All Photographs + Text Copyright 2012 Christopher Keeley

The Day I quit smoking for real.

There was a beautiful girl who lived in my apartment building at 4000 Tunlaw Road on the first floor next to the elevator in apartment number 116. My apartment is number 1119. She was stunning, and the first day I saw her coming back from the Vietnamese grocery in our building I was stunned and she said Hello to me. I was speechless.

I had never encountered such a beautiful woman who was so friendly and giving me eye contact. Her name was Julia or Julie. She was wearing this light purple violet hippie dress and she had flowing blonde hair and baby blue eyes. Her figure was tall and slender. I was in love and it was love at first sight.

About three weeks later I saw her again and she asked me to jump-start her car, or it may have been the other way around. I am not sure. Either she had the cables or I did and the front desk at the 4000 Tunlaw Road condo directed us to each other. One with the dead battery and the other with the cables.

After helping each other out, one of us borrowed the cables. Later that week Julia tells me that it saved her life too. I didnÕt know what she was talking about. Did we have something in common? Julia says, your license tags. I said, youÕre in the program? My tags at the time were NAIOU, Washington DC vanity license plates. I said, you used drugs? She said, no but I had a similar problem, Anorexia Bulimia. Oh wow, I said.

She went on to state that the twelve steps program had saved her life and that she had attempted suicide a few times and was hospitalized for a year, that she had been in a relationship with an older man 20 years her senior, that she had left him after eight years of misery, and that she was also codependent. She had been with this man at age fifteen, which blew my mind. I was 26 at the time she must have been a year younger, 25.

Julie was becoming a minister at Georgetown University divinity school. She moved away to live in Colorado, I found out later. I never got the courage to ask her for a date. However, she didnÕt smoke, drink, or use drugs of any kind. My kind of girl. I didnÕt use drugs of any kind but I smoked, and she made a remark about it. So I quit for her. I thought maybe she would go out with me, become my girlfriend, if I didnÕt smoke. I was too shy to speak to her, to even ask for a date.

The next week my best friend Marc, who later died from AIDS, quit smoking cigarettes. I thought shit, if he can do it then I can too. That night I made the decision to quit smoking cigarettes. I had nine months clean from everything else. On the TV came an advertisement to quit smoking. An old ad from the 1970Õs, the one where the bully kicks sand in the face of the guy with the girl on the beach and there is a pack of cigarettes in the sand. Kick the habit.

I had smoked several packs of cigarettes a day since the age of thirteen. Kools and Camels. The day prior to quitting I had pains in my chest, and a terrible cigarette hangover. Also I worked in a health food store, HugoÕs Natural Foods, as a grocery clerk across the street from my parentsÕ house on Livingston Street. The owner did not tolerate cigarette smoking and when I would catch a smoke out back I got a rush from hyperventilating. It was too weird being clean and not the feeling that I was chasing. I was addicted and it was like drugs.

Sometimes in my apartment I would have two cigarettes burning at the same time. When I would leave the apartment, I also got this terrible feeling that I had left a cigarette burning and that my apartment is going to burn down. Now itÕs that my fish tank is going to crack from all the rocks I put into it and itÕs going to flood the apartment below me. ItÕs nerve racking, this paranoia I get leaving my apartment.

So I made a decision to put the cigarette habit into the hands of God. If God had brought me this far, helping me become free from the obsession to use mind altering and mood changing drugs, then surely God could help me with my addiction to nicotine and smoking cigarettes. I havenÕt smoked any cigarettes, cigars or anything else since September 1984.

The next day after I quit smoking I found that my higher power has a sense of humor. I was sitting in this recovery support group meeting and this older man was sharing that he had just had heart surgery a few days earlier and it was ironic because he was back to smoking. He was powerless and he was going to die from it. This gave me the message I needed. My chest was hurting, and being the terminally cool and fatally hipster that I was, in my mind I asked why did I need to quit if I was going to die from cancer anyway?

When someone lights up, that first smell still gives me cravings to this day. I know that if I were to take one puff, I wouldnÕt be able to stop, and it was the hardest thing I have ever done. When I quit it was like missing a limb. A huge part of me was uneasy and missing because I was a constant smoker, as I said, two cigarettes burning and at least one cigarette burning all the time. Now I bite my nails.

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