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We should have never lit up

By By Adam Prestridge
It’s funny how so many things in life can be recalled at the drop of a hat.
I remember the day I first learned how to ride a bike, my first day of school, the time I lost my first tooth and my first real kiss.
Unfortunately, some things that you wish could be forgotten, that really don’t mean a hill of beans, can’t. Like the first time I smoked a cigarette.
It wasn’t one of the shining moments in my life. And now that I look back at it, it has proven to be one of the lowest, if not the lowest, point in my life.
Ronnie and I were rapidly developing into young men. Our voices were slowly beginning to change into more of a deeper tone. Before then, we sounded more like Chip &Dale.
I had turned 11 the winter prior to that summer and my mother finally began to loosen the reins that allowed me to experience new wonders in life. Ronnie was a bit older than me, and following that day, we both thought we were grown men.
It was a memorable summer in Gardendale. Many of days were spent riding my bike through the neighborhood with friends, getting into mischief like all young boys do and trying to impress girls, even though we really didn’t like girls then. It was the days of “No Girls Allowed” signs on our clubhouses and avoiding girls at all cost.
I remember the day so vividly. It felt like it was 100 degrees outside thanks to Alabama’s intense humidity. Fortunately we had air conditioning, but each time you walked by the unit, you could hear it straining from having to continuous run.
I met Ronnie at his house around mid-afternoon to go out for a cruise on our bikes. Once he finished the last of his chores, we hopped on our bikes and raced off to woods at the edge of the neighborhood. We sat beneath a tree to rest our legs and get a drink of water when Ronnie pulled out two Winston’s. My eyes nearly popped out my head for fear that we would get caught.
So Ronnie handed me a cigarette and popped his in his mouth. He pulled a lighter from deep inside his pocket and lit his up. He began puffing away. I knew I was in trouble because it looked like he had done this before.
He leaned over to me as I slowly put the filter in my mouth and lit the cigarette up. It was odd to say the least because smoking came almost naturally for me. I began puffing away without coughing, but I will admit, I thought about it a time or two.
The world wasn’t watching, no TV cameras were rolling, but the peer pressure felt like the weight of a concrete block on my shoulders. Now, I realize what should have been done, but it was too late. The damage had been done. I had taken a big drag off the Winston and yes I did inhale.
I didn’t start smoking immediately following that day, but as I grew into a teenager, I began smoking more and more. Sooner than later, I was up to a pack a day and it lasted for more than seven years, if you count the “I’ve quit, but I’ll just have one” months. I hid it real well from my parents and family except my older sister, who was also a smoker, until the last couple of years, but as I’ve always heard, parents know everything and I’m sure they had their suspicions.
Like most kids, movies and the older “cool” crowd influenced us. They always defeated the bad guys and later lit up or won the damsel in distress over. I guess it’s just one of those things you have to live and learn by. The only excuse I can come up with for continuing smoking was that it gave me something to do and kept me up during those late-night term papers and long hours at work.
When I quit smoking, it wasn’t easy, but I did so cold turkey. I even went to the doctor because I felt so bad. He said it was just something I had to suffer through if I really wanted to stop. I’m proud to say I haven’t picked up a cigarette in more than three years.
This month is national Cancer Awareness Month. The question is, “What can you do to prevent this deadly disease?”
My suggestion is to pick one of the various types of cancer and support research efforts. You can do so by donating money to the foundation benefiting that particular foundation, sharing your story if you’ve overcome cancer or to encourage someone to change their lifestyle. Be an example, change your lifestyle if you smoke or chew tobacco. It’s mid-January and a lot of people are debating on dropping that New Year’s resolution.
Me, I’m going to try to do some of it all. I’ve already shared my story, so if I hound you to stop smoking or to eat right, use it as encouragement. We all have to do our part to save lives.
Adam Prestridge is publisher of the Atmore Advance. His column appears weekly.