Thursday, November 20, 2003

A COLUMN FOR SOPHIE, THE TOBACCO BUSTER

[The following article is reprinted with permission from Bob Lonsberry. More great articles by Bob can be found at his website at www.lonsberry.com Thanks Bob!]

This column is for my daughter Sophie.

She is 10, a fifth-grader, and a Tobacco Buster. That's what her T-shirt said yesterday. Tobacco Buster. She and some others wore them as they trouped from classroom to classroom in the elementary school, making a presentation about smoking.

She's learned about smoking in school and is very serious about it. I remember how that is. When I was her age, and younger, I was very serious about it myself.

I remember being about 7 and getting a lesson in school about the dangers of smoking and the number of years it would take off one's life. I went home afterward and made some calculations and took them to my mother.

I told her when she would die, and how old I would be, and how afraid that made me, and how I wished she would stop smoking.

She laughed and told me not to worry and kept on smoking.

Then and for years to follow. After the nodes came and her voice went raspy and the hacking, phlegmy, nearly passing-out coughing fits took hold of her and she had to lift the nasal canula out of the way to light her cigarettes.

She's out on Greenwood Street now, a little lichen-scarred stone between her third and fourth husbands.

She's grama-in-the-picture-frame. An 8-by-10 smiling face unknown to or barely remembered by her grandchildren. Just like her father is a fleeting memory to me, a wheezing emphysemic with a cigarette and a cough, dead long before I was old enough to even know what a grandfather was.

My people drown in their own fluids, with blackened cancerous lungs and the stench of burnt tobacco in their hair.

My grandfather and my mother and my uncle and another uncle sick now and my brother with a canula of his own.

This column is for my daughter Sophie.

She is a Tobacco Buster and she takes it seriously. She is learning in the classroom what I hope she never has to see in person, the agony and terror of people who can't breathe, and the hurt of lives they leave empty by their absence.

Today is the Great American Smoke-out, or something like that. That gimmicky thing they do each year for people who have lost the instinct of self-preservation. A little plea to smokers to try for one day to suspend the slow suicide of their habit.

I admit I've kind of lost interest in it.

I've kind of given up hope. You can cry and plead and beg and argue and none of it does the slightest bit of good. They nod their heads and mouth platitudes about how they know it's bad for them but they just can't stop or they like it or how their grandfather smoked two packs a day and lived to be 92.

Blah-blah, blah blah blah.

Different person, same tired nonsense.

I've kind of given up hope.

But I am touched by Sophie's enthusiasm and faith. She and the others went from classroom to classroom with a simple and obvious message - don't touch the stove, it's hot. Don't do that, it will hurt. Don't smoke, you'll die.

And maybe the children listened.

Or maybe they went home and feared for their parents.

And maybe your heart is too shrouded by selfishness and cowardice for that to sink in. And maybe I don't care. Because if you don't give a damn about yourself, why should I?

Smoke and die for all I care. Better people than you have done it and the rest of us have gone on fine. We don't need you, we don't feel sorry for you, you're bringing it on yourself.

Screw you and your cigarettes.

If only you'd have the good graces to go off on an island somewhere and fight for breath alone, out of our earshot, where your slow-motion death isn't played out for your family to watch and cry over, a last token of your incomprehensible selfishness.

It's your life you end, but it's other people's lives you ruin. The ones whose misfortune it is to love a smoking idiot like you. You will put them through hell and leave them prematurely bereft and denied the birthright of family because you're too spineless to put down that freaking cigarette.

I don't pity you, I hold you in contempt.

And so, eventually, will your loved ones. When they realize what your smoking did to them and their children. We would hate someone who killed our parent, so what should we feel for parents who kill themselves?

Who become grama-in-the-picture-frame, a smiling 8-by-10 reminder that she loved cigarettes more than family, nicotine more than blood, habit more than home.

This column is for my daughter Sophie.

The one who is very serious about tobacco.

The one who is the spitting image of the grandmother she never knew.

- by Bob Lonsberry (c) 2003

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