As I grew older and approached puberty, I would often lay awake until late into the night and wonder what it would feel like to be a smoker, to actually and deliberately inhale cigarette smoke into my lungs! How could this possibly be pleasurable to anyone?! Why do so many people do it hundreds of times every day?! The thought of doing this seemed so strange to me. Would it hurt? Would I permanently damage my lungs, even a little bit, if I tried to smoke even one cigarette? Would I become addicted? Would smoking eventually kill me?
The more I repeatedly contemplated these questions, the more a sense of anxiety began to grow inside of me. I became suddenly very worried for my parents, based on everything I had seen, heard, and read about the life threatening effects of smoking, since I knew that they were both heavy smokers, each easily consuming more than two packs of cigarettes per day. I was also very worried for myself, because I was beginning to fear that curiosity would get the better of me, and I would eventually try smoking, and become somehow forever lost to what I only vaguely understood of the preconscious and hidden desires deep inside me - the Darker Desires that would reveal themselves in time.
Under the weight of this mounting anxiety I began to repress my desire to become a smoker, and soon was on a zealous crusade to get my parents to quit. My father tried, in vain, on two occasions to quit for me. But my mother was an entirely different story. My otherwise very kind and loving mother responded to my concern for her health with nothing short of supreme irritation. I had clearly violated a deeply fortified boundary with respect to voicing my desire for her to quit. Her response to my concern was as blunt as it was unequivocal: "No!" She told me in no uncertain terms that it was Her Body to do with as she pleased, and that she simply found too much pleasure in her smoking to ever want to quit! My mother's defiant response initially chilled me to my very core with a profound fear for her life that lasted for many long anxiety ridden months afterwards.
In one especially clumsy attempt at getting her to change her mind, I actually left one of the "L" volumes of my encyclopedia set out on the kitchen table open to the entry on "Lungs" where the damage caused by smoking was described and illustrated. When I returned from school, I found the volume returned to the bookcase in my room. She never said anything about it, and I was too afraid to ask if she had even read it.
But my mother's assertive rejection of my concern for her health also forever affected me in ways that she could probably never begin to imagine. The first cracks in the foundation of my repression had been formed in the aftermath of her declaration of willing submission to the sensual dangers of cigarette smoking.
As time went by, I found myself spending more and more time pouring through my mother's women's magazines, endlessly studying the images of the beautiful and glamorous women that I found on the glossy perfumed pages. I was now entering into puberty and developing quickly, and I wanted to look and feel more attractive, so I sought information on makeup and clothing there. But I also found an endless supply of imagery that, based on my reaction to it, was confirming my rapidly emerging lesbian identity.
And, of course, there was page after page of penetrating and sophisticated advertising that called with skilled seduction upon my still repressed smoking desires, a seduction that I began to willingly entertain more and more frequently in private moments as the years went by.
I remember vividly one special late Sunday night in October of my sophomore year of high school, alone in my room after my parents were asleep. (There has always been something definitely thematic about Autumn for me, and about late Sunday nights in October in particular, as you will continue to see a little later on.) In the quiet of my thoughts I sat on my bed flipping through one of my mother's old McCall's, suddenly transfixed by a single image of feminine beauty that I hadn't seen before. I found myself looking deeply into the bright beaming smile on Cheryl Tiegs' face as she looked back at me in her green silk dress and elegant heels with a Virginia Slims in her hand, perched slyly on her hip. As I looked at her, I could still hear the faint echoes of the Virginia Slims jingle from the television ads that so enchanted me as a little girl.
But now, juxtaposed with The Image, was the "Surgeon General's Warning" and an FTC report of the "tar" and "nicotine" content of each cigarette. And as I contemplated both the the image of this beautiful smoking woman and the clear message of Danger, I discovered for the first time the earth shattering *Pleasure* that I could give myself with only the slightest caress to just the right spot on my body.
And then there was the example of the girls at school that I passed every day in the "smoking area" in front of the main student entrance (this was the late 70s / early 80s) - the Bad Girls that wore sexy makeup and revealing blouses and tight jeans and big hoop earrings, merrily puffing away lipstick stained cigarettes in loud chatty groups before school, at lunch, and after classes were over as they waited for the bus, or for their boyfriends to pick them up. They were seen by the "good kids" and teachers as "trampy" - but to me they always seemed so Confident, so Sexy, so Free. I secretly admired them and wanted to be one of them - a Bad Girl, too lost in her own Dangerous Pleasure to care what anybody else thought. It seemed that all it took to be one of them was to embrace the symbolic gesture of smoking a cigarette for all the world to see.
And yet, I remained a non-smoker. I remained the Good Girl that everyone expected me to be. I was still too shy and too afraid to disturb the illusions of those around me by letting my inner, other world express itself, a repression that lasted on into my college career.
But it would finally end there.
Responses are not allowed!