Four years ago, four years after my mother died, I threw my cigarettes in the trash on my walk home from work, and I (almost) haven’t smoked since. My mother hated smoking, and lying, and I hate that I smoked secretly and stunk of cigarettes as she lay dying in our house. Once my cigarettes were at the bottom of a trash can somewhere along Devoe Street in Williamsburg (close to Humboldt, I think), I went straight to the bodega to buy an e-cigarette. I puffed through one of those, and then bought another that stayed in my bag for the next year, just in case.
Quitting smoking was the hardest thing that I have done of my own volition. Like a less-sylph-like Margot Tennenbaum, I had smoked secretly on-and-off for years, but by the time I quit, I had been addicted for a while. I spent my first weekend as a non-smoker alone. My husband had gone to a festival with friends at Mass Moca, and I didn’t speak to anyone for three days (which would have been impossible if my mother was alive). I walked in circles in my apartment, watched What Happened, Miss Simone?, went to the bodega, drank seltzer with bitters, and ate. A few days later, my friend Zosia invited me to a yoga class at Y7. I went, didn’t know to take my mascara off, and cried at the end. I kept going back.
Quitting, like grieving, is about time, learning how to pass through it in a new way, diving headfirst into the wave, to come out the other side. None of the things I mentioned above — or the other stuff I list below, for that matter — helped me not want to smoke. But all of them were happy, needed distractions that led to the kindling of new rituals.
At that first Y7 class, I was given a big Nalgene water bottle that I then clutched like a pacifier, or a very large cigarette, all summer long. I looped it around my index finger, where it dangled like a cigarette once did. It was a constant companion, a thing to do in small doses, all day long. Carrying it around was a bit of a chore, but then again, so was smoking. Addictions are always getting in your way.
That summer, I spritzed rosewater on everything I ate. Intently spraying it with my index finger (the one I’d dangle my big water bottle from, because it no longer held a cigarette) felt purposeful: I was turning my chia into something ambrosial. And with every cigarette I didn’t smoke, I’d tell myself I was turning my body into a flower, too. These days, I still drop rosewater into really icy water, or spike seltzer with it, or sprinkle it on cantaloupe or strawberries and coconut for my daughter. (I also have a daughter now. I hope she never smokes, but if she does, I hope she will be brave enough to be honest with me.)
Speaking of everything I ate: I first had taralli as an afternoon snack with one of my most wonderful friends — she and her partner served them on a small plate, with a glass of very bubbly seltzer and bitters. I started to do the same thing; on summer Fridays, I would set up a little afternoon taralli spread on my table, and my chihuahua would sit across from me with a lemon tree behind her. It became another ritual to take the place of smoking, one that lasted far longer than the lemon tree (my thumb is not green).
After the first yoga class, I got wise to the idea of transitioning from a work day to the damp basement of Y7’s old Williamsburg studio. (I loved descending down those stairs.) I would take my (very precious) bottle of Vintner’s Daughter with me, patting a few drops into my skin after removing my makeup. In time, its smell — one that I can’t really put my finger on, that I still find so relaxing — would become synonymous with my new yoga habit, one I never would have thought my body could achieve. I was kind of terrible at yoga, but I did it, and that felt like the biggest triumph! I haven’t gone in a long time, and I mostly don’t think about smoking anymore. But writing this now at my dining room table, I am smiling and unfurling as I think back on that blast of Y7 heat and the herbaceous aroma of Vintner’s Daughter (which is still one of my very favorite skin-care products).
After yoga, I would take very long Youth Dew baths, with a seltzer, rosé, and a book. My grandmother (she smoked, too) gave me a bottle of Youth Dew for my bat mitzvah, and it has an enveloping, chic-grandma smell. One drop of the oil in my bath made that whole side of our apartment bloom; I would read until my fingertips were pruney and everything was washed away so I could roll into bed fragrant and ready to sleep, not smoke.
While quitting, I caught — and still have — #ferrantefever. Lying on the beach (where I spent a lot of time that summer) I chain-smoked her books. The only place I wanted to be was living with Lila and Lenu in Naples. There was no me there, I was neither smoker nor non-smoker. In their world, I was still, I was silent.
At the end of a beach day I would shower and, wrapped in towels, bring my potions and lotions and a glass of wine to a balcony next to the ocean. I would very slowly make my way through my little shiny white toiletry bag, saving Glow Balm — with it’s rose-meets-frankincense scent, and spa-of-the-mind feeling — for last. I’d pat it on my damp face, the sun would set, we would go to dinner, eat ice cream, not smoke, and I would wake up the next morning, thinking of coffee, my mother, and less and less, cigarettes.
Quitting smoking left me numb and feeling depressed. I’m in the business of selling beautiful things, yet I know that nothing beautiful can make hard times less hard. But something special can be a small secret mirror to help reflect the tiny sparks of joy on the path to repair. A few weeks into being cigarette-free, I added this ring to my stack as a little reminder that hard work and joy go hand in hand. It’s still there.
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