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Around The Sun: The Dreaded Weed

Steve Harrison tells how he kicked the smoking habit with the very best help available.

I smoked three packets of cigarettes per day for about 10 years. I have always been a compulsive.

It started with a couple of menthol cigs when I was in my mid to late teens, and then it escalated out of control. I not only smoked store-bought cigarettes. I rolled my own. I even used to wander the streets, looking for discarded cigarettes to recycle.

At night I usually dreamed I was smoking in bed. I would fall asleep, then wake in a panic, thinking the bed was on fire. Then I would grab a cigarette to calm my nerves, smoke it, fall asleep again, only to wake up experiencing the same dream. Then I smoked another cigarette.

I loved that first-of-the-day cigarette, the intoxicating dizziness resulting from it. Oh I wanted to stop smoking, but lady nicotine held me tightly in her grip.

By this time I had been wandering far from home for a number of years, looking for answers to the meaning of life. A few clues would have been acceptable. Of course I enjoyed returning to my home in West Yorkshire, and seeing my Dad who was as dependable as a Swiss watch. He always went to the Walkers Arms Pub late in the day. Two or three drinks at most, then home to bed. He was a simple man, hard working, faithful, honest.

He taught me practical, useful things. How to repair a fuse and do simple electrical rewiring. How to remove an engine from a car and carry out any necessary repairs.

He didn’t bring me up to be afraid, or think that the world is a scary place. When I told him I was off again to some obscure country the only thing he said was “Have a good time. And send your Mum a postcard now and then.’’

When I was young I remember him saying to my Mum “See yer later’’ before popping out to the pub. He would be back in a couple of hours. I lay in bed, listening to the door close as he went out, then hearing his distinct, heavy footsteps. There would be a cough or two as he walked to the end of our street, and off round the corner. Then I lay there in the darkness, trying to escape from the thought of a world without him. Sleep has never come easily to me.

About 11 o’clock, there would be that distinctive cough in the distance, then the sound of a key in the lock. And then I could fall into a secure comfortable sleep.

Many a time I worried that he would not come back. That cough of his was a death rattle, yet when I was young it was also comforting. When I was old enough I would pop into the Walkers Arms unannounced. We didn’t talk about deep matters. We were so deeply bonded that few words were necessary. There he would be, sitting in his favourite spot, a broad grin on his face. I would buy him a beer and settle down beside him, secure in the smell of strong soap and stale cigarettes. I was at peace in his company.

My dad was always well presented, jacket and trouser, shirt and tie. He looked terrific sitting there, content, cigarette burning down to nicotine stained fingers, Guinness in the other hand, in the company of his one and only son.

Dad coughed constantly. He had coughing fits. Too many cigarettes, and too long working in coal mines. The coughing intensified. His face turned bright red. His neck became swollen, the veins distinct and purple. The collar around his neck tightened. His face appeared bloated and took on a purple glow. His eyes bulged, his lips became swollen.

He stared at me through clouded eyes. Then, like a great oak tree, he toppled.

I was scared. The one I most cared for in all the world was struggling for breath, dying. I loosened his necktie and laid him down, praying for a miracle.

There was a miracle. He revived.

Weeks after that episode I went walking in the woods. I climbed a hill. A very steep hill. I was out of breath, puffing, panting, struggling. I stopped to light a cigarette. I had a vision of a young boy, running ahead of me, full of vigour and energy. He called for me to follow him. I indicated that I wanted to finish smoking my cigarette.

Suddenly everything made sense. My father’s lungs were ruined, and mine were heading the same way.

That night I prayed a special prayer. I asked God to help me to stop smoking. My prayer seemed to last for hours. I sweated profusely. It seemed that all the foulness was coming out through my pores.

Next morning I awoke invigorated and refreshed. Usually the first thing I did on waking was to light a cigarette. Not this time. This day was different. I did not desire one.

And I have never smoked a cigarette since that day. Not for a moment do I crave one, even when surrounded by heavy smokers.

Now that’s what I call a miracle.

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