Dear Camel Lights

Dear Camel Lights,

My fondest memories of you are from when I was eight or so. On weekday evenings, after dinner, I would lay my head on my dad's chest and use you as part of my pillow while we watched M.A.S.H. reruns. I could smell you through his shirt pocket where you always lived, so close to his heart, and hear your package crinkle, papery and plastic-y all at once. I liked your smell, not the way you smelled lit up (I never liked that) but the way you smelled all new in your package. Like something almost clean and natural. Opening the package like a present, I would find the rows of white wrapped sticks all lined up and ready, full of promise. I liked you best there, in your package, clean and unused. The acrid smell of your smoke, the dirty butts stubbed out in ashtrays, the cough that rattled through my father's chest a little deeper with each passing year- those I could always do without.

I remember going to see my father in the hospital when his lung collapsed. I was a teenager then and my tall, strong, broad-shouldered, all-powerful father lay pale and prone on his hospital bed, tubes everywhere. As a test? exercise? he had to breathe into a small tube and try to move a little ball. It jumped feebly before dropping as his face turned red with effort.

You did that to him. You made him have to relearn the one basic thing we all humans do reflexively: breathe.

He quit you the day his lung collapsed. He spent those first few Camel-free years chewing on licorice root twigs and sucking on peppermints and going to therapy. He had to learn how to relax without you, how to breathe deeply again without drawing anything in but clean air.

I never touched you because I saw you for what you are: a deadly, disgusting scourge.

My daughter is only 2 and she doesn't know what cigarettes are yet. But today I had to tell her that her "Grampa has something in his chest called cancer and they have to take it out". She asked "Why?" because she's two and the repeated and vague use of that question is, unfortunately, a requisite developmental milestone but also because ... OMG WHY? Why are these things still sold in stores? Why did you manipulate and strategize and advertise your way into HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of lung cancer deaths each year, getting richer and richer while people DIED BECAUSE OF YOU?

When my father started smoking as a young man, few really understood what smoking did to your body. I believe that. (Scientific research conducted: Mad Men). I believe that somewhere along the line, lots and lots of people knew and chose not only to not do anything to prevent more deaths but to actually ACTIVELY create and recreate a product that could addict people more powerfully than ever before. My father was addicted in his youth and spent years trying to quit but your grip was PURPOSEFULLY too powerful. It took his freaking lung collapsing to finally quit. That was 20 years ago. With each passing year since then, we imagined his once gray, sickly lungs regenerating, getting more pink and smooth and plump. We hoped he was in the clear. But your reach, your power, still reigns.

When my father goes into surgery soon, to cut out the crud you put in there, I will continue to curse your name. When my daughter asks me one day what cigarettes are, I will find an age-appropriate way to explain the truth to her. As she gets older, I will work hard to make sure she has the tools to relax and feel comfortable in social situations without your cancer sticks. And if I nevertheless hear that telltale papery and yet plastic-y crinkle come out of one of her teenage pockets, I will do my best to ask and to listen and then, hopefully, PLEASE GOD, to bring my dad in to SCARE THE LIVING CRAP OUT OF HER.


One Clueless But Hopeful Mama


Anonymous said...

Your dad will be in my thoughts and prayers.

Kathleen said...

You rock, sister. As always. After seeing my grandfather suffer from emphysema for the entire twenty years I knew him, I am right there with you. Blessings and healing, to you, your mom, your dad, and the rest of your family.

Anonymous said...

I had to leave a comment. I frequently read your blog, but almost never comment. This post made me cry. Literally. I recently lost both my maternal grandma and paternal grandpa to problems related with smoking, and they both smoked until the day they died. These losses have helped my dad quit smoking, but we are already dealing with the consequences of smoking for 30+ years.

I can only hope I will one day be able to convey the dangers of smoking to my daughter and have the ability to find some way to encourage her not to never to start.

Best wishes to you and your family during this time.

miyoko said...

why in the world those stupid addictive cancer sticks even EXIST anymore is BEYOND ME. they should just not be allowed to be made/sold anymore. it's just too tempting, addictive, evil, and life sucking.
I wish all the best for your Dad and all the strength and support for your family.

Joanna said...

This was so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing. I am thinking good thoughts for your Father.

Anonymous said...

My grandfather worked in sales for a tobacco company his whole career, and I think our entire family is kind of conflicted about it. None of his kids or grandkids smoke...

Swistle said...

I loved this post SO MUCH. It's so touching and then you put in those ZINGS of funny.

Astarte said...

I hope he's gotten through the surgery OK. I will continue to pray for him.

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