8 Apr

I smoke.

I had my first cigarette as a teenager, a young hooligan hiding behind the back of my high school, stealing moments of rebellion in between classes. After that I smoked on and off again until I was in my early 20s, at which point I decided cigarettes had to go. I quit.

Earlier this week I was talking to Hillary and Bika, and Hillary remarked that it was funny that athletes sometimes smoke. I’m in great shape from Aikido, and I’d like to think I have a core that doesn’t quit; until the moment I leave the dojo, and I light up on the way back home. It is funny. It’s also kind of sad.

On August 18, 2010, my uncle Ken died in a motorcycle accident. He’d been riding for decades, and he loved the feeling of the wind whipping across his face when he rolled down the freeway on his bike. It was evening when we got the call. He was on a road trip down US101 South with his cousin and an old friend, making their way along the coast and stopping at every Dairy Queen they saw (he loved a good Blizzard). They went to merge back onto the freeway, the light dim in the early evening, and my Uncle thought he was moving over into the next lane. Instead he hit a median, flew off his bike, and rolled.

My uncle was like a father to me. The hardest part wasn’t how he died, or all the stories people told about him in the weeks that followed. It was when my aunt and I went down to get his bike, and his cousin pulled me in close to him and said “He loved you. So much.” It killed me. The night before my uncle died he called me on the phone. He told me he loved me, that he was so proud of me, and that I had grown up to be a beautiful girl, inside and out. He hated talking on the phone and I wondered if maybe he’d had a few beers with the guys that night. It wasn’t like him to be emotionally demonstrative. The truth was, he’d had nothing to drink.

I bought a pack of cigarettes, and I’ve been smoking again ever since then. I’d be a fool to think the two events weren’t somehow connected in my mind – smoking and my uncle’s death. For months after he died, I’d stand outside on our porch, and I would smoke, and I would cry. It filled me up inside and somehow made it easier to feel that he was never coming home again. We’d never crack jokes behind my aunt’s back again, or go get Hawaiian BBQ together, he’d never get me another ice cream sandwich and tell me not to read the ingredients because “just eat it, it tastes better that way.”

It was like abusing my body made it easier not to feel how much I hurt.

Sometimes I think we walk around in our bodies like they are cages for our brains. If someone had told me two years ago that now someone could throw me across the room, and I would roll across my back and be on my feet again in seconds, I’d have said they were crazy. But I’m not just capable of it, I love it. There are things I can do now with my body that feel incredible, and I’d never have dreamed were possible. I have the privilege of my body not just confining me. In a sense, it defines me and the things I can experience. I’m capable of so much more than just living in my head – I can hike through the woods, dance, swim, and have sex.

There are people that are born without the choice of using their body, or lose that choice because of accidents or illness. But so much of the time we live solely in our minds, ignoring what we’re capable of and ignoring what we do to ourselves. There’s smoking. Drinking. Drugs. Obesity. Anorexia. We fuck ourselves up, and ever since my uncle died I have been fucking myself up. What I do to myself, what we all do to ourselves, carry consequences.

How much better will it feel to roll across the room when my lungs aren’t burning? When I can’t wait to finish training so I can fill myself up with lung cancer?

I am an athlete, and I smoke. It’s funny, and it’s sad. Some days I wake up and it still hits me like a ton of bricks that my uncle is never, ever coming home again. It gets better, bit by bit, less raw and painful as time goes on. I hate that I smoke and what it does to me. Mostly I hope that some day, I won’t feel like I need it to fill me up anymore.


2 Responses to “Smoke”

  1. Becca April 9, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    Love you Claire! and I’m proud of you.

  2. Bika April 9, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    I know you’ll do it when you’re ready! 🙂 It’s not easy to quit even at the best times in your life, let alone at one of the most stressful. (Plus, if you try to force-quit before you’re ready to do it, you’re pretty much setting yourself up to fail.)

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