When I was old enough, I realized what was slowly taking place. Every Christmas he appeared worse. He walked slower, breathed harder and looked as if had aged ten years. I was afraid that I was going to be there when he had his last breath, and that I would witness the end of his life.
I don’t know what he looked like before the disease. The person that I could hear wherever he went—coughing or of the air generated by his tank. He had always been my grandpa with the oxygen tank. My grandpa Bill with emphysema. The grandpa that smoked.
He died when I was a freshman. I can’t even remember my other grandpa, Don. He died when I was two. My grandma Shirley died when I was eleven. They stopped smoking eventually, but it was too late. The trouble started when they inhaled the first puff. They became addicted.
But they had an excuse. They didn’t know what they were doing to their bodies. They didn’t know that it would shorten their life significantly. To smoke was the normal behavior. Everyone endorsed it when they were young. In the mid 1900s, people didn’t know the effects of smoking. They didn’t know that tobacco is one of the most powerful stimulants and a single puff of a cigarette exposes the body to over 4,000 chemical compounds and 600 additives. Or the effects of nicotine as it enters the bloodstream are virtually immediate. They didn’t know and they couldn’t have known because there were no known risks. Diseases and cancers were not linked to smoking.
But today, we all know the risks. We have heard it before, what smoking can do to you.
I remember the elementary school days when class was interrupted by the D.A.R.E. officer to give our monthly lesson regarding
drug and alcohol abuse. I sat in my desk filling out blank after blank and don’t in my workbook. Do not talk to strangers. Do not use needles. Do not steal. Do not play with matches. Do not drink underage. Do not do drugs. But there was one that stuck out to me more than the others.
Do not smoke.
Maybe it is my initial fear that I will contract a serious illness from smoking. Or maybe it is because it is dangerous. But when I think about it, it’s important to me to keep that promise. The decisions that I make now will impact me in the future. I have learned that every decision counts and if you throw away everything now, then what’s left?
I matched each answer with the correct definition, thinking nothing of it. Everyone did. As a sixth grader, we do what the adults tell us to do. We listen to the warnings and the information they care to give us. We try to please them and avoid breaking even the smallest rule. We really didn’t care about the workbook. What the class really wanted to hear were the stories of the crazy car chases and the times that the officer had to use his stun gun. We wanted to know about everything that was out of the ordinary.
But I know now that smoking is far from ordinary. It is responsible for the many hardships people encounter every day. It causes thousands of new forms of cancer each year.
Everything from my grandmother’s house reeked of the smoke. Her clothing, furniture, walls and jewelry all smelled of the musty air in her gray colonial house. Some of the ceilings were pale yellow, evidence of the constant smoking. I have a jewelry box that is filled with that same smell. The smell never dissipates. It is just another constant reminder that she is not with me and how she became unhealthy.
So many people smoke. They smoke in high school and they, too, become addicted. When I see those people, I think of one thing: my grandfather’s face. I am transported back to the days of his suffering. I see his pain. I see his end. And I see the time that they will sit in the hospital and take their last breath.
Things change as we grow up. We make new friends, start driving and begin new habits. Although everyone grows up, they have the right to keep some things the same. I decided five years ago that I was not going to risk my life doing something that I believe is dangerous and threatening to my future.
I did see the end with my grandpa Bill. I was there when they carried out his body from the house. I was there watching from the window in the passenger seat of my mom’s 2003 gold Ford Explorer. Sitting there, I cried. I refused to get out.
I don’t want to put myself in the same situation. I am not going risk my life. I have learned from my grandparents that smoking destroys a person.