Back in the day, I was known throughout my small Maine town as That Girl with the Weird Hair. What most people would not have known unless they bothered to ask, is that I saw myself as the Next Great American Writer. When I wasn’t working, I was slaving away over what I was sure would be a best-seller as soon as I found an agent who would shop it to one of the steadily decreasing number of huge publishing houses.
And when I wasn’t doing that, I was playing with my new kittens. And smoking.
Because nothing goes with writing the Great American Punk Rock Novel like an endless stream of cigarettes — and lots of Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, Jesus & Mary Chain, Social Distortion, and Siouxsie & the Banshees.
Back then, I wasn’t quite as doting a cat caretaker as I am now. Oh, I made sure Sin├®ad and Siouxsie got their shots, and I had them spayed at the appropriate time. I even fed them some of the better food available back then. But I was too caught up in my own insanity to pay much attention to them beyond that.
Nobody would have known how crazy I was, because I played it all out in my head instead of in real life. My novel’s cast of characters consisted of a bunch of substance-abusing (if not outright drug-addicted) traumatized people living a life of lies as spies and investigative reporters — there were also people responsible for others’ safety while being completely reckless about their own. I welcomed the giddy, dissociative high that writing brought me. If I even felt my body’s requests for food, drink, and bathroom breaks, I ignored them. The only thing that reminded me that I was real was the act of smoking.
This isn’t something a cat would understand. In fact, it’s probably not something most people would understand. But that’s how it was.
One Saturday afternoon, about a year after I adopted Sin├®ad and Siouxsie, I noticed something odd. I was watching some ridiculous TV show, waiting for the blue and green dye to sink into my bleached-to-straw hair, and I did what I’d always done: I cracked a beer (it was a hot summer day) and lit up a cigarette.
Sin├®ad, who’d been curled up in my lap, looked up at me and sneezed several times.
Siouxsie, ever her protector, awoke and came to investigate. She hopped up next to me and stretched to see what was in my hand. When she got a sniff of the smoke wafting off the end of my cigarette, she too sneezed. The two of them gave me the stink-eye, hoped off the couch, and headed to the opposite end of the house.
I didn’t think much of it at the time.
But after it happened a few more times, my conscience started nagging at me.
About a week later, I returned from an all-day errand trip. I opened the door to my apartment and, to my dismay and disgust, realized the place smelled like an ashtray. And then it hit me: If my house stank, so did I. If all this smoking was bad for me, it must be even worse for my cats. If I had children, would I smoke around them? Hell, no!
“This is BS,” I said. “I’m quitting today.”
I threw away the few remaining cigarettes I had in my pack and began searching the Internet for ideas about what to do when the cravings came. The best one I found was to do exercises that forced me to breathe deeply whenever I wanted to smoke.
I did lots and lots of jumping jacks that first week.
Eventually the cravings became less frequent, and then they disappeared.
I enjoyed my smoke-free life and I was feeling better than I’d felt in a long time. Sin├®ad and Siouxsie snuggled with me constantly. They no longer had sneezing fits, and their coats started looking better. I knew they were delighted that Mama was no longer making their home stink and making them cough.
Fifteen years later, I’m a lot less crazy, and Siouxsie’s the undisputed matriarch of the Paws and Effect clan. The cats who came into my family after her never knew what it was like to live with a life of stink.
I wish I could say that I haven’t smoked since then. But alas, that’s not the case. What is true, though, is that since that day I’ve never smoked inside my house — and refusing to smoke indoors (especially during Maine’s arctic winters) has done wonders to help limit my intake during the times I’ve fallen off the wagon.
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