One Small Scrap

By Earl Chinnici

Some stories are sure painful to tell. Millions of people in this world need to hear this though. Quitting cigarettes doesn’t have to be a nightmare.

Cathy and I had known each other approximately seven years, yet never met in person. Now this was the week of her birthday and since I had little money, I decided to give my dear friend a glimpse into my world through the lens of a built-in camera on a miniature laptop computer. I was clueless at the time, but my world was about to drastically change.

I phoned her mid-morning and wished her a happy birthday. She seemed genuinely delighted, as I told her of my intended gift and shared the information that she’d need to connect. When she started receiving video, her voice echoed her excitement even more. I began a thorough tour of my home and yard.

We were having so much fun. In fact, we enjoyed nearly an hour together before our schedules demanded we hang up the phone and get busy. Before we said goodbye, I told her I’d carry the laptop with me everywhere throughout the day so she could occasionally glance over at her computer and watch me. I knew she’d likely see me work at the computer, play with my cats, cook and eat lunch, wash dishes, fold clothes, and check the mail. It was not easy to discern who was more excited, actually.

That evening, as we once again talked on the phone, I continued to move the laptop around with me and that’s when it happened. There I was, standing in front of a mirror that rested on a large hardwood dresser in my bedroom, when Cathy said, “Baby… maybe you should move those things away from you.” Although her tone was gentle, she clearly warned me of a danger I did not immediately recognize.

Since I didn’t see anything unusual on the dresser, I turned and scanned the remainder of the room for any sign of a threat. This might seem a bit melodramatic, but several hairs on both of my arms tingled as I searched for these mysterious things. It soon became obvious that I didn’t understand so I inquired, “Move what things away from me?”

Her reply was also soft-spoken. In hindsight, I realize she chose her words carefully so her suggestion would have the greatest impact possible without causing me to feel pressured. She gently said, “Please don’t think that I’m trying to tell you what to do. It’s your life and you can of course, do what you want to with it. This is just a suggestion. You might want to consider moving those cigarettes away from you.”

I was speechless many moments as I considered her words. I was thirteen years old when I started smoking on a regular basis. I’d smoked for nearly thirty years! How could moving my cigarettes change anything? There was no way I could hide them from myself.

I think she must have sensed my confusion. Cathy continued, “You spend a lot of your time each day in your office. Perhaps you could keep your cigarettes in your bedroom and when you feel as if you want one, you could get up and go get one or two. You might find that by doing so, you might just wait a few more minutes after you finish a cigarette before you light up another one. You might even smoke one or two fewer cigarettes over the course of a day by doing this.”

I sighed. Strange it took years for me to recall the sigh, because it is so vivid now—as though it just happened. I knew she was right and there were numerous reasons I should at least try this. I saw a pen and a used envelope on the dresser and decided to start immediately. Asking Cathy to hold for a moment, I tore a scrap of paper from the envelope, wrote those first ten words of her suggestion upon it, and echoed them aloud as I wrote. “Baby… maybe you should move those things away from you.” I then tucked it away in a drawer for safekeeping. This marked the dawn of my career as an author and the sunset of my cigarette addiction.

This seemingly minor change caused me to look more closely at my habit and addiction than ever before. I quickly instituted some great changes in my life and three months later, I again took to the pen and paper after my mom suggested I write the time of day each time I smoke.

Though slowly at first, more words began to flow from my highly poisoned mind as I gradually opened my smoke-filled eyes and took a long, hard, look at my addiction. The first paragraph I would eventually publish came to me on the fourth day of writing time entries. Other than my enthusiasm about removing some ashtrays from my home, I don’t know why I deviated from the time entries and wrote it. Laugh if you want to, but I wrote it with passion on another scrap of paper.

I have been smoking mostly outside for a while now. Sometime during the day today, I removed all but three ashtrays from my home. I washed eight ashtrays outside under a water hose and left them in the shed for my next yard sale!

When I showed my scribbled time entries and this paragraph to another friend, she presented me with a blank composition book and a package of pens. My canvas expanded exponentially and I began to write.

After I stared into its hideous face, I overcame this awful addiction in just twenty-four days and then continued to write and design my first book, “Maybe You Should Move Those Away From You,” for more than two and a half years. I self-published it as an ebook in January of 2014 and I’m now attempting my first fictitious masterpiece as well as several nonfiction books, including a memoir titled Fifty Close Calls.

If you are one of the millions of people currently addicted to tobacco cigarettes, I hope you will also consider Cathy’s suggestion. Please don’t feel as if I’m trying to tell you what to do. It is your life and you can pretty much do whatever you want to with it, but maybe now is the best time to move those deadly poisons away from you.

Many of you are likely wondering about the chaotic nature of the photo attached to this article, but that’s another story entirely that will be included in Fifty Close Calls. That was my bedroom and the composition book in the drawer is my first manuscript. I was elated to find it intact. So many other aspects of this story have since turned tragic. It’s still a great day to not smoke a cigarette.


Today’s #CleanWIP theme and collaborative article is Quit. [More info]

Photo by Ben Allen