“You’re Going to Die of Cancer Mommy if you Don’t Quit!”

I blurted reluctantly, then intently and then tepidly from my seven year old heart at my mother in the kitchen that day.

Not because I didn’t believe it. I didn’t want the words that came out of my mouth to ever come true.

{ Elizabeth Taylor taking a drag in her Oscar winning performance in Butterfield 8. If my mother had a Facebook page today, Liz would be her doppleganger. }

{ Disclaimer: There is a point to these stories. I am travelling back in time and colouring my story to bring you to a point. I already know how it ends. I’m going back to the beginning to tell you the story. It’s cathartic yes AND maybe parts of my story will help parts of your life for the better. }

I used to hide my mother’s cigarettes. Everywhere. Infrequently. Funny she knew it was me. And her lighter. And her matches. And the ashtrays. All of them. Gone. Just magically gone. Not for long. Unless I had left the house. It would more than likely be less than a minute and I’d return them to her. She would go between being upset to feeling humoured by it, realizing in my efforts, I was really trying to look after her. How do you live on a constant line of contradictory, where you are constantly telling your children, “smoking is bad for you. It isn’t good to do. Well I’m an adult, and I’ve decided to do it.” If I managed to dart out of the room before she came back and was in another part of the house I could hear the long delay of silence after her steps into the bedroom. I could gauge the timing before I heard the juxtaposition of her various screams,

“Kaaatie” { humorous kidding } “I know you did this because you love me. AND, return them. Now!”

“Katie!” { frustrated }  No time for games. Replace cigarettes, ashtray and lighter pronto.

“Katieeeee!” { aggressive anger } Run! Let her open a new pack of cigarettes, find a new lighter and use a bean can.

I hate smoking. ‘Can’t stand it. Always have, always will. Smoking is the bane of my existence. I had to live in it every single day of my childhood. It’s possible that it’s the reason I was born prematurely. We’ll never know. I’ll I know is, it was the largest bone of contention between my mother and I our entire lives. Daily. Daily for 19 years solid and every other single time after that we were in the same room. It smells bad. Gives me an awful headache, a stomach ache. It makes me hold my breath. Do you know how often I have had to hold my breath? Close my nose? Maybe that’s why I could do so many lengths holding my breath in synchronized swimming. Luckily it could be mostly avoided in the morning until I got to school. Only 4-5 hours to avert after school before bedtime and could usually be contained within one room.

The worst was in the car. I was always rolling down the windows to get air. This annoyed my mother. This upset me. That upset her. And the cycle would continue. It seemed she took it all personally. It wasn’t personal in those moments. In those moments, I just wanted clean air, to avoid a headache, stomach ache and general malaise. This was made worse of course in the winter with the heaters blaring and the smoke building up in the car. It was suffocating. Sliding the window down to get some clean air in the car seemed the only refuge. I have spent many, many, many hours with scarves wrapped around my nose and mouth, blankets stuffed into my face, coat necks brought up around my nose blocking my mouth and nose trying to make it look natural so as to not upset my mother. My brother and I would do this individually in the back seat of the van. Eventually we figured out we could pool our resources and make a tent between the two of our jackets and at least have some breathing air instead of breathing in our jackets and scarves! Sometimes she would roll the window back up again. There was a lot of arm action here people with two people constantly rolling up and rolling down the windows. Once automatic windows came in well that was a whole other ballgame of window fun.

I still remember a girlfriend’s’ house I went to in Gr.6 who said to me, “Does you mother smoke?” I said yes and I asked her how she knew. She said she could smell it on my clothes. Great. I felt 2 ft tall and ashamed.  Although on the plus size her smoking did infuse in me that I would never-ever-ever smoke ever. I would never succumb to peer pressure of teens and never be a worry in that regard. I never heard the words when leaving for a school dance or party,

“No smoking.”

My mother knew all 3 of her kids didn’t like it, and would never smoke. I decided I would try it once at a local dance. I knew I would never buy a pack or take it up, but decided I ‘d try it once to find out the big deal was about. Nothing. I go nothing. No feeling, no slow gasp of relief  as though it was the best thing  that happened to them all day and they needed it as I’d seen in others after a first puff.

“What’s the big deal here?”

“You didn’t inhale properly.”

I tried again. Nothing.

“This is seriously stupid. Have fun.”

I would not try again for a few years. I was never tempted. No  desire. Most of my friends were preps or jocks. I was athletic and participated in many sports in highschool and competitively – namely soccer. Smoking wasn’t really the thing to do unless you were a headbanger. The headbangers were out smoking near the garbage dumpsters in their spray painted jean jackets and acid wash jeans. Getting caught in the washroom stalls where you could see the tinged orange burn marks left on the toilet seats and walls. Classy.

I went to work at a second camp and it seemed a lot of the staff were smoking. A couple of them were smoking “Green Deaths” – those Marlboro Menthol Green packs. They said they were stronger. I thought well maybe I’d feel something if I tried one of those. I told them I’d never smoke, but wanted to see what the big deal was and had tried and nothing happened. I don’t know what my 17 year old self was thinking, but I decided I’d be daring.

