoking.” And Toni did just that. Cold Turkey. “Good for her” Melinda said under her breath. Melinda had no desire to quit smoking. She hated cigarettes, but she loved the whole act of smoking. Cold turkey was not an option. She believed that, if push came to shove, she would smoke through Chemo.

She is one determined lady” Melinda remembered saying about Toni. “I wish I had a man, or a woman as a matter of fact, that could get me to stop as well.” (lying) But she knew it didn’t work like that, not really. Toni and Gwyn were lucky to find each other, and Toni was fortunate enough to find a woman that would give this ‘smoker’ a chance. Most people today recognized a smoker and didn’t bother getting to know them. “The zealots won this one” Melinda would say.

As Melinda pondered the life they would have, these two women she held dearest to her heart, she finally noticed what had been staring her in the face the whole time. She noticed that the black, blue-tipped cigarette wasn’t burning out. He never once flicked ashes into an ashtray, it didn’t smell like a cigarette, and the room remained clear of smoke.

Still silent, and reaching back into her memories yet again, she touched on something she saw on TV a while back; something about a cigarette that didn’t burn, or something like that. She wasn’t quite clear on the memory, she didn’t pay much attention to it at the time. “Is he smoking a fake cigarette?” Melinda thought. “Is that it?” And finally “But it looks so real!

Before she could stop herself she finally found the guts to get up from the loveseat and go over to the man with secrets. She walked right up to him and, while staring straight into this handsome man’s eyes, asked him “What on earth are you smoking?”…She didn’t mean to say it like that, it just came out. Melinda was instantly embarrassed. The man, with his green eyes looking away from her, said “This is my electronic Cigarette dear, and I am not smoking. I’m vaping. You must be Melinda.”

And with that the smoking man turned around in his seat, looked directly into Melinda’s eyes and said, “Have a seat. I think there are some things you need to know.”

End –

 

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