Amarah's Corner: The awful, stinking reality of smoking cigarettes

Memories of my beautiful mother include nasty, stinking cigarettes. I can still see her with a cigarette in her mouth and exhaling the nasty smelling smoke. I still smell the awful stench and I remember being caught in the seemingly inescapable, suffocating cloud of smoke from her cigarettes.

I remember, too, my fear when I couldn’t breathe because I couldn’t escape the suffocating smoke, and it seemed like she was oblivious to how it made me feel, and/or how it affected me, and my baby sister, Ava. At one point, I remember my mother talking about how frightened she was when her doctor told her that her X-rays showed spots on her lungs. She said she stopped smoking and started praying but neither lasted very long. All of her friends that I remember smoked too and before long my mother was smoking again.

I haven’t seen my mother in over four-years so I don’t know if she still smokes cigarettes or not; I hope not. And, my beautiful mother was an addict. She was addicted to prescription pain pills (opioids) and I believe smoking is a possible habit that accompanies addiction because it seemed like she always had a cigarette in her mouth or in her hand. I have learned that substance abuse and addiction are the same and smoking truly seems to go hand-in-hand with addiction. Maybe that isn’t always true, but it was true for my mother.

I don’t know if my mother smoked when she was pregnant with me, but I grew up in her second hand smoke and it was worse than awful. I couldn’t breathe in her cigarette smoke and I hated the awful smell that soaked into everything in the house and in the car. The smell of my mother’s cigarette smoke contaminated everything - the furniture, my pillow, my clothes, the walls, the curtains, me and Ava - our toys, everything we had, even our food, everything. We smelled like cigarette smoke and it was horrible-awful. I hated it!

And I remember when she smashed-out her cigarettes in her food and dropped the cigarette butts in her drinks. Uuugghh!! Even now, when I smell cigarette smoke, I can’t breathe until I get out of it! But even when I escape the smoke, I still smell it and worse than that, I know I smell like it too and I hate it because it’s nasty and stinks worse than anything I know!

And, Ava told me last week she has asthma. I have to wonder if it was because we were exposed to our mother’s cigarette smoking when we were little. A couple of years ago, I thought I had asthma because I sometimes have shortness of breath, but I found out I am allergic to cigarette smoke.

And, besides the nasty smell of cigarettes, smoking also scares me because I know smoking causes cancer, and cancer makes people die. My great grandpa, Poppie-boy, died because he smoked cigarettes and pipes filled with pipe tobacco. He started smoking when he was only 11-years old. At first, he smoked cigarettes that didn’t have filters and then graduated to cigarettes with filters. And then it happened. Poppie had a terrible heart attack on Christmas Day, 1984, when my mother was only five-months old, and he had to have open heart surgery. The doctor told him he would probably have another heart attack and die if he didn’t stop smoking. And, you guessed it, he didn’t stop smoking.

Eventually, he started having the same symptoms and I guess it scared him because he stopped smoking, but it was too late. He was diagnosed with lung cancer from smoking all those years, and it moved to his brain. Then, he got really sick and passed away. I never got to know Poppie but I believe I would have gotten to at least see him if he hadn’t smoked all that time because if he hadn’t smoked all those years he wouldn’t have gotten lung cancer and died before I was born. But, I have pictures of my great grandmother, Nannie, holding me when I was a baby. She never smoked, but she breathed Poppie’s second hand smoke for a lot of years and then she got sick too, but she didn’t have cancer. Nannie had arthritis really bad and she had memory problems, too. And, it wouldn’t surprise me if cigarette smoke has something to do with those diseases, as well as others. Smoking is so nasty and awful, the deadly connection wouldn’t surprise me at all.

The awful, stinking reality of smoking cigarettes has definitely affected me and my family at least from the time Poppie was diagnosed with lung cancer because he smoked cigarettes and passed-away, three-years before I was born. And, my grandfather (my mother’s dad) also smoked cigarettes and he had a bad heart attack, too. But, he stopped smoking cigarettes earlier than Poppie, and he is still alive.

I’m really thankful that my grandmother, who I live with, doesn’t smoke, and she never has smoked because she has the same experience with cigarette smoke that I do. She can’t breathe in it, just like me, and it makes her sick and aggravated, just like me, because she hates the stench in her nostrils, in her hair, and in her clothes, just like me.

But, the awful, stinking reality for me is this - one day, when I was just a little girl, in our smoke-filled home, my beautiful mother (in her addiction) told me she was sorry I was ever born and that I ruined her life. Just like the suffocating stench of her cigarette smoke that day, my beautiful mother’s words exhaled cruelly in my face and in my heart and I couldn’t breathe. My beautiful mother’s smoke-filled words ripped through my brain and shattered my heart. But, I loved my mother and I still do and I knew she loved me, even though she forgot she did.