“Here – give me one of those.”

“You sure?”


“I don’t want to be responsible for you starting a smoking habit.”
“Trust me. Ain’t going to happen. I do want to see what the big deal is though, ‘cuz right now it all seems fake.”

He passed me one of the green deaths and I told them,

“I’ll be right back.”

I took off out of the staff lounge and went into one of the kids cabins. This was staff week so there were no kids at the camp yet. I climbed up the stairs of one of the pine bunk beds covered in knifed out couples, “Joe hearts Sarah / ’93”. I sat backwards in the bunk with my back against the outer edge of the top bunk so I was facing the wall. I lit the cigarette. This probably took me four times. I wasn’t very good at it. I clasped my legs against the frame of the bed and hung myself upside down. I proceeded to take a series of puffs quickly inhaling in and out. I probably only smoked half the thing. I swung myself up.

“Woh! I feel good. I feel fine. There’s nothing to this stuff.”

I ran back to the staff lounge. They all wondered where the heck I went. I jumped over the puffy, 70”s brown felt couch someone’s parents had donated in one swoop!




“Heyyyy! Where dyah go?”

I told them my green death bunk bed manoeuver and that I was feeling fine.

“Nothing happened.”



Three minutes had probably gone by total. All of a sudden all three of them seemed to be looking at like one another like something was wrong. They’re eye brows raised.

“What? What is it? Why are you guys looking at me that way?”

“Are you sure you feel ok Kate?”

“Yeah – I feel…..”

I started to not feel very good in that moment and everything started to slowwww wayy down.”

“‘Don’t feel so good…”

“Yeah – you don’t look so good Kate. Your face has lost all its colour and looks green.”

I slowly got myself up from the couch and walked to the outside of the staff cabin and lay sat down on the grass with my back against the wall. I didn’t hurl, but I sure didn’t feel good and couldn’t talk. They got me some water and said I just had to wait it out. And wait it out I did.

This of course is the other tactic to make sure your kids don’t start a habit. Mine was self-induced mind you. I was already getting too much of it at home! I think the one-time-over-do-it method is personally better and a healthier choice!

I never took up the habit. I knew I wouldn’t. My mother never stopped smoking. It never stopped bothering me. I didn’t stop opening windows, draping clothing, blankets, pillows and scarves over mu nose and mouth. This never stopped bothering her. She used to think we did to bother her. Nope. I know she started when no one knew better. When the Marlboro man was a sexy hero on horseback. I know it gave her relief. Albeit temporarily – each and every time as it does for all smokers out there. I know it’s addictive. I know my mother had endured enough stress that others wouldn’t have been able to cope with and this little tiny ciggy gave her some relief. I just think it’s silly. It’s a cigarette and it causes health issues – allergy, headache, Emphysema, lung cancer and death.

I’ve tried to think about why people think it “looks cool” and “sexy.” The James Bond creators don’t put a nice thin Capri, Virgin slim in the hands of their female seductress for no reason. Same for Bond. Here’s my theory. It isn’t the rolled up paper cylinder that sits two inches between a person’s fingers that seems cool – it’s the act – “the action” – of smoking. And why does the action of inhaling a piece of paper cylinder into your mouth seemingly look cool? Three reasons:

1) It’s “creating” something – a result, an action.
2) Freud. Our mouth is a sensitive, erogenous, intimate, powerful part of our body.
3) Distraction. Looking occupied. Busy. From something, from anything else.

What do I mean by all this? I believe we are all “creating” beings. We came here to create. Ideally create our given talents – whether they be works of art, song or intelligence. When we stand in our truth of creating – I believe it’s powerful, sexy and attractive to others. How does watching someone paint, play guitar or sing feel to you? In contrast to do nothing, but standing – when we often see smokers smoking – the action of “smoking” appears like the person is doing something with their hands, their mouth, their self. Is it for a creative end? No, but it is still not standing and doing nothing.

I wish people would take the cigarette out of their mouth – which is really a stick full of all their stresses, hurts and feelings they are avoiding feeling and take that out on page, canvas or guitar. Do something useful with your creating.

Quit Smoking.

YOU are better than a cigarette.

If you don’t think so, seek counselling, an acupuncturist, a hypnotist.
What is the point of smoking your life away?

Do you think you looked down from the ethers and said,

“Yah – you know what, I want to go back to earth and have a good time and I’ll absolutely make sure I’ll be smoking the entire time!”

I don’t think so.

I wonder if I would have taken up smoking she would have quit?

She never quit smoking. I never quit being bothered by it. It was one of the biggest bones of contention between us and it never ever went away.

“Breathing my mother in,
Breathing her nicotine…
{ Breathing, Kate Bush }

Are you smoking a cigarette while you’re reading this?

Finally Breathing,
Red Fingerprint• 9pm, June 18, 2014
Locale: Sitting at my bamboo desk. Damp, post rainy humid evening
On Deck: “You smoke the day’s last cigarette,
Rememberin’ what she said”  ~ Turn the Page by Bob Seger
Feel’n: Melancholy. ‘Could be on a tattered porch deck, sipp’n vino watch’n the sunset with my lovely.