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).