In the eighth grade, a neighborhood friend, Rob, would occasionally swipe a cigarette from his mom’s pack of Parliaments. We would watch him, in complete amazement, as he lit the cigarette, sucked it (making the end glow,) inhaled, and then exhaled a cloud of blue smoke. He always offered a drag on his cigarette to anyone who dared to try it.
“Go on,” he’d say, “it tastes like mint.”
So far, I had refused. I was too scared. (Don’t cigarettes kill you?)
At some point, his mom must have realized that her cigarettes were disappearing at a much faster rate because she started keeping her Parliaments safely tucked away in her purse. In fact, once I saw her purse on the kitchen counter next to a bag of groceries and pointed it out to Rob. He just shook his head.
“No, she counts them now,” he said.
Inside one of the grocery bags was a new carton of cigarettes. Rob removed the it from the bag with a smile.
“But she’d never think I took the whole carton,” he said.
We hopped on our bikes and showed our good fortune to another neighborhood kid, Eric. He joined us, safely out of sight, behind the high school. We sat on the grass facing each other with our legs crossed. We watched Rob open the carton and remove the first of ten packs of cigarettes. He produced a silver Zippo and flicked the thumb wheel to produce a flame. He lit his cigarette and snapped the Zippo shut with a flick of his wrist like a seasoned pro. He tossed the pack to Eric. He tapped the pack until a single cigarette extended out. He put the entire pack to his face and removed a single cigarette with his lips—no doubt as he had watched his dad countless times. I was at a disadvantage; neither one of my parents smoked, so I had to learn proper cigarette etiquette by watching my friends.
Eric tossed the pack to me. This was it. Decision time. Sure…why not?
Following Eric’s lead, I tapped the pack, removed a cigarette and lit it by placing Eric’s lit cigarette directly against the end of my cigarette.
“Take a drag,” he instructed.
I did, inhaled and immediately coughed up a blue cloud. I took another hit—this one not so deep. It did taste like mint. I still coughed, but the dizziness made up for it. Turns out smoking was fun. Ha! Who knew? No wonder so many of my friends’ parents smoked.
Eric took another cigarette even though his first cigarette was still lit and started puffing on two cigarettes at once. What a hoot.
Not to be outdone, Rob loaded his mouth with as many cigarettes as he could fit in his mouth in a single row, and lit them, all at once. I opened another pack and jammed my mouth as well. We laughed at each other as we tried to outdo one another. We started counting. Who among us could smoke the most cigarettes at once? It was a contest. We opened more packs and stuffed our mouths until not one more cigarette would fit.
Then Eric topped it off by putting a cigarette in each ear. That really cracked us up. Next, we loaded every orifice on our heads. We crammed our ears, nostrils and mouths. Sweet blue menthol smoke hovered around us. We huffed and puffed taking direct pure tobacco smoke hits. The ends of the cigarettes glowed and dulled with each breath. I remember being very—VERY—dizzy. I looked at Eric and Rob and both of their faces were stuffed with about 40 cigarettes each.
Without warning Rob barfed.
That changed the mood real quick. He dropped to his hands and knees to wretch some more. A string of spit connected his lips with the ground. Eric and I watched and laughed at our puking friend, but the sight of Rob heaving, combined with the smell and the sound that vomiting produces…well. I don’t remember who threw up next, but within a minute, all three of us were blowing chunks. One minute we were laughing it up; the next we were throwing it up.
Once my stomach was empty, I was able to stagger home without puking. I flopped down on my bed and just laid there until the nausea went away. My mother was surprised to find me in bed on such a beautiful day. She placed her hand on my forehead and a dish next to my bed. I’m sure I reeked. If she suspected I had been smoking, she never let on. When I woke up the next morning, the house was empty and quiet—everyone was at church. They assumed I had the flu.
My mouth tasted like an ashtray.
That morning I vowed I would never smoke a cigarette again in my life, and I never have. To this day, I relate the smell of cigarette smoke to puking behind the high school. Quite frankly, I’m kind of glad it does.